When I reviewed Underworld Dust Funk figure Bolo Nef’s Sol Invictus earlier this year, I opened with a paragraph that included this sentence:
“For a nation that has “conquered racism,” we’re stock full of people who think an MPC is more dangerous than an AK and are all too happy to put a Soundcloud beats page up on the same criminal pedestal as running down a mob of people.”
This was in April, when Eric Garner was getting hassled by police but was still alive, when Michael Brown was in high school and not yet heading out on a fatal summer vacation, when black lives were still being lost to pointless incidents but the failures of America’s criminal justice system weren’t quite so hard to ignore. I wrote that sentence as a reference to the now infamous SXSW massacre, in which a boozed up man on the run from the law bulldozed a group of concertgoers before the police took him in—alive, miraculously. My premise was that hip hop didn’t have to do much to be scary to the general population other than exist and in recent years truly dark hip hop had oddly retreated, confined more or less strictly to Odd Future, and Bolo Nef and the rest of UDF were doing brave, devastating work by making an album that communicated the paranoia and rage of a certain kind of black experience.
Sol Invictus remains one of the most visceral albums of the year, but its bleak themes and depiction of a homicidal anger have become terrifying in their prescience rather than just in their purposefully horrifying elements. Every week of 2014 has led to more incidents adding to the relevancy of the album, including the execution style murder of two New York police officers that climaxed with the suicide of the perpetrator, which mirror some of the suicidally murderous fantasies of Bolo Nef’s record personality.
It isn’t that Sol Invictus is a coincidental life mirroring situation, it’s that Bolo Nef and producer Khrist Koopa so perfectly detailed a mood and a frustration that had been defining a huge section of American lives for so long that it now seems like the zeitgeist was communicated through them, only most of the population didn’t notice. In April, Sol Invictus was a terrifyingly paranoid, fringe work. In December, it might as well be a documentary.
The UDF collective that Bolo Nef (now BB Sun) calls home has followed Sol Invictus up with a few different releases, but their first group album in that time has been the cheekily named God’s Work, an album that builds on Sol Invictus seer-like paranoid visions with a kind of Lovecraftian view of Afrofuturism, spacey but haunted, leaning more towards a “Days of Future Past” vision of the future than anything remotely utopic. The Lovecraftian elements come through Koopa’s Eastern-tinged cult beats but also through the sacrifice motif that dominates the album—not sacrifice as in hard work, but sacrifice as in blood and bodies, the hardline declaration that “freedom ain’t free” and it only comes after a sufficient number of corpses have been fed to the system. God’s Work here ain’t miracles, it’s filth and furor, holy acts of vengeance taken against the unholy, death and destruction on scales epic enough to silence all detractors.
The point is that God’s Work isn’t just Grand Canyons and complex organs and all the stars above, it’s also monsters and plagues and wrath and turning people to salt just because you didn’t like their insistence on looking back at the past. God’s Work is punishment and vengeance and holding true to your word. Alternate Caz Greez personality Martis Unruly communicates that in “For the Deal” when he says “My desire is my will,” kind of a flip of “don’t dream it, be it” for a generation of people growing up surrounded by hate, only capable of bypassing it if they focus hard enough and turn whatever dreams they’ve got into hardline ambitions that might pan out in notoriety if not financial success. “’Cause I don’t even wanna kill/Unless I got to” is the other half of that mantra, an acknowledgment that this year got a whole fuckton uglier since April and it really is kill or be killed out there and no condescending platitude is going to change that.
Much of God’s Work of course features more general hip hop tropes, but Koopa’s beats have a habit of making even the most generic statements seem sinister. “Space is for Nobody but Us” more directly showcases the insanity angle the group likes to lyrically play with, so it’s interesting that here Koopa’s beat is calmer, not exactly cheerful but a little more optimistic and twinkling. But on “Of Course” Koopa takes twinkling playfulness so far with the children’s toy synth and chimes that the lyrics detailing “A pretty ass tweaker/With the drugs in her clutch” seem manic and cause you to be lulled into normalcy long before lines about how BB Sun’s “Got a God Complex/All the hoes love it” enter the field.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover