So sometime last week or maybe two weeks ago, I downloaded Le1f’s mixtape Dark York. My interest was more than peeked. I even sent the sexy mofo in question a Soundcloud message requesting an interview, and was of course ignored (eh, worth a shot, right? I mean I’ve gotten interviews that way before, but whatever). Point is, I spent the entire week battling two gargantuan rats which quaintly decided to invade my girl’s attic apartment (hence the delay on this review). And yes, the two huge motherfuckin’ rats were only slightly wounded by those gorey snap-traps and finally defeated by poison mixed with peanut butter, served up on a goddam plate of disgust.
So what does any of this venting have to do with Le1f, aka Khalif Diouf’s garishly lengthy Dark York mixtape? Well, aside from the obvious reference to notorious New York City vermin and the rough ‘n tumble realities of this queer-of-color cat in the Chi, plainly put, I wish I had this release with me to wage war with those horrendous rodents. Dark York serves as an appropriate war cry of an album, up to par with Bigg Jus’ recent release, The Machines that Make Civilization Fun. Le1f’s lyricism shouldn’t be conflated into another pestilentially pigeon-holed category of Queer-hop, NYC glam-hop, gay-hop or whatever other contrivance those pesky Pitchfork critics might concoct. Of course, I’m moved, if not elated by the glitter-bomb effect of the Vogue-inspired vernacular, shade throwing and audacious homonormative potential of this album. But, let’s not get side tracked. Any, cliché about the hip-hop industry’s egregious or excessive homophobia aside, Le1f isn’t pretending to be any gay messiah. Seriously, there are plenty of gay friendly rappers out there who are quite aware for the impact of their words, watching their mouths and washing their mouths, so let’s not bore ourselves with political correctness.
As a gay Latino, a kid raised in the 90’s, an artist, a writer, a welfare warrior with an education, I like my rap ravenous, infested with vile realities. So, what works best about this rampant cultural shift in consciousness, towards the avid acceptance and absolute necessity of scenester-fab artists like Le1f, with all his complex defiance, is not simply his queerness, or his color, or the amalgamated, pseudo-privilege of his Manhattan upbringing and New York-centric snides. The brilliance behind Dark York is the collaboration, the artistry and craft behind the music. With the likes of Nguzunguzu on his side, it’s no wonder this release bent me over the metaphoric couch like a hip-hop head with tinges of self-aware attitude and gusto, virulently plowing me through the night. The spite and bite, the noxious and the nasty in Dark York makes for the best of hip-hop. A dirty ride through verbal splendor, a story told through arrogance the way only a North American with a lexicon of lasciviousness could account.
This is all-“American” music. This is the return to 90’s gangsta-rap in reverse. There are others, of course on the forefront of these battles against iniquitously pablum rappers, spitting limply along the streets of hip-hop’s irksome history. But, has anybody noticed that it looks like the queer-rap scene is dominated, expectedly by the Black intelligentsia, or is it just me? Regardless, seldom do artists capture a movement, a moment, and a reality the way Le1f does, exceptionally so, on Dark York.
To be honest, hip-hop has been the unsung heroes’ anthem, the underdogs chorus, the liturgy and litany of the oppressed. And well, the alley cats are out in throngs now, amassing their art fag voices in all their mephitic odor. Bad breath is in-vogue. Some myopic reviewer noted the slyness, the masked or controlled politics of Dark Side as if it were still taboo to be politically fervent or colored, queer and proud. But, I think the ninny-negating naysayer missed the point of Dark York all together. It’s my strong conviction that the apex of Le1f’s verbiage is his vindictiveness, his ass fucking of the heterosexual industry and his nuanced femininity. Does it suffice to categorize Le1f as a queer artist, no, but am I pleased to have him on my side? Hell yeah! The filthy, putrid, shit’d on cocks and balls of our banal urbanity are airing out their undies. Do you like the smell? Let ‘em bite your ass.