Ben Grenrock wrote his senior thesis on truth and fiction.
Truth doesn’t need to be real for it to be true. That’s not a zen kōan (at least not to my limited kōanic knowledge), but it could very well be a mantra Serengeti chants to himself as he sits down to write a new verse. Throughout his prolific rap career, Geti’s shown himself to have a preternatural gift for wringing a level of emotional integrity out of his words that feels totally authentic, even when those words are spoken by a character that isn’t actually real.
For example, under the guise of recurrent alter ego Kenny Dennis on 2007’s “Dennehy,” Geti chants a list of Kenny’s favorite things (Chicago sports teams, Orange Pops, various breeds of sausage). He asserts that he could coach the Bears to (at least) a ten-win season. He’s not complaining about cleaning his basement with a shop-vac, but simply stating that it’s something he does sometimes—the matter of fact, innocent over-sharing of an American who buys the paper for the sports pages and maybe, occasionally, Garfield.
The unabashedly banal cadence with which Serengeti presents Kenny’s life—not quite a comedic deadpan, it’s closer to the first twenty minutes of a conversation you might have with a stranger in act of drinking Coors—that makes corner store runs for ice and eating Kenny’s wife Jules’ homemade curly fries tangible parts of this false identity.
Geti has elevated Kielbasas from the punch line they could have been for a character like Kenny Dennis, to totemic symbols of a certain breed of human truth. Of course, while rapping as himself he regularly reaches this emotionally relatable sweet spot. But whether based on the gastronomic proclivities of a fictional Chicagoan, or on raw confessions of his own real pain, Serengeti’s music is equally impactful. If there’s anywhere to pigeonhole the versatile rapper, it’s in that yonic sliver of ven-diagram that illustrates the intersection of artifice and honesty.
This is precisely where we find him on “Hibachi,”—the latest cut off Serengeti’s forthcoming record, To The Max—premiering with accompanying visuals right here on Passion of the Weiss.
Billed as, “Music for the Original Motion Picture To The Max…a passionate tale about mistery [sic], cuisine and love,” To The Max (the record) might be the closest thing to pure underground hip-hop Serengeti’s dropped in over a decade—since 2006’s Noticeably Negro. As a rap album, it’s fantastic. As an OST, it…well…it might be.
Theoretically, To The Max could make a fantastic soundtrack—Vancouver producer K-Rec’s beats are vivid and cinematic; Geti’s words conjure landscapes and close ups, tracking and panning through a flip book of vicarious sensation; and the combined efforts of the two artists pair well with a chiaroscuro video, packed with images that connote discovery and longing.
But it’s not quite a fantastic soundtrack because (at least at the time of this writing) no, “Original Motion Picture To The Max,” or any description of it, can be found anywhere on the internet outside of the promotional material for Serengeti’s album. Googling the director of the film credited at the end of the video for “Hibachi,” one Raphael de Toledo, yields an IMDB page crediting him only with having directed and produced a three-minute Sci-Fi short entitled Dogs (2015).
The veracity of the story “Hibachi” tells is similarly ambiguous. Did Serengeti actually embrace non-monogamy after his wife’s lover—a virtuosic hibachi chef—professed his love to her in a crowded Benihana, causing all the diner’s within earshot to spontaneously burst into tears of joy? Did this happen to someone Geti knows, and he’s writing from their perspective? The absence of a put-on Polish accent and sports references seems to preclude “Hibachi” being a part of the Kenny Dennis saga, but the track’s multiple allusions to onions makes it impossible to rule this out for certain.
The truth is, I don’t have the faintest clue. But also, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Comedic as the above synopsis might make it seem, the narrative “Hibachi” relates is delivered with such delicate grace, its characters developed so well in just two minutes of music, that the level of emotional truth “Hibachi” attains makes that narrative’s place in the historical continuum irrelevant. It feels blindingly authentic and true, though—potentially—not verifiably real.
The same goes for the question of To The Max as a soundtrack to some mysterious, eponymous film. Whether or not the movie exists, the record fulfills the nebulous film’s tagline. The record traverses “mistery, cuisine, and love,” with evocative imagery and a cohesive mood. And though not exactly narrative, it contains vividly rendered vignettes such as, “Hibachi,” that sound like well-directed scenes.
For as long as art has existed, expressing what’s true has taken precedence over recounting what’s real. Artifice and honesty may seem mutually exclusive, but there is far more overlap than we often realize. Like the best authors and auteurs, Serengeti has always had a knack for blending the two, creating a mixture that resonates in the emotional core of his listeners. “Hibachi,” and To The Max are no different. And while I have no idea where you can find the film, you can grab a physical copy of the record, out on March 13, here. As of right now, there’s only one left.