Archaeologists of the future will have no problem dating Hip Hop artifacts. Diss tracks and rebuttals will act as carbon isotopes. They’ll count pop culture allusions like tree rings. They will work backwards from political history to make sure they assign the Chuck Ds and Killer Mikes to their correct decades. The medium operates within the moment to the minute.
Hip Hop’s persistent timeliness lends itself to its own lore– heroes and villains, plots and subplots– that can go as deep as the listener cares to explore. It canonizes moments that might otherwise fall by the wayside, like when Tyler, The Creator raps about the Donald Sterling controversy in “SMUCKERS.”
Such timeliness also comes at a risk. The monoculture’s ever-shifting definition of human decency make hateful, homophobic songs like DOOM’s “Batty Boyz” now unlistenable. And the nostalgia bait dangling in the songs of younger artists is likely to have the staying power of your average meme (hear: Cupcakke’s “Cartoons”).
This is partly what makes escaping into Jerry Quickley’s great album (american) FOOL so refreshing. It’s teeming with timeless imagery born from a contemplative mind gushing forth into a flood of consciousness. Quickley’s words come to life with Busdriver’s peerless production, which is free from any trendy sounds and is as ambient as a film soundtrack. The result cannot be trapped in amber; it is as immortal as poetry.
All of this to say: it’s damn good and exhilaratingly unique.
Unique, that is, as Quickley himself. He is a minor celebrity in LA whose platform is primarily spoken word. In addition, he’s a journalist recognized for his work in Iraq covering the American invasion. He brings that worldly perspective to his music. Stories of longing and nostalgia triggered by locals and their terrain. Brutal colonists in correspondence casually detailing their atrocities.
Quickley’s stream of consciousness style can sometimes obscure the songs’ central narratives. That might be a bigger problem, but with the images his words paint, grappling with the microscopic level of detail and layered meaning is a welcome, satisfying distraction.
Take “Transition.” It is a particularly manic song that’s hard to follow. He does, however, punctuate a lot of his verses with standout lines, like when he compares disregarded ideas to an abandoned car being reclaimed by nature with “Baby’s Breath pushing up through the door.”
The fun comes in unpacking such cerebral lines and eventually disciphering the rest of the song’s intent. It is an experience that demands multiple listening and ensures near-endless reward.