Fatboi Sharif – Preaching in Havana (Review)

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For decades, over much of hiphop has loomed a dejection; a cold heartedness bred from streets and a nation that do you no good. From the gore of Necro to the Southern Gothicism of Three 6 Mafia, rappers have long had a tendency to present their lives as a haunt – often with themselves as both a villain and a product of ghastly environments. Fatboi Sharif has been pushing this to new limits by shunting the genre’s rules, and through a true passion for horror. His newest album Preaching in Havana, released through PTP Records, is an unsettling, evocative listen that brings his style to a new height.

While Sharif is a one of a kind rapper, much of Preaching in Havana‘s character is thanks to the hellish, abstract production of Noface. Forward thinking and unbound by melody, they meet in a barren cavern of jazz that could makes even a sLUms album sound accessible (although Ohbliv has dabbled in similarly dark, dissonant sampling). What you might uncover from the twisted soundscape is actually reminiscent of an old Dan the Automator album – namely Dr. Octagonecologyst – with how intentional and expressive the beats alone can be.

More bloody tears from the reverend…

It’s only fitting that such unorthodox production attracts an oddball MC like Sharif; He isn’t rapping on here so much as he is babbling. Take “The Hybrid”, where his tone consistently raises and lowers, but is stretched alongside aimless keys into something cacophonous. With the seamless transition into “Sunday School Explosives”, where he finds a pocket more reminiscent of a chanting cult than the preceding funhouse, Preaching in Havana drags you through all kinds of tortured and horrific scenes. The things Sharif does with his voice are completely original, using flows and effects that many artists wouldn’t dare touch. However, none of this is done to legitimately summon Baphomet or to simply be edgy.

All of the suffering and fear reflected on the surface of Sharif’s music actually carries the weight of generations of injustice and suffering. Like Sadistik, he uses these choked, ghostly deliveries and over the top lyrics to express his trauma and what it’s like for his community. From the fear of walking through the city at night to the atrocities of the past, life as a black man in America can be a nightmare. Exemplifying the extreme imagery of racism that Sharif aims for, “Nazi Needle Marks”‘ uses more traditional samples and a hook, bastardized into creepy-crawlies and accompanied by white supremacist allusions.

Over all of Preaching in Havana looms an air of conspiracy that might come across as disingenuous from some hiphop artists, but Sharif uses these ideals to express genuine need and marginalization. For example, the outro “Fentanyl Firing Squad” is loaded with non sequitur allegories and references (“Economy collapsing, surgeon general unmasking”) that further the feelings of powerlessness wrought by a hellish, blank soundscape. While it might make you squirm, Fatboi Sharif’s music isn’t the problem. It’s the exorcism: the frustrated, drowned out response to centuries of defilement.

Listen to Preaching in Havana on Bandcamp

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