Verses From the Abstract: Now Who Wants Ice Cream | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, February 4th, 2023  

Sampha the Great

Verses From the Abstract: Now Who Wants Ice Cream

Featuring Sampa The Great, Big Baby Scumbag, Sur Stone, Mt. Etna, Phelimuncasi, and Nyege Nyege Tapes

Oct 05, 2020 Photography by Michaela Dutkova Sampa The Great
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It’s completely well and good to want to change the system, even better to dismantle it in the name of building something better. Still, one must occasionally avail themselves of the small pleasures of the current system as long as we’re stuck in it, no? I think it’s wack as hell that it makes sense in our current circumstance for an entertainer to lend their name to ice cream or salty snacks to chase a buck, BUT does that mean I wouldn’t eat the hell out of some Pluto Bleu and thank Tyler the Creator for his part in it? Don’t bet on it (though if we’re being honest, I was more stoked on it when I first saw the promo pic and assumed it was peach and Blue Moon, as opposed to the blood orange/blueberry reality of the thing. Different strokes!).

Tampa Bay rapper Big Baby Scumbag is definitely subject to these late capitalist impulses, having already cross-marketed his persona with Trix-flavored beer and branded condoms before even scoring a national hit. He’s also an unabashed pop culture sponge, his songs bubbling over with nostalgic ’90s-’00s references to Bobby Hill, Dale Earnhardt, and Nicole Richie, not to mention multiple nods to ramen noodles. Sound like a creative dead end on paper? Maybe, but remember that Migos came into the mainstream convo with goofy odes to Versace and Hannah Montana without it hampering their creative or commercial progression.

Besides, Scumbag makes it all fun. His flow is distinct and charming, his beaming video presence goofy as shit. His ears are also wide open: the production on his most recent mixtape leans towards vintage trap, but he’s also been known to wink towards modern country tropes, and on “Street Lights”— a standout track from the earlier Big Baby Earnhardt—he even tries a his hand at pop-punk. His latest single, “Mercedes Benz,” borrows heavily from Janis Joplin’s extemporaneous classic of the same name, revealing the timelessness of that song’s hunger/irony combo platter. It remains to be seen if Scumbag will be richly rewarded for his willful commercial engagement, but you can’t deny dude’s hustling hard.

New Orleans’ Sur Stone, meanwhile, takes a more equitable, punkish approach to creative economics. Their excellent new EP GLASS BOI is set to “name your price” on Bandcamp; in their other life as a graphic designer, they offer gorgeous album cover design to struggling artists on the cheap. It tracks, given this mentality, that the music on GLASS BOI is accessible without feeling the need to be baldly commercial. Languid, moody R&B tracks like “.WEDONTKISSANDTELL” and “ROSA.RE” are intimate and quietly radical, their hooks deepening with every listen.

Another standout track on GLASS BOI, “TRIPPP,” features contributions from fellow NOLA artist Mt. Etna, whose self-titled debut EP offers somewhat similar charms, albeit with an extra touch of reverb-drenched Badalamentian melancholy. Sur Stone returns Mt. Etna’s guest favor on “Threat City,” and it’s perhaps the most experimental track on either release. Hopefully, a harbinger of more adventurous work to come. One listen to either of these, and I’ll trust you’ll join me in keeping ear to ground.

Less experimental and more upbeat, but no less exciting for either fact, is the new remix of Sampa the Great banger “Time’s Up,” featuring guest raps by Junglepussy. One can debate whether we absolutely needed a remix of an already-great track, and Krown’s contributions from the original are missed, but fuck if Junglepussy doesn’t grind those concerns underfoot as she spits high-speed flame all over the track’s insistent, snare-forward beat. If you’re not already missing the dancefloor that the pandemic has been denying us, you surely will be after this (though, for the Love of Whatever You Consider Holy, please stay off that floor, at least in the USA… we’re still deep, DEEP in the woods!).

I’ve not been keeping close track of where people are able to return to (relative) normal in the rest of the world, but if I were in South Africa, I’d be chomping at the bit to return to a world where I could be in a crowd dancing to Phelimuncasi. Formed in 2012 in the Miaszi township of Durban South Africa, the group are icons of Gqom, a form of electronic music which combines the harsh cybernetic textures of classic techno with local kwaito sounds.

2013-2019, a new retrospective on Kampala, Uganda’s great Nyege Nyege Tapes label, allows us a taste of what we may’ve been missing, and it’s a doozy. With their steady thump and hectoring, conversational raps, tracks like “Private Party” retain a clear sense of place while also casting their net far and wide for musical inputs, at times recalling ’80s UK industrial/EBM and American booty bass as much as anything from South Africa. Known for playing left-leaning political functions at home, you can bet that they’re not planning to use their name to market popsicles any time soon. If they did, though, I might have to have a taste.

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