A mysterious semantic plenitude

Yugen Blakrok is a rapper who’s been gaining some notoriety. She had a verse in the Black Panther soundtrack, she’s shared a stage with Public Enemy, she’s released a collab with Copywrite. I wish her all the success in the world, but I’m also quite happy to report that she’s not likely to trouble the stratosphere of the commercial music business. Her music is too dark, too complex, too intelligent, too allusive, and basically too good. Her latest album, which has been on heavy rotation at Arditi Towers for some time, is a labyrinth of symbols.

I’ve recently been beginning to explore the writing of Iain Sinclair. Sinclair has no connection to Yugen Blakrok, and no connection that I’m aware of to the world of hip-hop. He writes elliptical, labyrinthine prose, full of obscure and arcane references, making oblique and unlikely connections between geography, architecture, the occult and the symbolism of the ancient world. Yugen Blakrok’s lyrics don’t share Sinclair’s overt interest in the archival qualities of place, but she spins a similarly convoluted and fuliginous web of mystical and and symbolic allusions. Like Sinclair she is very far removed from the uncritical, New Age credulity that you might associate with an interest in the Tarot and astrology, and she deploys the signifiers of those and other symbolic systems to produce meanings which are equally distant from the sunshiny wish-fulfilment to which such language is often diverted.

The beats, crafted by Kanif The Jhatmaster, are often slow, always heavy, and prioritise atmosphere over flash. There is a melancholy and expansive quality to them, a sense that deep, pelagic chasms underpin their surface detail. The same sense also permeates Yugen Blakrok’s lyrical texts, which present powerful networks of meaning in a way that speaks of nothing so clearly as the historical and systematic profundities that contextualise their surfaces. As a whole, the music does not offer explanations or arguments. It does not seek to persuade the listener, or to validate the magical traditions it refers to – instead it works the undeniable, ineluctable magic of words in motion. Yugen Blakrok’s compass extends far beyond the areas I’ve mentioned, across whole territories of popular and ‘high’ culture, mining knowledge from the archive to produce a kind of Medusan speech, unifying the atavistic Dionysian with the reasonable Apollonian in a powerful, and specifically female symbolic code. There are no answers here, but a whole heap of questions.

Listening to this music I find a kind of linguistically engaged abandon – switching off some part of my mind, and drifting in a space composed not of abstract sensation, but of free-floating verbal meanings. It promotes a sense which I’ve found mainly in books, a kind of mysterious semantic plenitude, where it matters less what references mean, or what connections link, than that they mean, and that they connect. It has a kind of all-over texture, a detailed, decorative surface that some listeners are likely to find lacking in variation, both in terms of the beats and of the vocal delivery: plenty of shade, but not a great deal of light. But for me, that detail is all I need, and its ambiguous mystery is the primary ingredient of its striking beauty.

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