Pink Siifu, “GUMBO’!”
In a good bowl of gumbo, you can taste worlds colliding. The classic Creole stew, blending meat, shellfish, okra, and peppers, draws on an assortment of cooking traditions from West Africa, France, and Indigenous America. In its thick broth, these cultures fuse, producing a distinct, bold flavor that’s nonetheless rooted deeply in tradition. When Pink Siifu releases a project, one can expect a similar style of cultural fusion—the indie-rap flagbearer has ties to four corners of the country, from his early days in Birmingham and Cincinnati, to recent stints in Los Angeles and New York. As a vocalist, he’s thrillingly unpredictable. On one track he’ll shriek out curses at cops, on another, he’ll whisper devotionals to a loved one. On his new album GUMBO’!, Siifu provides a collage of sounds as multifaceted as the dish itself, embedded in Southern rap mythology, yet just as influenced by noise rock and spiritual jazz.
On early album standout “Roscoe’!,” Siifu leans into his mode as a punk provocateur, seen in full effect on 2020’s implacable NEGRO. Over a strident, compressed Ted Kamal instrumental, Siifu snarls, “Pigs love to stay around the projects” with a palpable disdain, strengthened by the beat’s screeching tone. The song’s lyrics resemble the mantras of punk rock more than the couplets of hip-hop. Rhymes are few and far between, supplanted by bursts of repetitive vitriol. While other rappers often falter when they hop genres, Siifu thrives in this space, diving into new sounds with fearless abandon. The album’s lower points find him in a comfort zone, making trap cuts that lack memorable flair. The primary offender is “Bussin’ (Cold)” with Cincinnati’s Turich Benjy. The song’s meandering, generic beat robs the album of the feverish energy built up by both “Roscoe’!” and inventive jazz-rap suite “Fk U Mean / Hold Me Dwn.”
However a few songs later, on album centerpiece “Scurrrrd,” Siifu again explores new territory. The six-and-a-half minute track harnesses the gifts of a striking set of collaborators, including Dungeon Family elder Big Rube, neo-soul luminary Georgia Anne Muldrow, and alternative songwriter Nick Hakim, who push the album toward its thematic pinnacle. The song opens with a sermon from Rube (known for his scene-stealing interludes on OutKast and Goodie Mob records) encouraging one to see the beauty in everyday relationships, which will ultimately outshine fame and wealth. Siifu enters after a gorgeous, contemplative keyboard solo, sharing modest dreams for his family: “I pray my mama be cool, papa relax, lil’ sis eat, big bro got his raps.” Muldrow (a mother herself) closes the song out with a sweet, improvisational lullaby to a child. Her short verse gains more emotional weight knowing that Siifu will be welcoming a daughter in the coming weeks; with this in mind, “Scurrrrd” registers as a loving offering to his baby girl.
Though “Scurrrrd” represents the album’s spiritual apex, the record reaches its most ecstatic height on the penultimate “lng hair dnt care,” a bouncy anthem about the joys of braids and Escalades, animated by a hypnotic instrumental, again courtesy of Ted Kamal. At first, the song sounds like an off-kilter Carti leak, all reverbed synth and whispered braggadocio. But two minutes in, Siifu once again upsets expectations, as Kamal’s beat slowly shifts down in BPM, until the song resembles a chopped-not-slopped remix of itself. This is Siifu in his bag, shaping rap music in his own image, contorting it until old proverbs feel fresh, bold, distinct.