If the music that 38Kea makes can be broadly qualified as hip-hop, then it should probably be consigned to the wilder, stranger regions of that expansive territory. Throughout Seeds, Thy Divine Thresher, 38Kea raps, speaks, and sings over a strange amalgamation of beat sculptures, glitchy melodies, and found audio. Sometimes he’ll muse over a deconstructed ’90s golden age beat, while other times he’ll sing along to an elongated rock melody. His music is more concerned with the individual raw materials rather than what they might add up to. It may be ironic to call this heavily altered electronic music elemental, but that’s what it is: Beats are neglected for passages of improvised drum machines, and rapping devolves into muttered statements about the incoherence of the world. Though it may sometimes resemble an unruly sprawl, Seeds, Thy Divine Thresher contains gems of clarity for the patient listener.
The album opens with spoken word by Retta Vendetta who provides a statement of purpose over a gently distorted jazz piano: “They want us to sell ourselves/Just so they can buy us back/But I don’t think I’m with that.” 38Kea is fully aware of the commodification of contemporary art (perhaps contemporary life as well), but his response is to fully isolate himself in the raw potentiality of the process of creation. A song like “Fill the Cup Up” gets its power from continual misdirection: From its title to its sample of a cup literally being filled, you might expect a party track, but instead, you get a contemplative synthetic drum stunner filled with almost quiet rhymes. Over a battery of cut-up vocals, 38Kea mixes satirical commentary (“Niggas in the system always eating up the grub”) with political critique (“They oversee the killings/Counting up they billions”), casting a side-eye both at society while also recognizing that we are all too eager to lap it up when we aren’t criticizing it. It makes complete sense that the song ends with a sample of Donald Trump trying to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement: “You remember pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon.” It’s presented with the understanding that no caricature could be as warped as the original.
38Kea’s response to being made into a consumable product is to hide, using a series of sounds as cover. It’s a risky proposition because his occlusion may seem needlessly cryptic; to put it more simply, there’s always the possibility of noise negating what you say because no one can understand what on earth you’re talking about. The heavy instrumental of a song like “Brutalaton the Murderer” (produced by collaborator Jak3) envelops 38Kea’s words in reverbed guitar and ambient static. Mood is as important here as lyrics—maybe even more so. When you do hear words, it feels like glancing at droplets of rain in a storm, you almost wonder if they would be relevant to anyone else besides you. 38Kea refuses to get specific even as he tells a narrative: “Brutalaton did do heinous wrongs to tell upon such crimes I would name/But that would make the story hella long/I must make room to harp to you about the other side of the dark moon/Far beneath the weeds, Brutalaton indeed did have seeds.” It’s uninteresting for him to give you the rap sheet of a killer, but he’s still interested in beginnings.
This focus can be somewhat unnerving if you want clear answers, but 38Kea manages to make the search stimulating. Part of this comes from the sheer versatility of the production, with help from collaborators Lampgod (aka Loretta Aberdeen) and Jak3, 38Kea gets abstract. They move from doomed boom bap (“Legacy” and “The Power Inherent”) to pitch-shifted blues (“God Bless the Child”) with ease, as if they laugh at the idea of placing these sounds into separate categories. Combining this experimentation with whimsical reflections on growth might seem self-indulgent, but this rhizomatic tendency has a point. On “Spliff in Hand,” this is illustrated by the opening chorus (“Take the seeds and watch them grow so tall”) and from 38Kea’s closing lines (“Can’t stop them populating/Populating seeds/Populating seeds”). He lingers on the smallest parts of the whole, and his hope is generated by their potential. You can’t stop him from becoming enamored with a particular line or repeated drum pattern any more than you can stop a plant from winding its way to the light. It’s his nature.
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