Who’s Gonna Carry Your Casket?: Nocando’s “Requiem”

R.I.P. Isaiah "Ikey" Owens
By    October 15, 2015

nocando - pow fest - labor day 2015

Paul Thompson is moving to Alaska.

“We was just drinking, Wednesday nights on the patio.”

Last night, Low End Theory celebrated its ninth anniversary at The Airliner, the two-story Lincoln Heights hideaway that’s soundproofed by blunt smoke. The weekly club night spawned sold-out festivals and Japanese editions and imitators and Flying Lotuses. It’s been covered ad nauseam here and by every other self-respecting Los Angeles publication, as it should: every Wednesday for nearly a decade, the city’s hip-hop and beat scenes have converged on the same spot.

“I found out my friend died through a text group, how uneventful.”

Exactly one year ago, Isaiah “Ikey” Owens died in a hotel room in Mexico. Long a fixture in the Long Beach music scene, Owens won a Grammy in 2009 for his work on the Mars Volta’s “Wax Simulacra.” He produced or played on songs from acts as disparate Sublime and Run the Jewels, Free the Robots and Reel Big Fish, Jack White and Saul Williams.

Nocando, the revered battle rapper-turned-populist, has been locked away for the better part of the year since, working on his third solo album. (We wrote about “Renaissance Nigga” back in April.) From time to time, he’ll meet me at strip clubs or gas stations or crab bakes in Inglewood to play demos of what he’s working on. 

Usually these songs have an inward bent: Jimmy the Burnout‘s everyman optimism is gone, in its place an isolationist streak drowned in Autotune or injected with the energy that already set apart his live show. Lots of the songs are angry, bitter, lonely, but they also have an edge and an urgency unlike anything Nocan has done since 10 Haters.

Then there’s “Requiem.” Songs about death are usually among an album’s most emotional moments, be they bitter laments or joyful remembrances. But where so many of Nocan’s new records are bloodlettings, his funeral song is calculated. “Requiem” runs just under four minutes, but the death happens around ninety seconds in. They’re sharing whiskeys at the Airliner, Ikey’s moving to Nashville, James is getting text messages that Ikey died.

Then there’s a eulogy. Then comes the handwringing:

Who’s gonna carry my casket?
Nothing is forever
Before you lay me down to sleep I hope I get my shit together
Make my next move my best move…
May I keep my sense of purpose, and may you keep yours
Hope I keep my sense of humor, make some money on tour
Stay honest, stay simple
Stay focused for sure
You never know when it’s your time to go.

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