Los Angeles’ King Fantastic is the duo of rapper Killer Reese One and producer DJ Troublemaker. The two have been releasing their unique blend of grimy underground hip-hop lyrics and chillstep beats since 2010, with a brief interlude while Reese served time at Avenal State Prison for the past couple years. The two kept collaborating by smuggling beats in disguised as religious recordings and exchanging ideas with frequent phone calls, enabling them to quickly record and release The Great Man Theory upon his release (it dropped last month). Prison seems to have both chilled Reese out and overtly politicized him. While there have always been elements of social commentary in his lyrics, many of them focused on partying and gangsterism. This album is more explicitly addressed to the root causes of the nihilistic attitude he’s expressed elsewhere, with lead single “Spooky Spooks and the Trouble with Capitalism” taking the opportunity to call out society’s ills right off the bat. Specifically focusing on the materialism in rap music and the problematic relationship between media ownership and racial politics it creates, lyrics like “that kinda life is not real/that’s no soul, no control/that’s spinnin’ unhinged in a vortex/that’s a minstrel show, while the ones that know/choosing which lil’ monkey they can whore next” eviscerate those who “wanna be Jay-Z and Kanye”.
For the video treatment, the duo turned to frequent collaborator Randal Kirk II to direct and brought on Vine celebrity Jerry Purpdrank to play a parody of a mainstream rapper that bears quite a resemblance to Lil’ Wayne. Reese and a group of evidently homeless men rob and humiliate the “rapper” at gunpoint, forcing him to twerk for his own money and lighting sneakers on fire, while ironically living his lifestyle in the short term to underscore the huge disparity between the struggles of real life on the streets and those who profit from telling distorted versions thereof. Given the rest of his ouevre, it’s certain Reese is not veering into respectability politics here, simply calling attention to the practical possibility of chain snatching and worse for those engaging in conspicuous consumption in the hood. Combining this with Occupy’s populist politics brings him as close as he’s ever likely to get to the message of “conscious” rap, an unlikely similarity that underscores how real this message actually is. In a world of Dear White People and Iggy Azalea think pieces, it will be interesting to see if the message gets through to either the artists producing what he calls minstrelsy for suburban white audiences, those audiences themselves, or both.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC