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Pink Siifu - NEGRO (2020)

I've banged on about the hypnagogic hip-hop scene for long enough, praising artists like MIKE, Standing On The Corner, and recent convert Earl Sweatshirt for their dreamy explorations into sample based jazz-rap. LA based Pink Siifu sits adjacent to scene progenitors, New York's sLUms collective, plying their abstract poetry with rasped yet reserved fusions of spoken word and RnB. Real name Livingston Matthews, Siifu's approach to this style is best manifested on 2018's Ensley: a dusty, sunlit drive through crooned, Frank Ocean-esque introspection that's part diary reading and part lo-fi beat tape.

As with most hip-hop, it's music borne from struggle, offering a strange sense of escapism amidst chaotic surrounds. If Ensley was a safety blanket, Siifu's new release is a stolen AK. A series of impulse reactions to America's social climate, it's an album so politically charged I'm hesitant to utter the one-word title in my colonialist tones. It's a new decade and there's no time for peaceful self-reflection, grab the guitars because we're going punk.

Siifu wastes no time dashing expectations with BLACKisGod, A ghetto-sci-fi tribute(_G), an instrumental opener of fist-clenching free-jazz. The record plunges deeper into filth with SMD and FK, blistering lo-fi punk cuts boasting textures scraped straight from a New York gutter. What might be a tokenistic genre shift for others feels entirely authentic in Matthews' hands, showing impressive vocal duality as he jumps between unintelligible screams and glassy-eyed mumbling from track to track. When hip-hop influences do manifest they're backed by more experimentation still as Siifu haunts the psych-rock of we need mo color., dissects death with Nation Tyme., and delivers bars through a transistor radio on dirt.

While this sonic gumbo might sound a mess on paper, it all comes together with remarkable aplomb. Siifu's ability to genre-mash within a greater theme speaks to a wealth of past experience as he crafts standout cuts from across the stylistic spectrum. Few of the album's twenty tracks run for more than a couple minutes, interspersing obscure samples and interludes to frame each juxtaposition in cohesive sound collage.

While I’m a far cry from one myself, punk fans should take heed of the lyrical themes presented here. Matthews’ zeroes in on police brutality, going so far as to title a track after ex-LAPD member Chris Dorner, infamous for his murders of both officers and civilians. These are incredibly pointed topics in a time where ‘punk’ music seems to be having an identity crisis. I turned to fellow contributor and political punk enthusiast Jack Jones for his take.

What makes this album so special isn’t really what Pink Siifu is saying, but how he’s saying it. The systemic oppression and mistreatment of African American people isn’t exactly an unfamiliar theme, but it’s difficult to remember a take with as much warranted anger. The simplified lyrics will draw inevitable criticism, but such critique is completely missing the point. 

Pink Siifu isn’t trying to dissect or educate, he’s just really, really angry with the United States. Understandably so, but that’s what this album is: half an hour of pure, unadulterated rage. Rage so pertinent it pervades even the record’s structure, splintered across fragments of sound collage. It’s hard to think of many other albums that so wholly embody the punk ethos.

Siifu namechecks Sun Ra and Bad Brains as influences, but draws almost as heavily from his contemporaries in New York. Aforementioned pioneers Standing On the Corner were equally deft in their incorporation of sound collage with 2017’s Red Burns, and the hardcore songs recall NY’s Show Me The Body. Throw in Matthews’ nods to radical Black Arts movements and you’ll start to get an idea of what this record holds.

Jack and I were equally floored by the breadth of Siifu’s talents here, carrying his punk spirit between genres with relative ease. Back on the hip-hop front, run pig run. and DEADMEAT are protest songs unlike any other. Both advocate anarchic levels of self-defense and black pride, backing deranged vocals with the sounds of a Sly and the Family Stone concert amidst artillery fire. Only on the title track does this rampant experimentation pull back for an optimistic closer in typical, jazzy style.

Despite my skirting around its title, Pink Siifu’s new record is an unmissable affair. The stylistic restlessness will deter some but ensures a listening experience that’s one of a kind, backing bold hip-hop statement pieces with blistering hardcore punk and slathering both in authenticity.  Emotionally charged moments distinguish themselves through repeated listens, revealing level-headed ambition and unprecedented thematic scope.

Jack adds: Working in a lo-fi aesthetic, Pink Siifu and collaborators crafted a forward-thinking record which already feels timeless and hopefully, with enough attention, seminal.


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