“If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”
Living in Los Angeles, I’ve seen this sentiment and countless other calls for justice plastered everywhere around the city—tagged on buildings, scrawled on homemade posters in windows, and on the signs of protestors. Finally across the country people seem to be recognizing the suffering endured daily by the Black community, suffering resulting from the current governmentally-condoned system of racial oppression. With these protests and the appropriate outrage should come a desire to act, to tear down this apparatus of pain.
While those who can protest should, many—especially with the latent danger from the COVID-19 pandemic—can’t march without putting themselves or their loved ones in danger. But instead of letting that limitation confine you to social media-based performative activism, take this time to educate yourself. Immerse yourself in the work of liberation-oriented intellectuals, racial studies scholars, and, importantly from a music website, Black artists. Lots of music vividly renders the plight of being Black in America, but there are a few works that not only recount this experience but sonically embody it.
Negro the recent album from [sLUms]. rapper Pink Siifu does exactly that. Even putting the word “rapper” in the same sentence as this album is misleading. This isn’t a rap album; it’s barely hip hop in the traditional sense. Negro is an affront to the senses—a truly overwhelming body of radical, explosive, and complex sonics that violently elicits the same discomfort of its subject matter. Each symbolically titled track, most hovering around the two minute mark, collects voices and noise into a soundscape as chaotic as the struggle to live as a Black person in the United States.
Every song articulates some aspect of this Black experience: from fear and resentment of the police on “DEADMEAT,” to a desperate desire to help your family in the face of danger on “homicide/genocide/ill die,” to the quiet moments of dejection when the world mounts so blatantly against you on “Nation tyme.” That last song features some of the most enlightening, direct lines on an album that generally avoids the lyrical directness expected of rap, like “Shit I should’ve died, I wouldn’t have to pay rent / Shit, you treat a n**** like you know I ain’t shit” and “Election played for you, can’t fall / I’m tired, can’t fall, sleep.” In fact, the only cut that vaguely resembles a “rap song” is the final track “Black Be Tha God, NEGRO. ( wisdom.cipher),” which itself functions as a sort of meta-commentary reflecting back on the rest of the album.
Everywhere else the vocals come in overdriven, saturated bursts—anger-fueled screams that emotionally embody the most horrific moments of the black experience. The very first words on the album, “White man tryna take my shit” from the second track “SMD,” convey unadulterated rage, delivered by Pink Siifu through an extremely noisy filter. Though mostly instrumental, the opening track “BLACKisGOD,A ghetto-sci-fi tribute(_G)” sets this tone for Negro, leading with grating saxophone and incessantly erratic drumming, all filtered and layered to create an abrasive wall of sound. This produces an environment primed for emotional resonance. It’s hard not to sympathize with someone who presents their greatest fears and the most terrifying parts of their life with such raw conviction.
And that’s the album’s power. Just like the embodied rage of the most extreme punk rock, Negro lets the listener into the fearful, violent, conflicted world of a Black person trying to succeed in a country fundamentally built to keep them down. Finding artistic works like these is an important part of education towards productive, respectful allyship. I strongly recommend music fans who aren’t afraid of a “challenging listen” to sit with this album. In some ways, the abrasiveness of Negro actually teaches you how to learn about and accept realities that might be initially difficult to swallow. Don’t just tune out those messages when they make you feel uncomfortable. Like the justification for violence during protesting, extremity is born of necessity.
Listen to Negro on Spotify.