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Pink Siifu: A Rough Guide

April 12, 2023

The South has always had a lot to offer when it comes to hip hop, but artists outside Atlanta tend to get overlooked in their contribution to the sound of Southern rap. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, the enigmatic and ever-changing Pink Siifu pays homage to the Southern artists that influenced him while also pushing sonic boundaries to move the genre into new territory. 

The apex of distinct East Coast/West Coast sounds was in the 90s, but through all of that evolution, the South has maintained its own unmistakable identity. From Geto Boys to 21 Savage, rap music from the South doesn’t sound like it could be from anywhere else, and Pink Siifu simultaneously embraces that notion and turns it on its head. He initially started releasing music under the Pink Siifu moniker in 2014, but his breakthrough in the underground came with 2018’s ensley, a mellow jazz rap epic spanning 25 tracks. 

I didn’t discover Pink Siifu until his collaboration with Fly Anakin in 2020 though. FlySiifu’s, is a project that feels like a love letter to abstract sampling legends like Madlib and Pete Rock; it’s an apt entry point into his discography, as fans of underground classics like Madvillainy, Donuts, and The Main Ingredient will surely find some material that clicks with their taste. Madlib even lays down the beat for one of the tracks, making for a lovely moment with the master and his protogés. 

After that project initially piqued my interest, I was both delighted and surprised when I dove into its predecessors. The aforementioned ensley is another strong project that has similar production styles to Fly Siifu’s but functions more as his self-exploration. However Siifu’s most defining qualities are more prominent in 2018’s Kryptonyte, released under a group of the same name, as well as 2020’s NEGRO, a record that completely redefined the sounds he was capable of. Collaboration is a huge part of Siifu’s identity, which makes many of his records sound like you’re a fly on the wall for a chill smoke session or a Sunday cookout. It’s no surprise that he cites Atlanta supergroup the Dungeon Family as a major influence of his. Kryptonyte saw him teaming up with Dallas natives Liv.e and Lord Byron where they tapped into the sounds of Memphis rap and the lean-soaked chopped and screwed styles of the 90s with a modern cloud rap twist. It sounds exactly like the album cover looks. From 2018-2020, Siifu released 4 collab albums, some of which have expanded deluxe versions. So whether he’s forming southern supergroups like Kryptonyte or partnering up with AKAI SOLO, YUNGMORPHEUS, or Fly Anakin, there’s a plethora of Siifu-led cooperative endeavors. And these projects were merely a sneak peak for what was to come in his prolific career. 

Somehow, during that stretch, he found time to release NEGRO in 2020, a complete recharacterization of what the Pink Siifu persona consisted of. The lush sampling and southern styles he had established in projects prior are thrown completely out the window, as he explores his deepest frustrations and strongest political condemnations through harsh noise, sound collage, and industrial hip hop. Systemic oppression and police brutality had been covered in his music before, but never had he painted such an unclouded and alarming picture of racially disparaging systems of government and the fear that comes with living in them every day. It’s his least accessible project, both sonically and thematically, but it encapsulates his willingness to experiment, and it’s undoubtedly his most ambitious work. 

Pink Siifu makes it clear that it’s hard to find solace in such difficult circumstances at the hands of corrupt police, but it’s only made bearable is through the celebrations of each other’s blackness and the camaraderie and friendship that comes as a result. His 2021 album GUMBO’! reflects that to the utmost degree– it’s a mesmerizing, multi-layered, trap masterpiece that deeply expresses a fierce loyalty and connection to friends and family. The Southern flavor is so vivid and so tangible, that all the voices, sounds, influences, come together in sweet harmony to form a melting pot of jazzy, soulful, psychedelic hip hop splendor. It’s Siifu’s homage to everyone that has his back and has helped him get to where he is. With an abundance of guest features, everybody is along for the ride, and he doesn’t spare any ingredients cookin’ up the gumbo. And sheesh, it is tasty. “Wayans Bros.” and “Roscoe’!” are grimy industrial trap cuts that go unimaginably hard, and “Call tha Bro (Tapped In)” and “Scurrrrd” are jazzy slow burners with a steady, head-bobbing pulse, reminiscent of songs off of Outkast’s Aquemini. But perhaps my favorite track on the whole album is “BACK’!”. It has an absolutely transcendental beat that transports me to another planet, and one of his sharpest flows that goes along with the song perfectly. 

To me, GUMBO’! is Pink Siifu’s masterwork. It represents everything in his career that came before it and something totally new, and it’s my favorite album of 2021. That’s why it is another great entry point into his discography, yet it becomes more rewarding with subsequent listens and the context of the albums that came before it. Since GUMBO’!’s release, he hasn’t slowed down. He upgraded the album to a deluxe version with new tracks that are just as great as the ones on the original, and he dropped yet another collaboration with producer Real Bad Man, Real Bad Flights. It has a colder and more ominous sound palette akin to the icy boom bap of the Griselda collective. Then he makes up half of neo-soul duo B. Cool-Aid for their brand new record Leather Blvd. where slew of familiar collaborators come together to make a hazy lo-fi hip hop journey. It’s only a few days old at this point, but it’s clear that it’s another worthwhile installment in his dynamic discography. 

No matter what you make your Siifu starting point, you’ll find more genres, influences, and collaborators than you can keep track of. He’s assembled a whole family to represent the sound of Pink Siifu, and it’s both undeniably Southern and traversing far beyond his humble beginnings in Birmingham. Just know that you’re in for a wild, emotive, unpredictable ride that’s all a part of his artistic recipe. 

Today’s Playlist: 

  • Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin – Time Up 
  • Madvillain – Curls
  • Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – In the Flesh Kryptonyte – Emmys 
  • Dungeon Family – Rollin’ 
  • Pink Siifu – we need mo color. 
  • Pink Siifu – Wayans Bros. 
  • Pink Siifu – Scurrrrd 
  • Outkast – Liberation 
  • Pink Siifu – BACK’! 
  • Pink Siifu & Real Bad Man – Tokyo Flights Boldy James & The Alchemist – Scrape The Bowl B. Cool-Aid – Cnt Go Back (Tell Me)

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