Album of the Day: Hua Li, “Dynasty”

Montreal DJ, vocalist, and producer Hua Li’s debut full-length Dynasty contains multitudes. It’s part candlelit, champagne-smooth R&B musings on love, sex, and relationships; part lush ‘80s synth-pop dissections of intergenerational trauma and recovery; and part jazzy hip-hop precision and empowerment. It’s all tied together under a sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit anti-capitalist ethic: “Never met a CFO that had me feeling ravenous,” Hua Li sings on “Social Meds.”

The record opens with “Paper Sons,” a reference to the strategies used by Chinese immigrants in circumventing racist immigration policy in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. The song begins and ends with clips of Hua Li’s mother, aunt, and grandmother speaking, sampled from voice memos and phone calls. At the end of the first verse, Hua Li calls for solidarity: “We keep it coming like it’s 1965 / Like Huey Newton’s still alive, like AAPA still building ties,” namechecking the socialist Black Panther leader and the anti-imperialist Asian American Political Alliance. “Mr. Greenlight” eviscerates abusive, manipulative white men in power: “Distinguished white man, you always get more / More money, more bitches, more babies, more hitches / Nothing you can’t handle though, never dealt a hand too low.”

At the midway point, “Recitation (Interlude)” features collaborator Raquel Wang reciting a poem by Chinese poet Li Bai called “Thoughts On A Still Night” over top of a ricocheting keyboard patch and a recurring sample of someone inhaling sharply. Thematically and texturally, it is a poignant capsule of Hua Li’s work: connections drawn between past and present, ruminations on the inescapable consequences associated with the passage of time. The poem’s last two lines read, “I raise my head and look at the bright moon / I lower my head and think of home.” Somehow, amid all that chaos and tumult, she’s managed to find peace—and this stellar reflection attests to that.

-Luke Ottenhof

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