Moor Mother: Black Encyclopedia of the Air

2021 / Anti Records

The second chapter of Moore Mather's Triumphant Ascent

09 November 2021 | By Yuko Asanuma

The experience of seeing this Philadelphia-based poet and all-around artist perform at Unsound festival in Poland in 2017 for the first time was truly like being struck by lightning. Since then, I firmly believe Moore Mather to be one of the greatest visionaries of our time. Her strength is most characterised by her toughness, as if she can see through all the unreasonableness in the world and confront it with all her might. She just seems unbeatable. She doesn’t hesitate to confirm that this world is really shit, but she will never give in. Like a female warrior, who combats with her deadly sounds and words, she is able to make you imagine that there might be a way out to a better place if you follow her through. By voicing the oppression, injustice, and violence especially towards women that infest our chaotic world, where practically every single person has lost the way, she is someone who manages to take the listener to the edge of hope.

As a solo artist, she has released her first album Fetish Bones in 2016, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes in 2019, and Circuit City in 2020 from an independent imprint Don Giovanni Records out of New Jersey. Black Encyclopedia of the Air marks her fourth full length. Her extensive list of collaborative projects and guest appearances can not be all mentioned here, but she is a truly prolific artist who continues to put out music and other forms of expressions at a furious pace.

Because I saw her tweet on the day of its release that she would like people to listen to this album with headphones, I did just that. I pressed play without any prior information except for the fact that it’s on newly signed ANTI- label. And to be perfectly honest, I felt a little disappointed or underwhelmed at first listen, because I was expecting something explosive and aggressive than ever before, considering all the resentment surrounding the pandemic as well as racial issues that have intensified in the past year and a half.

The first half of the album, with its jazz-sampled beats, smooth rap, and many guest appearances, was all very familiar to someone like me who were heavily into hip-hop in the 90s. It was much more accessible than her previous works, and I felt that she has “softened,” because Moor Mother I knew was more menacing, like a snake or a beast with its fangs bared. Her first and second albums were rough and noisy, and her third album was an extension of her work with Irreversible Entanglements, a free jazz band she is a member of. What makes her stand out from the rest is her ability to ride over any thunderous roar or freaky jazz, and own it with the same intensity and impact of spoken word. And musically, these are not the most easy to get into for everyone.

So in that sense, “Zami” feels like the most natural continuation of her previous solo works, while “Tarot” and “Clock Fight” remind me of her multiple collaborations with Roscoe Mitchell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. However, the jazzy rap tunes like “Mangrove” and “Shekere” and much softer sound production throughout may have confused her fans who have been following her for the past few years.

In an interview with Pitchfork, she joked that this album is a “sell out”, but in a coversation with Crack Magazine, she revealed that she created it with an energy of genuine enjoyment. If you think about it, she’s been making undisguised, frustrated and furious records for a while now, and she spent many years performing them everywhere too. You also realise after a few listens that the theme and wording of her lyrics have not diminished or watered down at all. In other words, the way of communicating has changed, but what she is communicating has not. This record is a mere indication that her career and expression have stepped up to the next level. By signing to a label with a wider reach, her sound and words are spreading to new listeners, and that’s already visible. This record as a gateway, more and more people will be exposed to her vision. And it’s just the beginning of the second chapter of Moore Mather’s triumphant ascent.(Yuko Asanuma)

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