Album Review: Pink Siifu and Akai Solo - Black Sand
A little less than a year ago, I was introduced to the rapper Livingston Matthews—primarily performing and releasing music under the name Pink Siifu, it seems an artist like Matthews almost never rests.
My first experience with Matthews was through his contributions to the underground rap collective Kryptonyte, whose self-titled effort released on the Dallas, Texas-based label Dolfin, was a startling homage to the very dark, menacing, chopped and screwed sounds coming out of Houston in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Shortly after that, I discovered Matthews’ sprawling and thoughtful full-length as Pink Siifu, Ensley, original released on cassette in July of 2018, it was recently reissued as a double LP; from there, it was like the floodgates of underground and internet rap opened for me, guiding me toward Matthews’ regular collaborators like Maxo, Slauson Malone, then eventually members of sLUms like King Carter Slums, Caleb Giles, and Ade Hakim.
Outside of his own solo endeavors, projects, and aliases (of which there are numerous) Matthews is a member of the duo B. Cool Aid, which released a soulful, albeit a little disjointed EP, Syrup, in March of this year, and now, as the year comes to an end, Matthews finds himself a performing as part of another duo—Black Sand, alongside Akai Solo, and the resulting, self-titled debut effort is truly something to behold. Arriving at slightly under 40 minutes, and spread across 15 tracks, I stop short of saying that Black Sand is a bleak record, however, it’s intrinsically dark and hypnotic, almost effortlessly pulling its listeners into the swirling, at times cacophonic world created.
Produced entirely by Matthews himself, under his ‘iiye’ moniker, upon my initial listen of Black Sand, it was by the time the record arrived at its fourth track, “Show Love,” that I realized what I was in for—an album—or experience, really, that is something incredibly fascinating and compelling. “Show Love,” one of the album’s longest tracks, is structured around a very simple, mesmerizing, dissonant loop—murky and dark—sounding like it’s beaming in a cavernous place thousands of miles away. Over the top of it, Matthews delivers what is more or less a spoken word piece, his slow, deliberate drawl (he is from Alabama, originally) coasting just over the top of the swirling atmosphere behind him.
The intent of an album like Black Sand, more or less, is that you listen to it uninterrupted, from start to finish. Yes, there is a moody, artful video for “Show Love,” leading one to believe that it could be considered a ‘single,’ but here’s the thing—Black Sands not a singles kind of record, and I get the impression that based on his output as Pink Siifu (specifically Ensley), Matthews is not a ‘singles’ kind of performer, and by association, neither is Akai Solo—a quick internet search of the latter will find his work described as ‘poetic,’ ‘lo-fi,’ and ‘immersive.’
The sonic, aesthetic shadow cast over Black Sand, as well as its structure, doesn’t mean that it is inaccessible; it’s a difficult album, yes, but that’s what makes it such a compelling, thought provoking thing to listen to. But it also has moments that are borderline infectious, like the groove the duo lock into on “24Duty,” a track that, musically speaking, when compared to some of the other, more cavernous moments on the record, sounds damn near whimsical.
Being an album so steeped in an evocative sound that is used to create an, at times, otherworldly atmosphere, Black Sand could run the risk of relying too heavily on spectacle1 rather than focusing on things like thought and diction—but it never succumbs. Black Sand is a remarkable accomplishment simply because of the way it seamlessly blends both Akai Solo’s frenetic, unrelenting delivery and his clever, at times stream of conscious lyrics, with the murky, stark production found on nearly ever track.
It goes without saying, at this point, that you should have surmised Black Sand is what can commonly be referred to as a ‘headphone record.’ It isn’t the kind of thing you are discouraged from listening to over a stereo, but you’ll just be listening to it then—it’s intent is that you experience it, or immerse yourself in it, and the intimacy that a pair of headphones—even inexpensive earbuds—provides that opportunity.
Listening through headphones allows you to both really, fully grasp the astounding and dizzying production that Matthews has created, as well as offering a chance at more clarity to truly hear the breathlessly energetic and relentless delivery with which Akai Solo uses, commanding his words with a staggering and surprising exuberance
I regularly read three music websites for both information on possible new artists or albums to research, as well as music news in general; each one of them has a few benefits, I also take issue with all three of them, equally, for different reasons.
The writing on Stereogum (a site I regularly call ‘the poorman’s Pitchfork’) has never been exemplary, but more and more, I find I have problems with the regularly published rap and hip-hop column, Status Ain’t Hood, as well as the man who writes it—the first time I think I ever really took issue with it was when he wrote something up about the Billy Woods and Kenny Segal album from earlier this year, Hiding Places, and built his entire piece around a detail about the album he thought he understood, but in fact, had completely wrong.
In a news brief regarding the release of Black Sand, this writer says Pink Siifu ‘produced the entire thing,’ and that he ‘doesn’t rap on it at all.’
That is not entirely true.
Black Sand is the kind of album that isn’t weighed down with features—the only guest who appears on a full track is King Carter Slums, and both Matthews and Akai Solo have distinct enough cadences that you should be able figure out which one is performing, and when.
The minor truth behind Stereogum’s erroneous declaration is that Matthews, as a rapper and singer (he does both, and as a singer, he’s on track to inherit the soulful, freewheeling throne of D’Angelo), takes a bit of a back seat throughout Black Sand, focusing more on the album’s tone and production, more or less allowing Akai Solo to take center stage.
The urgency and enthusiasm with which Akai Solo commands the microphone is impressive—and in his delivery, he’s not just rapping quickly for the sake of rapping quickly; no, every word is steeped in an immediacy that is palpable. He’s got something to say—and it would behoove you to listen to him.
It’s Matthews’ production, however, which is why you’ll want to pay close attention to Black Sand. It’s the kind of album that, musically speaking, is so dense and fascinating that it begs to have an instrumental companion album, just so I could have these dank, gloomy beats playing around me at all times. Reminiscent at times of A Quiet Farwell from Slauson Malone—though less chopped to bits and unnerving, you can also hear echoes of Earl Sweatshirt’s dark Some Rap Songs, and even the surprisingly moody and captivating self-titled effort from British rapper ManonMars.
At times, the shadow looming over Black Sand lifts slightly, through the use of more soulful and less ominous sounding samples, like the aforementioned “24Duty,” or the late arriving “2k4eva,” but overall, both artists are firmly planted in creating an impossibly desolate sounding landscape—“Fate Shifter,” the album’s second to last track is quite possibly its starkest moment. Even with as gripping and disorienting as Black Sand can be, it is the kind of record that once it has concluded, you’re (or at least I) was disappointed it was over, and found myself reaching to press play, and start the journey into the darkness all over again.
1- This is a reference to Aristotle’s Poetics, in case you were wondering what I’m talking about. This, friends, is me flexing on my B.A. in theatre.
Black Sand is available now as a digital download.
Black Sand is available now as a digital download.