Photo Credit to Bandcamp Article by Andrew Valentine
If you’re like me, you’re finding yourself trapped in emotions of despair and anger
surrounding the recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin. With social media movements such as #BlackoutTuesday and widespread protest amongst America’s major cities dominating the cultural conversation, there seems to be, for probably the first time of my life, a unified effort to making sure that the anguish of Black America is heard, felt, and responded to. However, for African Americans this new cultural awareness is nothing new. Being black in America is more than trending hashtags; it is being forced to deal with and be confronted by systems of prejudice and racism on a daily basis. This anger at seeing one of your own murdered on camera by those sworn to protect us, seeing black and brown people of all ages being hunted in the streets is nothing new to those actually affected and in fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. These deep-seated feelings of fear and rage are encapsulated perfectly by Alabama rapper Pink Siifu’s most recently released album Negro. Recorded and released before anti-police sentiments were on the tip of the nation’s tongue, Siifu through thick walls of distortion, warped yells, and hazy sound collages taps into a rage against the system and nation we’re living in that feels so visceral and in your face that it is impossible to ignore.
What separates Negro from a record like Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 opus To Pimp a
Butterfly is Siifu’s unwillingness to compromise. To me, the beauty of hip hop as a popular mode of black expression comes in its ability to allow black artists to contextualize their own stories and experiences when many spaces work to eliminate this. Siifu doesn’t seem concerned with poetic flair on tracks such as “SMD” or “DEADMEAT”, instead opting to channel the harsh and frantic energy of bands like Bad Brains with manic and confrontational vocal performances that demand attention whenever they are on. On “run pig run.”, a genuinely noisy and unsettling track that is reminiscent of the work of Suicide but with added elements of free jazz, features Siifu delivering a Last Poets-esque spoken word piece that reads like a call to fight against the police who target us. This is not music to be ignored. This is not pain to be ignored. This music is
grabbing you by the lapels and shouting in your face.
This isn’t to say there aren’t moments of subtlety to be found on the record. The dreamy
“we need mo color.” feels otherworldly and elusive and serves as a much needed respite from the distortion of the rest of the record. The way the collage of news clips on “amerikkka, try no pork” interrupt each other, seemingly switching from story to story, reveal how repetitive these news reports of police killings feel and how perpetual of a cycle it is and has always been. The story of George Floyd is not a unique one by any stretch of the imagination. It’s the underlying tragedy of this track, along with real life knowledge of the state of race relations in America, that give deeper context for the gamut of emotions that Siifu runs through on this record, namely feelings of fear, anger, but ultimately pride. Siifu, while being direct in his messaging, also finds ways to keep the music feeling boundary pushing and abstract. To me, this aids in Negro feeling
like one of the most potent and necessary rap albums of the year so far. In a year plagued with tragedy spanning from a global pandemic resulting in millions losing their jobs to the American people having to protest and fight against a clearly racist presidential regime, Negro in all of its oddities and palpable anger may be an album we need now more than ever.