“Bat soup” which is difficult to digest
Blues black girl. Riot cafe gurl. Black ghost songs. These are just a little bit descriptors that Camae Ayewa – better known as Moor Mother – uses to denote his uncompromising experimental music. There is a bit of irony in these terms, an ironic reference to its unclassification and the absurdity of gender distinctions as a whole. With all of a noise-punk record has a play under her belt, Moor Mother is difficult to pin down. But in a surprising turn of events, she declared her latest record, Black Air Encyclopedia, her the most accessible work to this day, even expressing fear that she made a “Disney album”.
Good, Moor Mother.
Deep down, she seems to recognize that this is not the case. In A press release, she warns that Black Air Encyclopedia Drop launches your ‘relaxing rhythms to study’ on a Youtube playlist and hyper-intellectual rap podcasts in a hadron collider. Describing your album as opposed to a “cool beats to study to” Youtube playlist – the ultimate in accessibility – while also calling it a “Disney album” sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? “Accessibility” is relative. At the end of the day, this record is very experimental, and Moor Mother knows it.
Certainly the instrumental backdrops on Black Air Encyclopedia certainly splash around in terms of accessibility, with jazzed up pianos (“Mangrove”) and dark, battered textures – hell, “Vera Hall” is practically a cloud rap song. But they still retain an experimental advantage, also using dark field recordings (“Clock Fight”) and piercing returns (“Iso Fonk”). The whole thing takes on a swirling, watery sound that does justice to Moor Mother’s description of the album as “beat the soup.”
But the things really gets weird on a formal level, where Moor Mother is more difficult than ever. Most of these tracks barely hit the two-minute mark, with fair political rage and esoteric afro-futuristic spitting out at a rapid pace, leaving people with little time to catch up. Before we can even record what they just heard, they are taken to the next track. Turns out the pacing soup is hard to digest, and Moor Mother refuses to hold people’s hands along the way.
So if it’s not already clear, it’s not an album that can be casually enjoyed. With the exception of one or two tracks, it is not at all versatile. This is not a complaint, just a reminder not to take Moor Mother’s “accessibility” label too seriously – this project requires careful and repeated commitment. There is so much thrown at people at once that only the most impactful lines will stand out and leave an imprint on first listen, from “No more master clock / We are traveling in the waves of space,” a cosmic expression of black empowerment from “Zami”, to visceral “Guts of slavery / Grits and gravy / Shackled baby” off “Race Function Limited”.
Then there are the more subtle punchlines and the word pieces that are not fully appreciated until you listen to two or three – like on “Vera Hall”, when Moor Mother rape, “Existing before that / Before Europeans had apples / Damn, this land has snakes, ”with a steady flow that oozes like molasses.
Granted, the formal high-speed attack on the record can be frustrating at times, with “Obsidian,” starring Pink Siifu, being the most damning example. Pink Siifu takes full control of the track with her stealthy, menacing rasp, so when her verse is over in just 42 seconds and the track ends abruptly, it’s hard not to be dissatisfied. It also hangs out at times, especially towards the end on tracks like “Tarot” and “Nighthawk Of Time”, which are conceptually daring but musically underwhelming.
“Made A Circle” is perhaps the best and easiest song. It provides the clearest articulation of the album’s central concept, as Moor Mother and a host of guests explore collective memory, family ties, and the cyclical nature of life. “We are no different from them,” said one of the rappers of his ancestors, “their mind is ours.”
Despite the occasional lull, Black Air Encyclopedia manages to be both demanding and enjoyable. It feels more like a series of fragments than a collection of songs, but it’s fun to sift through those fragments and try to make sense of them. Plus, it all amounts to a sort of gestalt effect at the end of the album. Moor Mother’s claim that this record is “accessible” is laughable, because the sounds and stories it contains are no laughing matter.