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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Concerts explodes this weekend

Mykki Blanco is not human, but will be gracing the stage in Gardner tonight. The rap moniker of Michael Quattlebaum Jr, she’s adorned with dozens of tattoos that look Sharpied on, including one that reads “Pony Boy” and another of Snoopy smoking a joint. It reminds one of Die Antwoord’s Ninja and his tattoos, except while Ninja gives off the air of putting on a persona, Mykki Blanco feels all too real. A reality subsumed behind the societal conventions that she all but robs, drugs and abandons in an alleyway dumpster.
This realness reveals that Blanco knows a thing or two about the club scene. In an interview with The New York Times, Quattelbaum said that he ran away to New York twice, once when he was 16. It was then that he went out into daylight in drag, complete with a fake Chanel bag, and nobody clocked him.
“It was like Pandora’s box opened,” Blanco recalls of the night.
The type of fringe lifestyle he lived got him into all kinds of scenes, where he met Alexander McQueen and got naked in Go-Go dancing competitions. This type of street savviness soaks his songs, from the beats to his flow, Blanco’s gotten down and dirty to get to know her art, where she’s not making any concessions.
“Wavvy”, produced by Grinnell favorite Brenmar, offers an electrifying beat that clashes, ticks and bounces just hard enough to match Blanco’s flow. In the song, she raps:
“Welcome to Hell bitches, this is Mykki Blanco New World Order. Motherf*cker, follow pronto. Get in line n*gga, your soul is mine n*gga, you scaredy cat pussy motherf*ckers can’t deliver.”
Reclaiming the conventions of what allows a rapper to talk shit, pomp about and spit bars about how well they can spit bars, Blanco does this all while wearing wigs, and spitting so vicious any rapper, hetero or not, would best think twice before taking her on. Blanco messes with gender as much as she does the expectations of what it means to be legitimate in hip-hop.
Spookiness is a recurring motif for Blanco’s music. A downright creepiness that feels like an older cousin, the one that skips class all the time, taking you to a party that you know would be like nothing you’ve been to before, but also shady as hell.
“Haze.Boogie.Life” is no exception. The video features Blanco alternating between treating models like mannequins in some cute-a** outfits to bumping, without wig or dresses, in the car with some friends.
“It’s a war out here, the real vs. the gimmicks, They all wanna be stars but they heart ain’t in it, they all wanna go far but it’s survival of the fittest, So a spitta killa likes me comes around and f*cking ends it.”
The shift in her tone is as much poetry as it is rap. Blanco’s voice grows higher and whiny around “they all wanna be stars,” until it grinds down to a snarl at the end of the verse. His versatility reflect his roots in music: Quattelbaum’s first musical obsessions were riot grrrl bands like Le Tigre, who he says pointed him to the influences that inform his music today. Combined with his street smarts, Blanco raps with such tenacity, attitude, and self-assurance while twirling her hip-length pigtail wig that makes her a wicked force to be reckoned with. If you don’t catch this show, you a chump, simple as that.
On Saturday, Disappears will be appearing in Gardner, recalling the grunginess of a garage band without its messiness. Their sound, however, is very tight-knit.
In “Replicate”, the band switches between sounding like a boat going beyond the horizon, with droning riffs, until the waves of suddenly fervent guitar playing and tick-tacking drums stir up the complacency they’ve just created. In the lulls occupying the negative space aside from the more traditional rock, the vocals are sung in a nearly lackluster mood.
Brian Case sings, “You’re speaking names, yeah you’re calling out to each other, without doubt.”
In videos of the band’s performances, Disappears has people zoning out to their music. Fans are swaying back and forth, eyes closed, intensely concentrated on the experience. Disappears’ approach works for what they’re trying to accomplish, a sound that grows into a self-fulfilling show.
“Joa” begins with a scattering of sounds, almost like a cause and effect of drums and delicate tightrope strings. The song slowly grows more intense, by very small intervals, until a guitar riff is added alongside a cymbal crash. Case’s vocals come in like the hypnotist holding the pendulum, sidling along the song as a shaman into a deep trance.
Songs like “Joa” have something in common with high-energy EDM music of songs like “Firestarter” by The Prodigy. Both rely on unconventional sounds, “Firestarter” uses an array of syths and aggressive drums, while Joa is much more restrained, but uses string to reach the same high-pitched featurettes, and both fine-tune the listener’s consciousness to a specific frequency.
But while The Prodigy elevates that consciousness, Disappears focuses on subduing it, their music bringing the listener into a trance. Their songs that do this aren’t complicated, they’re understated, a song that pulses like a heartbeat, where the repetitiveness serves like breathes coming in and out.
In a video of the band performing the song, Case talks about their approach to performances:
“I love the song ‘Jao’ and ‘Love Drug’ just ‘cause they’re really repetitive and it’s easy to trance out to them. You can see it in the crowd. A way to make music physical is if you make it uncomfortable. When you repeat the same thing for an amount of time, you think ‘when is it gonna stop?’ Then your mind flips and you get the rhythm and you don’t want it to stop ‘cause the hypnosis sets in.”
The band’s music won’t have anybody moshing, but it’s easy to get lost in. For the audience, Disappears’ music sinks like a rabbit hole, forming its own swampy consciousness for listeners to wander in for ages.
Shabazz Palaces is a duo of Ishmael Butler and Tendai “Baba” Maraire. Their project originated from Seattle and has been making a splash in the local music scene, their 2011 album “Black Up” topping the Seattle Times top #10 music list that year.
If Disappears’ music is unconventional, then Shabazz Palaces’ is unimaginable. Their music isn’t focused on consistency, but instead evolution. Their songs grow from an origin of imagination and omniscience reached through a combination of old school hip-hop and new-fi technique.
At times, they sound like Ratatat, other times they sound like Kendrick Lamar messing around on a Groovebox, all while retaining a nuanced mind for production, soul and artistry.
“free press and curl” starts with what sounds like monks chanting, only to shift to quick rhymes backed by a deeply resonant dub. An unconventional beat to be sure, that somehow Butler manages to lay his verse over like butter over toast.
“Snuck an extra slice of cake, When the pigs came round to make their case, I looked ‘em dead up in they face, I never heard of none of that. Soon’s I win, let’s run it back. I run on feelings, f*ck your facts.”
The verses are aggressive yet self-reflective. They also embody a seasoned understanding of hip-hop apparent in every facet of the song, from the slick delivery to the complex lyricism.
One of the highlights is the glorious rise into the hook, accompanied by a woman’s angelic cooing and a bass-heavy pouncing backbeat. Over a production rivaling the orchestration of Kanye West, which sounds less overwrought and more an attempt to connect to their audience through dedicated musicality, Butler raps:
“I’m free, sh*t you know I’m free, n*gga, I’m freeeee. Yeah, you know I’m free, sh*t, I’m free. To be enslaved to all these things I can’t escape. Trapped inside imagination tickling at my face.”
No doubt the maturity of the sound is due to Butler’s long involvement in hip-hop, specifically his earlier work as “Butterfly” of jazz-hop gurus Digable Planets. The group was around during the early 90s, and, although they had a bit of an intellectual ego going on, the group laid it down in cool and groovy songs like “Cool like Dat” and “Where I’m From.”
Though Butler wants to distance himself from his previous work in an effort to let Shabazz Palaces stand on its own two feet, Digable Planets is testament to his well thought out, intangible and knowing music. These dudes know what they’re doing.
A video for their song “Black Up” is further testament to the ingenuity of the group. There’s no shortage of inspiration evident in and ripe for the taking from the song/video combination. The footage varies as much as their musical arsenal. There are throwback shots of New York, with Butler spitting underneath railroad tracks while his dude holds a boombox.
There’s also a black woman walking through a veritable Eden of green, a far cry from the concrete jungle of New York, and a congregation of brothers wearing all white. Somewhere amidst all the luxurious shots, yellow words flash on the bottom of the screen: “Gil Scott-Heron 1949–2011”. It’s a breathtaking video, making the humble beautiful, paradise reachable and hip-hop more than just a music genre, but a way of life.
There’s no doubt that Shabazz Palaces is art, no genre to constrain them and no show at Gardner that has or ever will be like them. Fans of groups like Flying Lotus or Digable Planets should definitely check out the show, as well as anyone who wants to catch a history-piece of hip-hop reinventing and honing his craft. Catch Shabazz Palaces on Sunday, April 21 (my birthday!) at Gardner.

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