Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar stands as one of the most visceral testaments of mental illness and the challenges of womanhood in a male-dominated world literature has ever seen. Many musical releases are also depictions of real-life experiences, but it’s rare that a piece of local music feels less like a record and more a cavernous hall with walls splattered with the guts of an artist.
Under the moniker “Kofi The Spiderman,” Kofi Edzie has achieved this, and it’s called Cruel and Unusual.
Every song on Cruel and Unusual is a journey into the depths of rage, depression, psychosis, and at times even race – assumedly experienced through the artist. From the particular realities of being half-black to extreme expressions of self harm, I found myself often in moments of pause.
In many ways this release is educational – the lyrical content is at times frighteningly honest, and after emerging from third listen I felt the weight of some tragic agony that surely was the raw material of Cruel and Unusual.
Musically this release makes brave choices in composition and rhythm. Nearly out-of-time instrumentation – instead of distracting the ear – made me listen more closely to make sense of it all (that’s a positive thing). The sparse instrumentation throughout serves not as a flexing of avant-garde compositional ability, but instead as an audible manifestation of the dark psychological spaces the piece explores.
Edzie’s vocal delivery also serves this end. Teetering between a near-constant sigh of malaise and Eeyore-as-hip hop artist, his vocal stylings constantly paint the picture of someone leaning over the edge of their mental toughness – or his own bed.
This is where another big takeaway happens. Kofi plays a specific character – however much autobiographical no one can really tell – who tells us a story of someone washed in anguish, lost in rage, and even willing to throw the listener a couple laughs.
One of the most interesting things about this release is its use of samples. Upfront, I won’t give away what samples are used, but “Kofi The Spiderman” possesses a keen ability to incorporate not only a truly novel compositional approach into these songs, but just the right amount of comedy – you’ll thank me later.
It’s also worth mentioning Arty $lang front person Gilbert Gandia makes a cameo on Cruel and Unusual with a voice awash in soul and silk on the track “Get The Money.”
This is a release with words to listen closely to. It’s one that, with nearly every bit of sound, tries to tell a story, and one often uncomfortable or scary to confront to boot. In some ways it will make you think of your own life, because Edzie touches at times on universal experiences. Other times, you’ll be wondering what kind of mind could put these words to recorded single.
Regardless, Cruel and Unusual is for the hip hop fan, anyone who enjoys creative content focusing on race and mental health, and those with a more idiosyncratic ear. Judging from this release, Edzie has already proven he is a creative force to be reckoned with.
Favorite Track – “Real Friends”
This track has the best mixture of super groovy beats and noisy sampling. In my opinion, it is also the quintessential expression of the mental health theme Cruel and Unusual possesses. A haunting and strained vocal delivery texturally completes the song.
– Al Gentile