BLACK BEN CARSON by JPEGMAFIA
Genre: Experimental Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Drake Era,” “Digital Blackface,” “I Smell Crack,” “I Just Killed A Cop Now I’m Horny,” “Boi (featuring Butch Dawson),” “The 27 Club”
It’s funny that less than a week after a certain hip hop emperor released a certain massive, controversial record, said record already has a serious contender for the most contentious and divisive album of 2016. Yet it’s undeniable that the record everyone should attempt to tackle and face head-on this year is BLACK BEN CARSON. Every person reading this, every white kid pursuing a liberal arts degree at a private college, deserves to have their position in life very much challenged by this record. You will be offended, you will feel attacked, it will make you angry, but it will make you face those feelings and question their origins. This article in truth will serve as less of a review and more of a presentation of the album’s content, because, well…
We’ve written about plenty of hip hop on this site, and will continue to do so, but for a record as focused on bringing passive, apathetic racism to the foreground, it’d be inappropriate to critique it directly as a work of art. There will be no commentary on the quality of this record nor any real interpretation of it. That being said, it would be irresponsible to not attempt to draw attention to this record at all, because it’s undeniably important for shifting the conversation about race in the United States.
BLACK BEN CARSON is a 22-track double LP by Baltimore rapper Devon Hendryx, available for free on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, originally premiering on Noisey. On side A, JPEG rips into the underlying racism in white liberalism, music publications, and even harsh/extreme music communities (“heard you like Burzum, I don’t fuck with that”). He raps about black sexuality in a way that should initially be familiar to most hip hop fans, but while more intentionally drawing attention to how his blackness affects every aspect of it. He attacks capitulatory elements of the black community, like the titular Dr.Carson. Musically, this side is heavily reminiscent of the work that’s been done by Death Grips, clipping, and Nah over the last few years, but with one notable exception ‒ the lyrics are directly political and directly attack the status quo, as opposed to mostly deferring to dark abstractions open to interpretation. As JPEG explained in his interview with Noisey: “BLACK BEN CARSON is me squaring up to the established hierarchies, systems, and values with one hand on my nine and the other on my crotch.” This is no holds barred, angry hip hop, more reminiscent of Ice Cube and Chuck D than almost any contemporary rap, and it’s surprising what a wake up call that still is in 2016.
Side B of BLACK BEN CARSON serves as a more musically mellow and introspective side, but no less charged for it. For listeners not used to engaging with harsh, aggressive, and noisy music, this might be the better side to begin with while trying to piece this thing together, as it’s musically more palatable, even if the lyrics are no less intense.
Make yourself uncomfortable. Take yourself outside of the comfort zone of what is and isn’t acceptable to say about race. Let JPEG obliterate you way outside the boundaries we are told are tolerable when we think about race, and then take inventory of where you stand afterwards. It’s okay for art to offend you. Art should provoke you, and sometimes even attack you directly for who you are. Individuals need that, and cultures as a whole need that. Participate in something dangerous, even if only from the safety of your laptop and a set of headphones. You may absolutely hate BLACK BEN CARSON, but make the effort to understand why you hate it and you will certainly emerge from the process with a more honest appreciation of your part in racism in the modern world, which could never be a bad thing.