Sicko Mobb is composed of Lil Trav and Lil Ceno, and from their names, to their hair, to their clothes, to their songs; they’re colorful as hell. Sicko Mobb's music is a guaranteed blast of light and lit-ness into your otherwise uneventful day. The two life-long friends from North Lawndale describe themselves as brothers, and they’ve only been rapping for 3 years – just before the release of Super Saiyan Volume 1. Maybe that’s how they’ve tapped into such a chaotic nerve with their brand of music, but you won’t hear inexperience. They started dropping some of their bigger and weirder tracks in 2013 that would eventually help compose their first project, as well as taking time to release visuals, play local birthday and block parties (Sicko Mobb is for the children), and continue to get their name out. Critical and popular success with SSV1 and SSV2 trails into a maze of business; first, a Stargate Sony/ATV publishing deal, then Def Jam and Polo Grounds Music through RCA Records. Now Super Saiyan Vol. 3 has finally landed, capping off their surreal, tooned-up series that brought dragon balls to North Lawndale. It’s an exciting moment, so let’s take a look back at the first two iterations of Super Saiyan, before cracking into the final installment.
Super Saiyan Vol. 1 gets infinite points for experimentation, vibrating with movement at every corner of the project and standing alone in its manic energy. The drums bump non-stop. Trav and Ceno insist they aren’t boppers but simply purveyors of turn-up music, and you can’t deny the accuracy of that invented genre. SSV1 crashes all the elements of a song together, a complete intersection between beat and vocals. Lil Ceno and Lil Trav don’t rap on top of the beat but become a part of it, at times deliberately bare bones with the skillful work of producers like MuddGang and 808OnDaTrack. Their voices are as much sonic instruments (sKeEeE!) as messengers on this project. Even without the audible rhymes at times, what stands out about SSV1 is the project’s sincerity amidst the insanity. The vibe may be animated but the emotions are flesh and blood, discordant in the best way possible. Take “Remy Rick”, a catchy and upbeat song turned sobering when Lil Ceno laments the loss of his pops. Or get caught in the soul bursting out of "Remember Me". The human connection is there and that’s the most important part. Sicko Mobb has known how to make hearts and feet move since the beginning.
Super Saiyan Vol. 2 is the perfect sequel. Terminator 2: Judgement Day to Super Saiyan Vol. 1’s The Terminator. It’s poppier, more polished. Heavier, with more pronounced bass lines and sharper rhymes. It gleams with perfectionism from Trav and Ceno. The sound moves across miles of terrain but you won’t find a loose screw, impressive for something that shakes and rattles so much. The ante was upped everywhere, just look at the devastatingly catchy 3 hit combo of "Own Lane", "Kool-Aid" and "Penny Hardaway". Sicko Mobb addresses new-found trending fame, getting lost in the drugs, jealousy, identity, etc; the project is grounded in reality but still flies high. The warp-speed is sedated at times. No slow jamz, but tracks like "Back Then" and "Kool-Aid" showed a mellow side of Sicko Mobb that we don't see on SSV1. What’s most exciting about SSV2 is their improving musicianship. You can hear their ear for beats expanding in tracks like “Orange Flat”. Or their vocals improving with Ceno’s double-time flow on “Rolling Stone” and Lil Trav’s absurdly infectious take on “Band Up”. SSV2 is a walking contradiction similar to SSV1; clean but raw, more creative and more conventional. Definitive proof to any haters out there that Sicko Mobb was far from a one-hit wonder.
Now we have Super Saiyan Vol. 3, and it's a hell of a plot twist. While Sicko Mobb built their career on the feel-good, SSV3 pulls the curtain and reveals that behind the fe-fe lies the struggles of life in the city. SSV3 is by far their darkest project yet, and if the first two iterations were sun-drenched, this one is bathed in neon light. The speedy music still shoots like lightning, but the sky is black instead of blue. The beats are more contained than SSV2, which were larger than life but at times overpowered the real stars of the show. I'm partial to the subtler SSV3 take on instrumentals, simply because it gives more room for the Mobb to soak up the stage. Hell, the deliciously minimal opening track "Digits" features nothing more than quiet synths and snaps. Production is diverse: we get tracks from Muddgang, 808 Mafia, Da Internz, IKON, DJ Nate and more. SSV3 production is smaller, cleaner and a little more ominous.
In terms of rapping, singing and flow, SSV3 is the crispest performance we've heard from the Mobb. Trav has always been a bit of a frontman, but Ceno threw down on this project and gets to bask in the limelight. "Throwin' Money" is one of the project's high points, powered by a formidable Ceno chorus. And while the beats may have a darker tinge to them, it's the lyrics that turn the lights off. More than ever before Lil Trav and Lil Ceno are giving us their story, a story that doesn't begin or end with constant neighborhood fiestas; rapping about life in Chicago isn't always going to be a rose-y affair. On "Represent" Trav gives us some history, flowing "I'm from the Dale community and that's the Holy City / off Christiana we 1-5 in the field tryna' survive". Or Lil Ceno reflecting that "My daddy told me I'm a king when I was just a shorty /14 they took him way from me now shorty totin' a 40." It's tidbits like these all over SSV3 that set it apart from their past projects. They're giving us a piece of their lives, and it's easily their most personal work.
No, this is not Sicko Mobb's final form - keep expecting bigger and better. But with Super Saiyan Volume 3, they have shown us the most important take-away, that Sicko Mobb will continue to bop, dance, and turn-up on expectations.