Pink Siifu's 'GUMBO!' is a Rangy Southside Experiment of the Most Nuanced Kind
Evan Dale // Aug 3, 2021
Pink Siifu wanted to make an album that reminded him of the music he and his crew used to listen to while cruising through the country towards Birmingham. He wants you to play it loudly. He doesn’t want to be put in a box. Pink Siifu decided to make GUMBO’!
The prolific, experimental, transcendent rapper rooted in Alabama, but broadcasting his necessary sound to the world from a listening and release party last night on a rooftop in New York, reminding us all that rap can feel familiar while simultaneously sounding not quite like anything ever made before, is back again whether we’re ready for it or not. After all, we’re still processing $mokebreak – the collaborative effort he put forth with Fly Anakin this Spring as a follow-up conceptual project to last year’s FlySiifu’s. We’re still listening to his solo 2020 masterpiece, Negro – a thesis on intensity, emotion, and their respective intersections with Black expression through hip-hop. And really, we’re still returning to ensley – his 2018 composition on redefining the Southern cloth through a modern, experimental lens.
But, all that aside – or better yet, all that in perspective because as Pink Siifu, himself says, one should listen to ensley, Negro, and then GUMBO’! in order for the proper experience – GUMBO’! is the next evolution of Pink Siifu, pushing himself – pushing hip-hop – pushing music – further than he ever has before. It’s the next chapter in his story, musically and personally. He’s always been a purveyor of the experimental, and so much of his own craft has already helped progress hip-hop’s artful taste. GUMBO’! is simply Pink Siifu doing that again in 2021, and he manages it by adhering to the album’s namesake. A myriad, hodgepodge, yet tantalizing mosaic of tastes, weaving in the influence of dozens of collaborative forces, all boiling down to one greater, cohesive profile, GUMBO’! is, well… gumbo in auditory form. It’s raw. It’s savory. It’s detailed and layered. It’s Southern. It’s undeniably old-school at moments, reminiscent of listening to mixtapes through the coupling of distortion a mixtape used to go through – first through the re-recording process, then again through your friend’s rigged sound system. And yet it’s merged with the artsy, SoundCloud tape kind of aesthetic that brings it into a modern light; that hangs it on the walls of a contemporary photo gallery. It is an auditory image – a self-portrait – of Pink Siifu himself.
At 18 songs and nearly an hour in length, it’s also a marathon listening experience, and one that should be undertaken in your friend’s rigged sound system, as loud as it’ll play, from beginning to end. And then again, a few more times.
As for the evolution of his own sound through the project, Pink Siifu is nothing if not both the detail-oriented chef of his own GUMBO’! and a wide-ranging kitchen instrument, seamlessly toiling with the mosaic of producers on board that includes, among others, names like Butch Dawson (Doin Tew Much), Awhlee (4Sho’7), The Alchemist (Living Proof) and Monte Booker (Voicemails Uptown). His ability to navigate his own creative space from the prophetically poetic to the dynamically distorted and the meanderingly melodic, all the while utilizing his range to tether akin the sounds of a long list of fellow creators on board, makes him one of the most uniquely broad artists alive; makes GUMBO’! a thesis on and an exhibition of his artistic entirety.
And his friends, in subsequence, broaden that soundscape even further. An opening stanza from Big Rube on Scurrrrd pulls a listener into the floaty yet focused sphere of spoken word, before the track melts into a Pink Siifu street corner cypher overtop the same jazzy, sax and bongo drum beat, tying together rap’s poetic past with an equally poetic, flow-driven future orchestrated by this experimental melting pot, and then by the silky soul of Georgia Anne Muldrow in closing. The whole track is a rangy, yet perfectly tranquil composition exploring more than just hip-hop – but instead, a wider-ranging glimpse into the connections between so many different corners of Black music, where spoken word, rap, hip-hop, jazz, and soul intertwine on a recorded track that feels texturally like a moving, live basement club performance.
SMILE (wit yo gold) is a sultry, understated Soul delivery that sees Pink Siifu attack perhaps his most vulnerable vocalism to date, capturing the easy-listening yet still thought-provoking nature of a project where he refuses to be labeled as anything but artist in its widest-ranging definition. And to further stamp the album with the mark of his ease exploring the whole of his range, Pink Siifu follows it up with the jazz-founded, but lyrically rap heavy Call the Bro (Tapped In) which folds in an opening verse from Maxo.
Such detailed deep dives could be done on every track on the project – on every track Pink Siifu has ever orchestrated – but here seems like the right place for us to stop writing and the right place for you to start listening. After all, we don’t want to Put Pink Siifu in a box, or GUMBO’! in a bowl. We’d rather just let all the flavors speak for themselves. Just know that what Pink Siifu has done here, with GUMBO’! hasn’t been done before, and – like all of his prior solo work – will continue to redefine expectation that we as listeners have on hip-hop, on rappers, and on everything it is that they’re capable of delivering.