When rap first emerged in the United States as a new genre, it interrupted and shook an entire section of society. The same happens with any new form of music subversive enough to disrupt an ecosystem, partly because of its novelty.
With time though, as the novelty wears off, the true details of a genre begin to come to the fore: you begin seeing the canvas and noticing the brushstrokes. In the case of rap, one of its most essential tools is the use of stories and perspectives. Simply stated, the more words a genre can fit into its standard form, the more of an artist you can see, and the greater their perspective becomes, while informing the art.
It’s no coincidence then, that rap’s recent cambrian explosion of different forms has coincided with the forceful opening of its doors to those previously barred outside of them.
Fifteen years ago, artists such as Lil Yachty, Death Grips and Mykki Blanco could not have all existed as they do now. The rise of artists like Mykki, in particular, represents a watershed moment in rap, as queer artists become increasingly visible and carve out corners for themselves, while challenging deeply queerphobic spaces.
In the U.S., the ‘Weird Atlanta’ scene has been prominent in the change of guard from old hyper-masculinist forms – with various artists eschewing fashion, sound and gender norms.
Locally, that vacuum is only beginning to be filled. Part of the local vanguard is the Joburg-based rapper MxBlouse, who emerged fully-formed with a new EP entitled Believe The Bloom, aiming to take an axe to the game.
In a setting where too few local rappers even engage with ideas around the evolution of how we see gender and sexuality, (even as a society, we generally have a bad record), MxBlouse introducing themselves with their gender non-conformity as a central part of their story is a clear statement of intent.
Premiering on Between 10 and 5, MxBlouse’s EP arrived last week with an immaculately conceived set of images and an impressive set of collaborators: Bee Diamondhead on the styling, Aart Verrips on photography and Orli Meiri helping with grooming. There’s an intensity of intent and personality dripping from both the images and the post-gender styling that we wouldn’t be hurt seeing more of locally.
The music on the self-released EP collates pieces of collaborative material that had been floating around previously on Soundcloud, giving them a home and new context amongst newly recorded material. Older songs such as ‘The Gift’ produced by Thor Rixon and ‘WTF (Squared)’ give hints of boom-bap inspired, low-slung raps over electric leaning beats and low-fi aesthetics. The rest of EP fleshes this feeling out, adding more expressive production to Blouse’s mix of 90s-style brag raps and chest beating affirmations, sliding seamlessly from taunts to other rappers (“..n*ggas have to be murdered”) to personal admissions (“I know that I’m not perfect/ but I’m open for learning”) in barely two bars.
Traditional, 90s inspired rap functions as the backbone of the project, and MxBlouse feels most comfortable within its bounds musically – even managing a 90s style extended sports metaphor track called ‘The Game’, which wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Proverb album. Blouse’s use of forms associated with this formative, old school (and hyper-masculine) era of rap in an attempt to subvert it from within, Trojan Horse style, is a valid and often fruit-bearing approach.
That being said, it works best once an artist has the technicalities of the style down pat, and here, unfortunately, much of the production from Joni Blud and Rixon fails to strike a chord beyond a cursory scanning of the styles, without the polish. A part of the reason rappers like Cakes da Killa are so affecting with their (even more ‘hard-core’) flip on similar sounds is the fact that their bona-fides are bulletproof. The feeling they convey is that they could go bar-for-bar and beat-for-beat with anyone.
The EPs most daring cut – ‘Love Was A Lie’ – trades samples for synth arpeggios that phase in and out of focus, while forcing MxBlouse into a more unpredictable flow. It gives the feeling of a moment with too little time to fit in all that needs to be said. It’s urgent. The ideas here are sharp, the scope of intent has already grown from earlier tracks like ‘WTF (Squared)’ to this, but the overall impact is blunted slightly by the quality of the production and finesse on hand.
Once the execution becomes as sharp as they are bold, MxBlouse will be a force to be reckoned with. The bloom is still coming, and you’d better believe that.
Be sure to check on MxBlouse’s artist page for updates on performances, which you can find here.