by Mike Scarfo
Boston-native and Miami-based hip-hop artist, Virgil, is no stranger to introspective lyricism in his music. His 2020 album, Timelines, achieved thoughtful storytelling that acted as a collection of vignettes, with some songs relating to his own personal narrative, while others focused on anecdotes from those around him. With his first release in 2021, Virgil reinforces this approach on the heels of new EP between walls, a quick-hitting project that brilliantly demonstrates many relatable themes while creating a nostalgically captivating soundscape.
Between walls not only continues the “jazz-hop” sound that has become a staple in Virgil’s music, but he elevates it to new heights. Littered with charismatic classical jazz-inspired pianos and groovy horns (much credit to Seattle-based producer sleepover) the 3-track, 9-minute EP begins with the beautifully textured “gumbo eyes”. The song’s layered instrumental with colorful piano chords and a simple drum progression would be enough to keep most music fans interested, but it’s Virgil’s mesmerizing lyricism that creates a stunning synchorinity.
“gumbo eyes” ultimately depicts a Boston man delivering what he accurately describes as a “lullaby” to a woman from the “bayou”, who seems to be a significant other or love interest. There’s a sense of a spark between the two, but appear to face numerous external barriers out of their control. Yet, the sweetly innocent tone of the track pairs well with Virgil’s romantically smooth delivery: “your fragrance hangs / like the gardens up in Babylon / now, I could babble on but I’ll keep it real with you”. Virgil’s continued use of metaphorical language is impressive and clever, as he even strings together Boston Celtics references to describe his emotions towards this woman: “but you Marcus Smart / IQ’s a Jaylen Brown / hope we Kemba Walker arm-in-arm around the town”. However, “gumbo eyes” perhaps acts as more of an assurance from Virgil to this significant other than anything else, as certain bars indicate underlying insecurities between them: “the days are cold / nights are long in our solitude / though we’re restrained by longitude and latitude / nothing’s changed my affection grows in magnitudes”. Despite the long distance between them, the track absolutely has an old-school romance vibe that’s surprisingly refreshing.
Potentially the biggest achievement of “gumbo eyes” are its subtle mentions of much larger thematic societal issues, as between walls begins to transition this star-crossed love story into commentary of ongoing political and racial issues, effortlessly shifting from one narrative to the next. The line “These are uncertain times, but everything will be alright” is the hidden clue of where the rest of the EP goes from a thematic standpoint.
“you do?” is the next track and my personal favorite, featuring emphatically groovy horns over lush piano chords, and a beautiful performance on the hook from vocalist Alizee. As “you do?” is clearly the climactic moment of the EP, Virgil continues his sentiments of life “not being what it seems” describing it as a “chronic inconsistency”. There’s an ultimate sense of frustration with the consistent hypocrisy Virgil witnesses in society, and the inner conflict of feeling like he’s incapable of making a difference with his words, or even being able to find the right ones in the first place. There’s a bit more ferocity in Virgil’s reflective cadence on this song, and it pays off in leaving the audience with the desire to continuously run it back.
The EP’s closing title track “between walls” falls back on the nostalgic mood of “gumbo eyes” with more solemn, gorgeous piano chords. However, thematically it elevates to the highest level of the entire project, as Virgil teams up with fellow Chicago jazz-hop artist AzMattic, the latter starting off the track on a high note with a captivating verse indulged with heady lyricism. Virgil finishes the track off in a vehement fashion, phrasing important questions related to police brutality: “why is the blacks always followed by blues” yet another double entendre providing imagery of the endured pain of the Black community in America. He also comments on prison statistics, showing outright disdain for the lack of transparency from the legal system. Even though Virgil’s emotion is palpable, he still successfully captures these sentiments in a mature and thoughtful manner, closing between walls in a more than commendable way.
Virgil’s masterful pen game and unique style come to fruition more than ever with an EP like between walls, and is a profound progression in his art overall. Between walls is meant to be listened to with your undivided attention, as Virgil creates a voice to help reverse the monumental division we face in America.
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