Album of the Day: Yugen Blakrok, “Anima Mysterium”

When Kendrick Lamar and his TDE camp approached Yugen Blakrok to be part of 2018’s Black Panther soundtrack, the Johannesburg-based MC found herself spitting alongside Vince Staples on the high octane “Opps.” After this sort of major profile boost, many artists might have felt the temptation to maneuver their music in a commercial direction. It’s to Blakrok’s credit, then, Anima Mysterium, her first full-length project since 2013’s Return of the Astro-Goth, sounds like it was recorded entirely on her own creative terms. It’s a 12-track record that whisks the listener away to a beguiling science fiction world of Blakrok’s own conjuring, where astrological and futuristic references mix with naturalistic and mystical imagery to create an album that positively hums with otherworldly atmosphere.

This vivid worldbuilding begins with producer Kanif‘s transcendental beats. Keeping in line with previous sci-fi rap projects like Deltron 3030 and Kool Keith‘s misadventures as Dr. Octagon, the production combines gritty drums that sound like they’re sampled from a dusty ’60s funk 45 with eerie synths and woozy ambient spot effects. (Appropriately, Keith cameos on “Mars Attacks.”)

Against this intoxicating backdrop, Blakrok traverses a realm of twisted organic matter where hip-hop’s standard sucker MCs have been replaced by mythological characters. On “Picture Box,” she goes from communicating with Aries through her pineal gland, to threatening she’ll “trigger moonquakes” cast from her spellbook. Next, she’s “chasing phantasms” and rescuing sacred stone tablets over the hazy drums and moody bass twangs of “Monatomic Mushroom.” Like all good sci-fi experiences, there’s a dystopian murmur throughout Anima Mysterium; it comes to a climax on the poignant, static-crusted closing cut, “Land of Gray,” where our hero gazes out over scorched lands, raises her scepter, and sagely rues how “man’s awakening is accompanied by grief.” As the song fades into fuzz and reverb, you’ve witnessed the confirmation of a truly individual new rap voice.

-Phillip Mlynar

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