“We the faces of ‘the R.’ Noah said it-- fuck a signing. I look over the city; Chief statue on the diamond.” – Big No “Real Richmond.”
For those unfamiliar, the Richmond Braves, a former triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves-- were a staple in Virginia’s capital city from their inception in 1966 until their move in 2008. Tons of big names like dual NFL/MLB stars Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan, hall of famers like Chipper and Andrew Jones, and many more passed through as members of the R-Braves. But the most iconic face associated with the team was the statue of the lurking, “Connecticut” that Big No refers to.
Connecticut probably isn’t even the most famous politically incorrect statue to stand (and be removed) in Richmond. However, to a certain demographic-- his gaze over the city and his larger-than-life presence represented a united identity as a community and simpler times where anything seemed possible for Richmond. In this sense, Big No’s metaphor is entirely accurate because he and his “Richmond Brave” co-conspirator, Noah-O represent the same presence and hope to today’s RIC.
Noah-O is enjoying a moment right now—artistically, personally, professionally, and as a leader. Don’t get it twisted though, this isn’t his first moment. This pillar of Richmond Hip-Hop has been at it since his Divine Sonz collective broke on the scene back when dial-up internet was still the standard and the Bay Area transplant has never stopped grinding since. His discography is extensive including the 7-part “Deadstock” series, “Monument Avenue” and 2022’s “Trillipino.” He’s had brushes with the mainstream in that time as well including two stellar performances on Sway in The Morning.
His Charged Up imprint, which includes a streetwear brand featuring a bold block “C” and signature lightning rod --is ubiquitous in Richmond independent fashion. A Charged Up flagship store on Broad Street in the Arts District serves as a great hub for the creative community. Despite being in the middle of a legal battle with the Cleveland Guardians over the use of the letter “C” (pretty greedy, right?), Noah and Big No managed to be key figures at “Creatives on the Capitol,” a demonstration at the Virginia State Capitol to advocate for funding creative endeavors to boost the economy.
This kind of commitment to the power of music and creativity for change is something that Northside Richmond’s Big No is no stranger to. While incarcerated in the early 2010’s, Big No made up his mind that he would come out of the box with a plan to hit the music game hard. And he has done just that, releasing a steady stream of acclaimed projects like 2018’s renowned “Junkie Lives Matter,” 2020’s “Junkie Lives Matter 2,” and most recently “Thank Da Plug.” He is a unique MC-- His 6’3” stature and his booming Southern-twanged voice always stand out, but what stands out most is the depth at which he expresses himself. His voice stays in pocket always, but he’s very emotional and extremely versatile. As Noah-O said he outraps a lot of rapper’s rappers. His pen is just as crazy as his delivery.
It only makes sense that two Richmond veterans known for being team players-- in the middle of a new peak-- would team up and give us an epic project named for Richmond’s most famous pro team. Enter “Richmond Brave.”
The album features a vast but cohesive production effort from an all-star cast including Poopado (RIP), Retro Izzy, Rep!, and Clef Majorz. The contrast in styles between the two emcees blend seamlessly but there is definitely a theme of the two friends of 20+ years stepping into each other’s comfort zones. Noah gets into Big No’s trap soul food and No stepping into Noah-O’s left coast ease with up-North punch trade bars back and forth with unmistakable chemistry.
On the “Intro,” Noah-O glides on and drops, “All I wanted was the profit, thought I told em’ fuck the fame. 20 years strong on every song I let em’ touch my pain,” as Big No later promises “This gon’ be the hottest shit to hit the street.” And so far, they’re off to a good start on that guarantee. Next in line is the lead single “Uncle Phil.” This triumphant track features a gritty but glossy visual by multitalented videographer/vocalist Dyfferant and really gives you a great first taste of what to expect from this super-duo.
“4 Seasons” has a reflective mood to it and Zay the Artist croons in a beautiful falsetto setting the scene for Big No and Noah to do what they do best. This was the first time in listening to the project I felt the Nipsey-esque West coast vibes. I think Noah brings the California with him naturally. “Hello” samples the famous Lionel Ritchie vocal as the bros get their final introductions off and tell the story of how their partnership came to be.
“Fawk RVA” features a clip from the aforementioned R-Braves and makes the very important distinction between the “RIC” and “RVA.” What can I say other than if you know you know? Noah and No trade Richmond lingo lessons and history bars. Appropriately, “Real Richmond” is next on the slate and Noah describes the process for this song as basically a fantasy draft. Noah picked his two teammates and No picked his. Noah describes he and No as “…from two different worlds musically,” so it seems like there was some real competitiveness involved. The two picked from a pool of Dex804, Boatman Tone, Radio B, and Tone Redd. I know what the teams were—can you figure it out?
“Young N****s” features production from Big No’s late cousin, Poopado. Just like the two stars of the album challenge each other to do things differently they encouraged Poopado to try something new as well and he steals the show posthumously with this Detroit-inspired beat. On the hook Big No spits, “They all wanna eat, was they cooking witcha?” …this might be my favorite joint on here. Tough call. All that’s missing from “Elevation” is a verse from Nipsey Hussle himself. This is an anthem. “Now its disdain. First it was admiration. Told ya you could get it too but you procrastinating.” Hustle and motivate them Noah, amen. “Pain Away” is Noah O’s challenge to Big No to rip a “boom bap” beat and Big No, of course, delivers and they both keep it introspective on that.
Noah-O (left) and Big No (center) at Infinity Recording Studios in Richmond, Virginia
“Time” is my favorite song on this album. Just go listen to it. Production is a masterpiece by Retro Izzy with a deeply soulful sample paired with bouncy instrumentation that both these dudes absolutely float on. Big No sings and it COMPLETELY works. Noah smacks his verse over the Ukrops ad and into the parking lot. This is the one for me, y'all. 10/10.
Fittingly this epic album has an epic end in “Champion” with both emcees spilling their hearts on a heavy but happy piano. There is real pain, love, and wisdom being shed here.
True to its theme and title, “Richmond Brave” was brave indeed, never hesitating to take chances and in the end, we are left with a heroic effort from 2 artists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders in the middle of their primes that’s sure to remain a Richmond classic.
Stream the album on Spotify below. If you don't use Spotify, check out the album on all the other streaming platforms.
Written by: Zach Kirby @itskirbs804
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