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“I won’t lie, I’m so fly I can die today”
Nihilism is not a new concept to rap music. It is birthed in the same societal inequalities that are fundamental to hip-hop as a whole. The far-right has succeeded in rebranding telling the truth about this inequality as “woke” while urging people to reject “woke culture.” Forgive me for making this personal for a moment, but rejecting the truth runs contrary to my entire life’s work. I grew up around this attitude and every time they “went right” I made a hard left turn. I read the books they told me not to read and listened to the albums they told me not to buy. It would be dishonest to say I didn’t enjoy being contrarian just to subvert their agenda, but underneath it all was a fundamental curiosity about a world larger than the place I came from.
“I’m makin murder plays, it put smiles on my face
To get a nigga murdered, I be flirtin with the grave”
When a young Flash heard rap artists talking about “Death Around the Corner,” I wasn’t upset by such a bleak outlook; rather, I was interested in what could shape such a dour and pessimistic worldview. I naively hoped that rappers being honest about living for today because there was no tomorrow could bring about change. After all reading about and listening to the truth had changed me, so how could it not change others too? When 2Pac said “Even if I did die young, who cares?” my response was “I do ‘Pac.” Unfortunately he was accurate in predicting his own demise. Listening to “Pistolz & Pearlz” by Kodak Black gives me an eerie feeling he will be too. In my last review I commended his artistic growth and encouraged him to continue in that direction, but it would be hard to ignore just how little hope Black has for living long enough to get there.
“Got money on my mind, but these niggaz want my head
I’m tryna find out why, but these bitches want my bread
I’m changing people lives, but these niggaz want me dead
I bet everybody die ‘fore I let ’em take my breath”
With some rappers you could take the proclamations of “Tryna Figure Why” and chalk it up to an exaggerated persona for entertainment purposes. Kodak Black may be the rare case of a rapper playing down just how much drama is in their life. His legal issues stretch back to his teenage years and his fame as a rap star has accelerated them like a brick on the gas pedal. Even a pardon from the previous President hasn’t kept him from winding up on house arrest for violating probation on other charges. Listening to Black feels like flying too close to the sun and hoping your wings don’t melt. “Snipers & Robbers” will make you ask one simple question — is life imitating art or is Kodak Black’s success a trap that turns art into real life?
“Hurt me like two fades, you were my partner
Thuggin like Boosie, snipers and robbers
AKs and dead flowers, choppers and roses
How many opponents? I’ma kill all them”
The amount of producers on the “Pistolz & Pearlz” is too long to list, though I will at least acknowledge Mike Will Made It for the title track. He toned down the AutoTune that often causes people to accuse Black of being a “mumble rapper” and in the process accidentally made him sound a little more like Lil Wayne. That’s not a bad thing. The music is solid throughout even if it ventures into furniture music territory. Less sampling means less sample clearance, but it also disconnects rap songs from the rich context of their predecessors, and results in rap songs where proven formulas are given precedence over experimental loops. I’m not saying I want Kodak Black to rap over water dripping on pipes — no wait, yes I am. I want Black to take chances. If he believes life is short anyway why not make the most of it while he’s still here? Songs like “Gunsmoke Town” play it safe.
“Everybody remember me in the projects, from back in the day”
I’d like them to continue to remember Kodak Black, not just from back in the day, but tomorrow and far into the future. It would be easy to say KB has to change his ways first. The pressure of keeping up appearances as a rap star makes that a near impossibility. It would be easy to say the bleak outlook for urban youth in cities where schools and social services are underfunded because the wealth fled to the suburbs needs to change. Providing more money to fix these problems is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. The structural racism that creates the environment is so pervasive that the people who deny it exists simply can’t see it, because it’s ingrained into every aspect of your life from birth.
Let me sidebar it this way — how can you Rage Against the Machine when you’re also a part of it? I enjoy RATM’s music but if they somehow fixed all of America’s problems they’d also cease to have a purpose. They benefit from a machine that needs their rage. It might be sad to say Kodak Black does too, but it’s honest, and I can’t say he’s not. I just hope he doesn’t prove to be as accurate as his peers in predicting his own demise. We need his “Pearlz” more than his “Pistolz.”