Steven Louis is spooky.
Black Sand is a collaboration between Brooklyn-based rapper Akai Solo and nomadic multi-instrumentalist Pink Siifu. It’s set somewhere profoundly unknown. It’s released and consumed as a set of songs, but it feels like a looping, acid-soaked dream sequence. It’s a proudly and radically Black dream, too, and I know I wasn’t invited or considered yet still find myself in it, compounding the unsettling eeriness an self-loathing of it all. My phone says that Black Sand is 15 songs and 38 minutes, but I don’t believe that, and if I tried to time it myself, I think the clocks would go Salvador Dalí. I’ve been stuck in it for days, waltzing in the elevator in purgatory, a hazy fear in a never-ending, myopically-distorted hallway. “Have you ever touched a slope not slippery?” Akai asks with a grin on “Black Everything.” It’s a perfect Halloween companion.
Akai, the raspy, poetic mystic tasked with guiding us through these shades of gray, is a technically-dizzying writer. These verses would be labyrinthine to follow even on the most basic beats. Nothing on Black Sand is straight-forward or easy to process. Some concepts are introduced only to completely disintegrate, while other motifs seem like they’ve been inside your head all your life, finally jarred loose by the haunting jazz loops and gruff surrealist bars skulking through your viscera. “Show Love” starts with Akai using his muttering voice as an instrument, another tingling layer of the mosaic. It feels like you’re waking up, only to realize that you’ve fallen into a dream within the dream. The track unfurls for about two minutes before the rapping commences; I would’ve sworn it was a full 20-minute, Hitchcockian zone-out.
My first listen was among the most natural hallucinogenic experiences I’ve ever had.
“Cats gotta wrestle themselves just to stay relevant,” Akai spits, but it honestly feels like I have to wrestle myself to make it out of this thing and back into the correct, present timeline. By the time we reach the next track, if we ever reach the next track, Akai will be probing a different part of the psyche, painting “GalaxyEyes” with visions of Pan-Africanism and betrayal before rapping, “some days the diet is swell/avocado soldier, grateful for granola.” It’s disorienting in the immediate, very personal way that makes benign dreams still feel terrifying sometimes. It’s an exercise in epistemology, a cross-fade of chaos in hyperspeed and mortification in freeze-frame.
Pink Siifu, meanwhile, provides the eerie, abstract soundscape. He’s produced under various names throughout the past few years, including Ronee Sage and iiye, and the sounds emitted in Black Sand are hypnotic, sometimes gutting. “2k4eva” makes me nostalgic for a time I wasn’t around for, a moment I never lived or even heard about second-hand. “Luna’s Sol” flutters with warm, warped soul. “24Duty” recalls a bit of Earl Sweatshirt’s latest, but there’s not a single familiar beat on the whole record. Predict where this thing goes and it’ll use your prediction against you.
Things get spookier still with the ending suite, starting at the dizzying and macabre “Hussle’s Ghost.” There’s a faint moaning on repeat, a grimey bassline that makes me want to wash my hands immediately. Akai invokes the ongoing Flint water crisis, and distills the tragedy and failure of the American moment into a single drop of murky sink water. When he proceeds to rap “an unexpected resurrection at the way…I jumped out the graveyard in attack mode,” with the pitch of a prime Big L, you start thinking that you should ditch the headphones and run in the opposite direction. Black Sand is possessed, in the most beautiful of ways, by something inhuman but certainly not inanimate. It is, well, the true definition of a graveyard smash.
The project wraps up with “Fate Shifter,” in which Akai reminds whatever’s recognizably left of the listener that “time is no uncle of mine.” No shit, man. Time’s been suspended for what feels like a couple of lifetimes, and when he follows with, “bad investments infect with no remorse,” you’re submitted to the weight of wretched, human greediness. Vibe check: definitely scary, possible ghosts encircling the crib, and we won’t make it out of here without losing a bit of our minds.
Black Sand is a mind-warping, intensely chilling listen, or experience, or whatever the fuck this thing is. It’s a wailing meditation on Black Power, and a collaboration of natural artistic force, pulling no punches while drawing out souls indiscriminately. It’s perfect Halloween music, though I’d be a fool to stop listening to either of these artists after Halloween. I probably couldn’t if i tried. Hell, maybe they’re listening to me? It’s all in all of our heads, until it isn’t.