Lukah - Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror Music Album Reviews

Lukah - Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror Music Album Reviews
A synthesis of outerborough album rap, Five-Percenter ideology, and Southern Gothic interiority, the Memphis native’s latest album is a somber reflection on the place that made him.

Like anything else, underground rap scenes are subject to algorithmic gerrymandering. Upload a few loosies and SoundCloud will nudge you in the direction of your kin; the Venn diagram of Your Old Droog and Tha God Fahim’s Spotify listeners promises such synergy that collab tapes become imperative, geography and style be damned. There’s a sense of inevitability, of artists grappling for pieces of a diminishing pie, a concession that recommendation algos know rappers better than they know themselves.

Which makes more precious those rare anti-scene triumphs—Grief Pedigree and Haitian Body Odor, YEN and Private Stock—records by grown men who, having toiled in isolation and obscurity, emerge as full-fledged auteurs from shadowy corners of the internet. These albums are not indebted to individual cities or eras; their brilliance doesn’t translate to vinyl or visual media. They are vestiges of an earlier, slower internet, one where solitary travelers could not only find their own likeminded comrades, but in the process find themselves.

In the wake of Three 6 Mafia’s improbable Top 40 breakthrough, Memphis native Lukah tried his hand at crunk and became active in the city’s battle rap community. It wasn’t until 2018’s Chickenwire that Lukah, then approaching 30, settled upon an insular sound: less Southern, more Gothic. Around that time, a San Diego producer named Walz encountered his music online and began submitting beats unsolicited, fifteen of which Lukah selected for Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror.

Memphis rappers have long conceived of the city as a portal: in Three 6’s case, a portal to a mystical underworld; in 8Ball & MJG’s case, a portal to their smoked-out pimp fantasies. Although Why Look Up contains more on-the-ground reporting than the records of his forebears, Lukah derives symbolism by casting an impartial eye toward South Memphis. The weight of history bears upon his birthplace, where residents occupy the homes and fates of their ancestors. “What was once community met its own demolition/They ask why the guns and drugs? Destruction is our addiction,” he rhymes on “The Way to Damascus.” Why Look Up’s interrogation of Memphis is an inquiry into the Black community, undertaken as a case study in lieu of Nas and Kendrick’s survey methods.

Lukah favors commentary over self-examination, his rhetorical questions echoing like spectral voices in a William Styron interlude. “You ever had your reflection reply in conversation?” he asks on “Stygian”; one imagines the candlesticks in Scarface’s four-cornered room. On the penultimate song “Colored One,” the question is posed through another lens: “You ever had the ghost of your shadow follow your every step?” The shift in perspective is the difference between “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” and “I Seen a Man Die”—the former is a man who fears death, the latter is a man who knows it intimately.

On “Glasshouses,” the boundaries between setting and character are blurred beyond recognition: “I’m from the side where education is no longer a vision/People don’t give a fuck, ‘cause we fill up their prisons/On my side we honor codes, but we don’t honor the isms/Where the brothers want better, but we lack the ambition.” Lukah is a blunt lyricist with combat-ready delivery, conveying his environs in a manner more experiential than visual. In true Southern Gothic fashion, the locales and their inhabitants define one another in equal measure.

Still, Why Look Up is an album of and from the internet, which allows Lukah to flit between diarist, torchbearer, and scholar. On “The Seine,” his vocals bear whiffs of Big K.R.I.T.’s muddy Panhandle declension, whereas “Luncheon on the Grass” recalls Shyheim and Freddie Foxxx’s Avirex-battened flows. There’s no logical or temporal reason Boldy James would appear on this record, but “Stigmata” is a pitch-perfect duet, Boldy’s preternatural cool permeating Lukah’s impeccably patterned syllables. “Ermine” pairs Lukah with Estee Nack, a flamboyant Dominican rapper from Massachusetts, and again the chemistry is immediate—these guys rap their asses off.

The project’s ambiance is reminiscent of Cormega’s The Realness and The True Meaning, early-2000s soliloquies that sound like they were composed in a bunker. Walz’s beats evoke Havoc’s disquiet with none of the Alchemist’s cute flourishes, a calm surface belying shark-infested depths. Shifty keyboard trills are weighted by domineering snares, punctuated with slight variations in tempo—the soupy layers of “Luncheon on the Grass,” the beat switches on “Immaculate Conception”—approaching the album’s final act. The muted arrangements are apt for Why Look Up’s somber reflection, even if Lukah’s more animated collaborators sound like they sped past their interstate exit.

The album’s linchpin is “Colored One,” which in context plays like a response to Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man,” the 2Pac-interpolating finale of To Pimp a Butterfly. The lyrics are at once descriptive and prescriptive, submitting a cautious autonomy where “Mortal Man” preaches solidarity: “Losing sleep at night, but then again, the god has never slept/And never asked for help, ‘cause Black men weren’t taught to self-reflect/Move through life cycles with traumas we’re expected to accept/Come fly in my shoes, and you’ll see why our ancestors wept.” Where “Mortal Man” closes with 2Pac predicting a race war, “Colored One” remains inward-facing. The final sound bite is Charlamagne tha God—himself a firebrand for the clickbait era—telling an interviewer, “I call myself tha God for a reason. I’m a Black man, and not even just a Black man. I’m God’s creation, God put me here to be something great.”

Why Look Up is a synthesis of outerborough album rap, Five-Percenter ideology, and Southern Gothic interiority. These are traditions that can only be received as articles of faith, and when Lukah retreats into the politics of self-reliance, he is the sentry of a precinct left to fend for itself. When push comes to shove, he knows what’s worth protecting.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Lukah - Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror Music Album Reviews Lukah - Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 23, 2021 Rating: 5


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