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the righteous black rage of pink siifu’s ‘negro’

April 17, 2020
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Musician Livingston Matthews’, aka Pink Siifu, discography is a tour through African American musical genres. As a prolific rapper and beatmaker, jazz, soul, blues, punk, are all cornerstones of his thirty-plus releases. After doing a deep dive into his discography, you get the impression that Matthews places as much importance into archiving the Black experience as he does creating music. His 2018 breakout record, ensley, is filled with sound collages that are a soundtrack to snippets of Black life; you hear two women having a playful conversation about living life carefree as a Outkast sample plays in “No Mo Fux”, or the pitch-shifted doo-wop sample in “tht bag” as a voice rants about emotional and spiritual baggage While Matthews approaches music from the perspective of a documentarian; he’s as concerned with keeping a living record of the struggles of Black people as he is making art about it.

With NEGRO, his latest record as Pink Siifu, Matthews pulls the camera back and focuses on the cause of these struggles. As a confrontational piece of art NEGRO makes the plague of white supremacy and the toils of capitalism the sole focus. If ensley was about the noble struggle of Black life working through hard times (“Pops tired”, “proud/pray”) NEGRO is about the rage of that struggle existing in the first place; the hatred of a racially stratified America.

The calming lo-fi hip-hop feel of ensley is disregarded for aggressive and off-kilter production. Tracks like “ON FIRE, BABY” cut the high frequencies and overdrive the bass, making it sound like it beamed in from another dimension. It’s an intentionally disorientating listen but a captivating one; even with the mix of the record Siifu wants to convey the uncanny feeling of being hated and hunted for the color of your skin.

Pink Siifu, ‘NEGRO’ album cover

With the release of this record, Siifu debuted his negro.life website which serves as a visual companion to the album. When you click on a specific link a looping image of Black faces comes barreling at you; a plethora of beautiful Black faces captured in joyful moments. The idea that systemic forces are actively working to snuff the life out of them is heartbreaking and NEGRO distills that feeling into rage.

The police state lurks as a specter throughout the album but Siifu flips it, making them the prey. Throughout NEGRO they have stalked song after song with their aggressions getting returned tenfold. “I don’t know why I ain’t shot you”, Siifu screams on “SMD.” NEGRO understands that white supremacy is about fear of Black empowerment and leverages that fear to make a statement.

Siifu and his collaborators, Nick Hakim, Ted Kamal, Moor Mother, Jeremiah Jae among others, create a stew steeped in Black militancy. Over the course of the album Siifu name-checks Sun Ra Arkestra and Bad Brains as influences, but there’s a direct lineage to Public Enemy, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Last Poets, Sly Stone and other unabashedly confrontational musical outlets of Blackness.

Siifu uses punk as the broad backbone of this project, as much in attitude as in sound. The drone jazz number “we need mo color” revolves around a melody that sounds as heavy as any sludge metal riff. “FK” is a straight punk rager until Pink Siifu collapses it into an off-kilter sample with pitch-shifted vocals declaring: “Pigs eat a dick!”. “Nation Tyme” starts off with a fiery Amiri Baraka speech over a harsh sine wave before Siifu crawls out audibly tired, rapping “they treat me like I’m wasting away/I know I’m worth more than they pay”.

With NEGRO Siifu documents Black anger at an unfair system. In a time where even the slightest amount of resistance to white supremacy is portrayed as criminal, it’s a refreshing work of art. America loves to pick and choose aspects of Black life to commodify; love, spirituality, sadness, etc. With NEGRO, Siifu makes the statement that Black anger is an important aspect of Black life, and it isn’t for sale.

Experience Pink Siifuu’s NEGRO via negro.life and support the project on Bandcamp

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