On “Lordy By Nature (UUV)” Washington DC MC Ankhlejohn bitterly describes the violent and chaotic world of professional car-jacking. The “UUV” in the title refers to the “unauthorised use of a vehicle” – the album cover even including the DC penal code for the crime. Ankh often refers to himself and others as “Lordy”, a term similar to Godly; the title (also a play on Naughty by Nature) is an assertion of superiority. The album was first released in 2018 on CD by the FXCK RXP label. In 2020, it was given a vinyl pressing through Ankhlejohn’s own Shaap Records. Since his album “The Red Room” in 2017, Ankh has switched themes across releases; from Five Percenter knowledge on “Understanding Cipher”, to sex (“Ankh Nasty”), horror (“The Face of Jason”) and fatherhood (“Reign Supreme”), not to mention his hilarious reworking of Kanye West’s “Jesus Is King” into the rough “Lordy Is God” and his Big Ghost collaboration, “Van Ghost”.
The subtitle to the album is “a soundtrack by Ankhlejohn”. And, according to the album’s accompanying blurb on the FXCK RXP bandcamp, it presents (or is inspired by) the early life of “Moroccan/American designer Naeem Khaliq Washitaw-EL”, who “at sixteen years old” was “introduced to the fast life culture of UUV”. I’m not sure if Naeem Khaliq Washitaw-EL is a real person, fictional character or moniker for Ankhlejohn. An online article from 2017 showcases a streetwear collection designed by Washitaw-EL based on UUV culture (Ankh is wearing one of the long-sleeve t-shirts on the album cover). In the same article Washitaw-El describes UUV as standing for “Use of Universal Vision” – the term redefined by him to refer to young people channelling the energy used in illegal “adrenaline activities” into creative, or entrepreneurial pursuits. While there are small hints of creative success on the album (“We’re making money off being wordy”), it mostly narrows its focus to a stage in Washitaw-EL’s life defined by the abandonment of safe values.
The album’s first three tracks are produced by Slumlord – a name I hadn’t seen (I may have been looking in the wrong places) since the release of their 2013 beat tape “Funeral Music”. For a record whose story rarely veers from an indulgence in recklessness, Slumlord’s foreboding doomsday-approaching beats are an appropriate fit. At the beginning of the first track “UUV”, a voice calls out, “Was it U? U? V?”, before sparse electric guitar notes and drunken snare drum snaps set a glum mood. “UUV” sees Ankh neatly encapsulating a chaotic life in his characteristically grimy voice (similarities can be made to Onyx’s Sticky Fingaz): “Yo, my life’s an unauthorised use of a stolen ride”. From those few words, we’re given a rich impression of a life which both revolves around car-jacking and is comparable to the act – reckless and thrilling, one running on “adrenaline activities” like a tank of stolen petrol.
Naeem is already a professional when we meet him – yet, the memories of earlier, less-sure beginnings are present too: “Try to hold the wheel steady/don’t hop in if you aint ready/the first time your palms sweaty”. Recklessness isn’t confined to Naeem’s life and with guilt, or misplaced goodwill he sometimes implicates others without their knowledge. At one point in “UUV”, the mother to the driver’s children is a passenger in a car, unaware it’s stolen – the ride offered to relieve her from having to lug a stroller on and off the Metro. These details are all told in the second-person, the technique increasing the tension of “UUV”, as if the listener is the one caught up in fraught excursions, told that at any moment there could be “5O behind you”, creating a situation in which you “either calm down” and lose them, or lose control and “start spinnin’ on ’em”. The second person perspective is one Ankh switches into a few times across the album, and it gives tracks like “UUV”, “How to Hack a Tesla” and “How to Hack a Bugati” a cinematic quality, like a director shifting between characters’ perspectives.
If “Lord by Nature (UUV)” is the soundtrack to a car-jacking story, one of its main themes is nihilism, embodied in the second track “Nothing Matters”. A loop of the eerie guitar lines from Portishead’s “Over” and singer Beth Gibbon’s lyrics chopped into repetitions of “I can’t” sit behind rough boom-bap drums. Complementing the bleak sentiment of the sample, Ankh spitefully relates on the chorus that “nothin’ don’t matter to me no more”. And, if nothing matters, why not steal a car and “circle round the block/make it obvious”, immersing oneself in a destructive and addictive world.
While placing a nihilist philosophy onto a record due to an assertion that “nothing matters” might seem tenuous, the philosophy is reiterated in the following track, “How to Hack a Tesla”. The track starts with a sample of a young man’s voice describing a feeling of alienation: “The room feels fake, like a cartoon kind of, like, I know that it’s about to fall apart”. And, once this sample plays out, it’s as if “How to Hack a Tesla” falls apart, with distorted vocals, slow drum hits and a maelstrom of adlibs giving the track the feeling of continual collapsing. All of these chaotic elements play alongside piano notes, in a grimy, thuggish ode to hacking a tesla – the hackable internet of things making “crowbars unnecessary to push pedals”.
Framing the entire album under a nihilist philosophy only gets us so far – while mostly nothing matters to Ankh’s protagonist, stealing has a purpose and is a way to make money. Some of the motivations for turning to car-jacking include being fired from a job and becoming “tired of being a servant” to an employer. Take those points and consider Ankh’s justification that “we’re just products of our environment” and we have a story of African-Americans living amongst racism and police brutality in violent or poor areas turning to money-making enterprises such as car-jacking to survive. On “How to Hack a Bugatti”, Ankh rhymes about someone in jail for stealing cars. The ethos of the imprisoned man isn’t to keep clean after his release, instead it’s to learn from past mistakes and “play the game for the max amount”. For instance, by working for a car dealership and pulling off large UUV heists in order to “live a good life with no job”. A risky, life-threatening heist considered the most plausible way to make enough money to live comfortably, outside of the conventional 9-5.
On “Two Cars” (produced by Viles), things take an uplifting turn. Bright synths soar over the chopped percussive bounce of what I’m sure is the Isaac Hayes sample used on The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Warning” (amongst many other tracks). The fruits of labour are being enjoyed, with Naeem (or Ankh) revelling in the benefits of his lifestyle: “My lordy said he found two cars/I’m in the passenger/I’m looking sweet”. “Two Cars” is the luxury track, in which our protagonist enjoys fried salmon and listens to Sisqo’s “The Thong Song” while wearing expensive watches. We can almost see Ankh or Naeem in a Miami mansion, reflecting on success. It’s the happiest track on the album, yet its joyous bounce is abruptly cut short by four strikes of a low-toned, clattering gong.
The strikes introduce the closing track and final scene, “Lordy by Nature” (produced by Viles). “Lordy by Nature” encapsulates everything that’s thrilling about the album – anti-social sentiment, rough beats and a spiteful, nihilistic attitude. The gongs continue their steady doom-toll, while drums snap and roll behind discordant piano notes. It’s a devasting, glorious end to the album with lines like “Grand larceny/I make a bitch go get the car for me/we cruise around like The Odyssey” reflecting both audacity and ugliness. On “Lordy by Nature” Ankh’s “soul is ancient”, and like some marauding Grecian soldier of myths, he spends the album in destructive scenarios. As “Lordy by Nature” fades out and the last gongs strike, the images of stolen cars skidding around corners and roaring carpark donuts fade to black.
Some might argue that it’s easier to make an excellent record if it’s only 20 minutes long. Yet, if it means getting nine well-considered, well-sequenced tracks on an album, I have no problem with it. I’d much prefer a short, excellent record rather than one which tries to meet an expectation of how long an album should be – maybe twelve to fourteen tracks (or worse, the overblown 18+ tracks of many late 1990s releases). On this album Ankhlejohn has carved away the excess for a concise, vivid story of stolen cars, lost friends, lovers and nihilism. One of my favourite records, start-to finish, in recent memory.