Sometimes, for whatever reason, great art slips past audiences and remains woefully underappreciated. Which is why we’ve created an essay series called Fossil Records, devoted to helping people discover lost and obscure work that never got its due.
As far as I can tell, there is no widely available information on rap artist Lowdown da Sinista aside from what little personal data is revealed on Coming For Your Soul: that he had kids he has trouble taking care of, that he lived in the projects in Memphis, that he was 22 to 23 years of age at the time of these recordings, and that he was dangerously suicidal [according to a YouTube user Lowdown da Sinista appears to have died of kidney failure in 2013]. He never made another record, and it’s impossible to find out what happened to him after its release. That this single album remains the only known archive of this person’s views and feelings gives it an unnerving gravity, as a melancholy look into the mind of a young man who seemed like he perpetually lived on the edge of the world.
What’s more curious still is that for a ‘90s hip-hop album coming out of Memphis, Coming For Your Soul is surprisingly well produced. With the exception of the iconic Three Six Mafia (and…Project Pat? Maybe/kinda/sorta?) Memphis rap never crawled far out of the shadow of its bleary DIY aesthetics. Though elements of the style have made their way into everything from Lil B and Gucci Mane to the entire A$AP Mob aesthetic, unfiltered Memphis rap—with its speaker-splitting lo-fi production, Tibetan monk-like repetition of hooks and phrasing, and unsavory lyrical content focusing on murder, mutilation and sexual violence—remains an acerbic listen even 20 years after the passing of its heyday.
But Coming For Your Soul clearly had a little more of a budget behind it, or was more commercially minded, than the average Memphis cassette tape (the near-exclusive format in which this style of music exists, save for those that have been uploaded to various Blogspots and ZIP file havens). The production is surprisingly clean and has a bounce that recalls contemporary west-coast acts like Dr. Dre and Compton’s Most Wanted. Lowdown himself uses a minimum of regional patois and raps in a boisterous holler, as opposed to the snarls or hisses of his contemporaries. There’s some cop killing and ass-kicking to be found here, but lyrics about rape and dismemberment—again, a common pair of lyrical motifs within this genre—are absent. The title track is a downright banger, and some of the songs are backed by an R&B chorus. For lack of a better word, Coming For Your Soul is a cleaner sounding album than most Memphis rap tapes, and to the elitist ear that might allow it to come off as a less authentic or emotionally resonant release than many of its kin.
Yet there are subtleties that round out the violence and darkness in this album’s world that its topmost aesthetics belie. A tremendous portion of Coming For Your Soul’s lyrical content is about suicide: lyrics where Lowdown asserts that “You might hear me cry; it’s not because I’m soft/it’s because I wanna die” are striking in their naked desperation, foreseeing and upending the interminable “sadboy” rap fad that plagued Bandcamp a few years back. In one song he relates to both John Wayne Gacy and Billy the Kid and laments that since he’s black the insanity that haunts him will be perceived as simple thuggery. He’s conscious of the pain his external environment brings him—“Only 23 but where I’m from, I’m 6,000”—but his true battle with God and the Devil takes place entirely within.
And if anything, the fact that Coming For Your Soul’s production values are a cut above its contemporaries only add to the overall sensation of discomfiture. Keep in mind that a highly produced DIY affair is still hardly a Justin Timberlake album: SFX and bass lines are reused multiple times throughout the album, and the synth stabs have a hollow and compressed style that makes much of the album sound like it’s being performed in a dreamlike corridor. Lowdown flips between staccato machine gun flows and slow, sloping delivery, both styles playing strangely against the hypnagogic hell-funk of the album’s beats. There’s often nothing more unnerving than something freakish trying to pass itself off as normal, and Coming For Your Soul, with its clean-but-limited production arsenal and an MC that refuses to cooperate with even basic sonic attempts at accessibility, is frequently at its best during this exact crossroads.
Coming For Your Soul is a curious beast, an attempt at commerciality that the standard consumer would be incapable of appreciating, spearheaded by a young man warring with his own soul so as not to punish the society responsible for the man he became. Perhaps destined from the start to be forgotten, it is nonetheless a bleak and captivating look into a troubled mind, and an innovative spin on a set of predictable genre conventions.
Christopher M. Jones is a comic book writer, pop culture essayist, and recovering addict and alcoholic living in Austin, TX. He currently writes for Loser City as well as Comics Bulletin and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his minicomic Written in the Bones (illustrated by Carey Pietsch). Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.