There is an old quote in the music business that goes something like this: “If you don’t have a sound… baby, you’ve got nothing”. In short, if your melodies and rhythms alone can’t express who you are, on a real emotional level, then it’s not really anything. That being said, nobody in the Chicago hip hop community has the ability to invent and then re-invent an emotional watermark like Malci. His latest release, ‘Do You Know Yourself?’ is a beautiful, melodramatic, and psychedelic soap opera about introspection and growth.
The music itself is drawn from a lot of wells. There is the serene presence of old soul songs sampled throughout the record, a touch of melancholy comfort to punctuate the excellently crafted beats on the album. Drum tracks shift and meld together in a way that brings Nnamdi Ogbonnaya to mind. Nnamdi’s newest release DROOL is a more in the realm of math rock than traditional jazz, but the experimental methodology ties it and Do You Know Yourself? together in a definitive way. While ‘Gospel’ is a great example of this marriage between tradition and modernism, the complex intellectual content is even more likable once you realize he doesn’t buy into his own bullshit: “Shorty said I made her late for Sunday service/ I’m like okay my bad I got so lost up in the cervix/ I don’t even sin bad like that/ unless it’s good burger it’s better than murder/”.
After ‘Gospel’ the album slides into something totally different. “OPEN” starts out with a haunted heaviness before shifting into something that sounds like it’s pulled from Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works. Then, without skipping a beat, the album whisks you away to the soft supersynths of the early 00’s on “THROWBACK”. It’s an excellent story-driven track; soul-power beats and tinkling piano operates as a kaleidoscopic counterpoint to Malci’s stories of chasing girls and fucking around the neighborhood with his friends.
Another standout track, “SCARABS”, sounds like something pulled from Stankonia. It features Mykele Deville, one of the most prominent figures in socially conscious Chicago hip hop. Malci had an excellent track on Mykele’s album Each One, Teach One and it’s tough not to mention the collaboration because of the two’s similarities in social perspective. They both speak about modern black enlightenment and empowerment, but where Mykelle’s music focuses on outward perspective it’s positive progression, Malci turns inward to heal the self and confront the internalization of the world at large. “SCARABS” weighs you down from all angles–tough truths set to the saddest sounding saxophones you’ve ever heard before all of the sudden, (you guessed it), a 180-degree emotional shift to the transitional and humorous ‘lalalala’, interjecting a sense of levity into the album that comes from knowing yourself.
To a lot of young people, this grim introspection IS the new wave of hip hop in Chicago. The sunshine psychedelic waves of the DIY scene have broken and dissipated into something darker. The drugs are changing, the dialogues are more venomous, and the public political climate has become, at the very least, unfavorable to the black community. Malci’s soul-searching is important and relevant because it chauffeurs the listener around from issue to issue forcing that pain to the surface, staring at it and squaring off with it like a calm and collected bushido master. Khalil Gibran once said, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore, trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.”
Do you Know Yourself? is ultimately that mythical alchemist’s product; a perfected image of the true self, realized through hours of labor and study, made ready for consumption. Go take a sip.