“Growth Granted Only After Reflection” — Akai Solo Returns ‘Like Hajime’

Steven Louis reflects on the newest project from the Brooklyn artist.
By    January 22, 2020

Steven Louis hopes you enjoy the good music and also vote for Bernie Sanders.

Dissociation is a valuable skill for these times, a nifty hobby that will surely become more useful as the strangeness and dumbness intensify all around us. The process is quite straightforward, chemically or physically, but sensory disconnection really does feel harder than ever right about now. Everything is so very loud. It’s a challenge to engage with something, literally anything, for 15 minutes without encountering an advertisement or product plug.

Our worlds are smaller and more self-referential than ever, and algorithms ensure that whatever we find will remind us of that other thing we know & like. The extreme personalization of routine and consumption can be annoying as fuck, if you don’t want to be stuck inside yourself all the time. When’s the last time a piece of art completely took you away? When’s the last time that your thoughts didn’t register as yours?

Decibel Peak // Stroke of Genius (f...
Decibel Peak // Stroke of Genius (feat. Picasso Rock)

It’s for this reason that Akai Solo feels so essential. The Brooklyn native offers surrealist miniaturism, proudly anti-capitalist and anti-industry works that gel into obtuse dream sequences and find a way into your bones. The music is challenging, not in the way that it’s hard to formulate a critical opinion or gather your feelings about it; it’s challenging because it sweeps all of us away in sheer darkness and doesn’t tell us where we’re going or what time we will be back.

Sometimes, Akai sounds as lost as his listener. The humor is delivered, not in the form of jokes or punchlines or even rhyme schemes, but as sporadic asides that bridge together a beautiful, deeply paranoid stream of consciousness. And it’s certainly not your conscience. It celebrates self-assurance without really offering a “self” for you to identify with, and of course without any pump-up bullshit or commercial tropes. Above all else, Akai’s latest album, Like Hajime, offers transportation, disorientation, and relief from the format we seem to be perpetually stuck in.

Every track is produced or co-produced by BSTFRND, another Brooklyn resident. So yes, this is NEW YORK HIP-HOP, with the deadass audacity to come without drums half the time. Akai shows the disarming gift of rapping his ass off while never laboring to show it. These are Black space poems meant to tear inside you and keep going to the depths of the faintest echoes. “Star Falls” declares that the “empire’s expired, things that make me smirk, the apocalypse is spoiled milk.” On “Halcyon Company,” Akai says, “checkmate’s established before the pieces even set up on the board,” then recommends that you keep score anyway. Equal parts righteous fatalism and stoned escapism, usually both delivered within the same three-second jazz loop. “Wildman”is crackly and dusty, sometimes even hard to hear, like four or five sedated, cosmic griots conferring with each other without acknowledging your presence in the room.

But is it even a room or a physical space or anything at all? Luckily, your head doesn’t end up hurting. Thank you, BSTFRND. Like Hajime is, once again, an exercise in dissociation. It’s only twelve songs and 35 minutes, but both of those measurements feel either straight-up incorrect or just not applicable to whatever pureness this shit is cut from.

When asked about what the music means, if it means anything, Akai said this:

Thrusted into action, to ward off a spiraling feeling of existential decay. Halting deterioration with determination. Immortalizing self through intentional plight acknowledgement. Growth granted only after reflection. New game plus. Roars of a jet black resilience slicing through an obnoxious light silence. That’s my energy period, reinforced and redefined through creating this project. BSTFRND is a genius. As far as the year, stay tuned. We’re preserving valid narratives and dismantling harmful ones.”

Halting deterioration, with determination. Preserving, while dismantling. Like Hajime pulls in all directions, healing the body while picking at scabs. It’s mesmerizing and worth surrendering to. And as for the “Hajime” in question? He hails from the anime series Arifureta, a human-monster hybrid nicknamed “God Slaying Demon King.” Say what you will, but these days, it’s nice to see someone going after the gods for once. What are they doing for us now? The demons are, well, everywhere, and demon-fighting is kinda played out in 2020. Might as well try something different, and that’s precisely what Akai Solo and BSTFRND are doing on this release. There are no spoilers to reveal and no tracks to really highlight or recommend. Just dive in and experience it as a whole, and more importantly, as someone other than your usual self.

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