In The Book of Ezekiel Chp.1, while Ezekiel was held captive on the banks of the Chebar Canal [its formal location only speculated, read here], he was greeted with a celestial vision from God on his throne, accompanied by four angels who had four animal faces and were described as taking the form of the 700 B.C Mesopotamian Lamassu. In Chp. 2., Ezekiel relays what is imparted onto him, namely that God had instructed him to venture to Israel and deliver the word of God to the ill-tempered inhabitants, “for they are most rebellious” as noted by God. He was then shown a divine scroll complete with ‘lamentations, and mourning, and woe’ and with his holy mission delivered, the rest of the Book reads as Ezekial’s concerted drive to fulfill his sacred duty. Keeping this providential experience in mind, how would one go about translating this call to evangelism into a Hip-Hop variant that is at all comprehensible or correlated to its biblical roots, all the while infusing within its sacred folds the rhythms, perspectives, and poetic nuances of bittersweet reality?
I recently discovered the Long-Island born rapper Subtex [Zeke Kreitzer] while scrolling through WWHH’s new releases, and what particularly caught my eye was a spectrally-inverted depiction of Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna del Libro where Christ, originally depicting as radiating with a golden complexion holding a brilliant crown of thorns and held by the pacific virgin-mother Mary, instead is given a sickly periwinkle visage, his garb now gold instead of light blue, Mary’s hair now unnaturally golden and her garments, instead of their blessedly noble blue coloring, are transformed to take on a tasteless green pigment. What I find particularly alarming was the background, as in the original presented was a variegated fade from sunrise white to an angelic blue, while in the mimesis it turned into a purple fade overlaid with a mostly-total solar eclipse taking center stage in the background.
Looking past the superficial sacrilegiousness, what Subtex presents within Book 2 [and Book 1 for that matter, listen here], is nothing short of what I would call ‘modernized, biblical contextuality’, where religious teachings are appropriated into the contemporary climate utilizing the same devotional attitudes as its archaic companions, but ‘packaged’ in a temporarily appropriate manner without sacrificing austerity for novelty. Presented as a [as of yet incomplete] trilogy, where each compounds onto the next in an intertwining ‘stream of consciousness’ much like Joyce’s 1922 ‘Ulysses’, Cage’s 4’33”, or even Satie’s 1893 repetitious ‘Vexations’ where the mind is left with only itself, each track [or experiential tableau ] offers the listener a chance to reevaluate the human reliance on language as the primary expressionary medium, and instead envelope themselves into the realm of sonic density, ostinati, samples and more. This is not to say Subtex’s lyricism is unimportant or even remotely unintelligible, but because of his use of natural accent and ubiquitous usage of alliterations and vocalic maneuvers, along with his idiomatic rhythmicality and figurative complexities [Book 1.7, ‘the jewelry was foolery’s freshness/eulogy soon to be fruits of my death wish/sequel/seagulls squawking/parking space empty’], it makes it difficult to follow along and really absorb without first reading his texts which, as of right now, are not anywhere readily available online, this task even harder when the listener cannot hear his voice.
Released on October 15th, three years after his first sacred-secular ‘gospel’ on October 12th three years prior, The Book of Ezekiel 2 is a contributor in the unique Hip-Hop trend of ‘Album sequels’ and grand-narrative structures like Nas’s 2001 epilog ‘Stillmatic’ to his 1993 installment ‘Illmatic’, Kayne’s 2004-7 ‘college trilogy’, and the quadripartite anthology that is Run The Jewels [2, 3, and 4] which has spanned from 2011-present. However, Subtex’s Artistic maturation is starkly evident when listening sequentially from 1 to 2, his fearless command of layering, expert usage of eclectic sampling with his immersive integration, and complete atmospheric diversity ranging from the boom-bap inspired third track ‘Masquerade’ featuring a hyper-treble intro of Reuben Bell’s ‘I Heard You Knocking It's Too Late’, which shifts to a film-noir musical surreality in the fourth track ‘Slave to King’, where the message of ‘lose to gain’ directly targets the unfortunate reality of mainstream avarice, often accompanied by loss of moralistic sense of right and wrong.
By far, my personal favorite track is no. 6 ‘Stray Cats’ and its repetitious 8-bit aesthetic via a digital, two-pulse design, along with a short, less-biting 8-bit minor melody [think 8-bit, 90s horror platformer] which covers the textual life in a stealth-like shadow. Again, Subtex proves himself to be adept at sampling, opting-in for a comfortably flourished version of the 19th c. American Spiritual ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, here sung by his wife Rebecca Musgrove who, I must say, has a wonderfully simple, folkish timbre which must be shown off with greater abundance. Using only 3-4 [5?] layers, one of them being a stringed acoustic instrument [sounds similar to a Balalaika], track 2 ‘Boat with her name’ recounts the treacherous nature of the archetypal unfaithful woman who holds fast to her unrighteousness despite professing her ‘love’, Subtex filling out the texture with samples of an applicable nature, one being a line from the 1996 track ‘Me Or The Papes’ by Jeru The Damaja, “Never have to wonder where my money went”. The final track on the Album, ‘5:03 AM’, is the most sonically absent track and yet perhaps packs the most punch because of that, the time perhaps correlates to an aspect of his daughter’s entrance into the world [I speculate her birth only because of the early hour, and how birth waits for no person]. Using a nostalgic, film-noir piano progression [think rainy evening, ‘I just wanna be somebody’], he speaks to the power of change, and his transformation into a new beginning. What’s more, he includes an audio-clip from what I presume to be his wife’s ultrasound, the baby’s heartbeat heard with the nurse saying the Old Wives tale that if the heartbeat is fast, it’s a girl. Well, I guess it wasn’t a myth after all, as on his Instagram he has featured their beautiful baby girl named Luna [Italian for the moon, and the Roman Goddess of the Moon, Selene].
I so look forward to hearing Book Three, and I cannot recommend Subtex’s two albums enough. His lyrical eloquence, compounded with his structural mastery and historical musical knowledge, evident through his sampling preferences, is sorely unmatched in mainstream circles of Hip-Hop creation, especially Rap [cough cough cough]. In an Interview conducted just last year with Vermont Hip-Hop, he had said when asked what is his motivation, “What keeps me motivated to keep creating is life [...]”. He had also added that he wishes to write a book, and I for one would love to see just how Joycian he can be with the written word.
Writer: John David Vandevert [Johndavidvandevert.com]