When I first heard of SOUL GLO‘s newest album bleeding its light over the horizon of 2022’s seemingly relentless release schedule, I first sighed at how I knew it would be an absolute monster to contend with, keeping up with Pierce Jordan’s mile-a-minute vocals yelled into the mic among other things. Their take on hardcore punk with very liberal experimental hip-hop influence is always so fiery, sickeningly relevant, and personally powerful that you just don’t… ingest it like other hardcore outings. That tinge of whelm soon turns to excitement though because, well, SOUL GLO are one of my favorite damn bands, for all the reasons I listed above and more. Finally, elation, as I realize to myself, ‘Hell yeah, an album title I can actually say out loud!‘
That’s another aspect of SOUL GLO worth mentioning: they do not give one (1) single unit of motherfuck for your comfort – many examples abound in this album. Diaspora Problems, like the rest of their astute catalog, is incendiary, action packed with righteous anger, eye-opening truths that will prove all too relatable to some, and straight up poetry contorted to fit between the blasts of drums and serrating guitars that hardcore has been known for for decades. Still, for as much as this album plays by the rules, it also completely nukes them into ash.
How often do you see a hardcore album with a rap song about flipping designer clothes to survive in this society slotted into its midsection, and it made sense? This is a surface example of what worlds SOUL GLO grasps and collides like a kid gnashing action figures together in a crossover battle for the ages, and whether your money is on Superman or Rocksteady, it just works. Though subject matter is dense and complicated – generational curses, mental health, racist killer cops, and losing friends over some bullshit – there’s an air of fun in the construction and forming of the music, building melodies and rhythms to trojan horse some refreshingly, truly militant shit into your head. Think of their video for “Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!!)((by the future))”, where drummer TJ Stevenson, the only white member of the band, is tortured and harangued after a SOUL GLO show a la JK Simmons in Whiplash.
It takes a lot for me to audibly react to music, whether it’s from a salient bar or something outrageously standout in another way – Diaspora Problems is rife with these moments. One I always go back to is a verse in “John J” that is too pissed off not to quote in full:
‘Punk pig police fun is making ni**as suffer, doing fuck all they want with they badge numbers covered. Stuck in a world constantly assessing the worth of a life, in the backward system of capitalism, I fetch a low-ass price. Northeast rednecks with bats fight with police backup around the corner, marching down Girard knowing the precinct gonna escort them. Outside playing pretend soldier because they think the force will court them, standing tall on Target stores thinking they snipers (and) not fucking corny. Anyone who’s on reform is really an informant. I take the bullet, you take the ballot, peaceful protest is fucking boring. Between torching PDs and taking knees, oh my god, I choose the former. You can eat this dick and swallow the whole clip on god and on Chris Dorner.’
The way I said ‘yooooooooooo‘ at those last couple lines is exactly what I listen to SOUL GLO for, because they’re never gonna mince words and they’re always gonna be saying the realest shit with absolutely no compromise – shit that’ll get you banned on social media and likely a visit from the feds at this point. As someone that considers Body Count‘s “Cop Killer” one of the best songs ever written, it’s stuff like this that always gains great favor with me. Diaspora Problems has many more treats in this regard.
One thing you have to understand is this isn’t for shock, though it obviously will shock those not hip to leftist/abolitionist rhetoric – maybe don’t show this to your #DefundThePolice pals unless you’re ready to have a long, likely exhausting talk. This isn’t a chintzy, gore-splattered death metal album – the value within SOUL GLO‘s anger isn’t to be the most gruesome or needlessly violent, but to buck back at centuries of torture, suffering, and oppression; to kick the legs out from under the gluttonous, murderous body of capitalist imperialism who picks its teeth with the bones of every corpse caused by its existence (something directly referenced in a song – ‘Ni**as are all industries’ favorite food, but some get stuck in tooth and stay there partially chewed’). This album isn’t called Diaspora Problems because it was catchy.
This makes the energy captured by SOUL GLO so relentlessly appealing, if a bit hard to hold onto the reins as each song tears ass through its runtime. The first damn track, “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)”, is longer by SOUL GLO and hardcore standards in general, flipping and dipping into a few different forms, not the least impactful of which is the song’s defiant chorus which makes good on its parenthetical subtitle, ‘So I hit the dab pen on the Megabus, ni**a who gon’ beat my ass? I might get high too much, but do I give a fuck? Who gon’ beat my ass?‘ This all culminates in one of the most powerful moments on the whole record – the desperately repeated lyrical refrain of ‘can I live?‘ shrieked at the top of Pierce’s lungs before one more throat-shredding hook: ‘Smith and Wesson in my pocket, who gon’ beat my ass? Out here drunk and I don’t give a fuck. Who gon’ beat my ass? … Say more, say less, it’s all the same. When it’s time to die we can meet outside to see who gon’ feel my pain. So who gon’ beat my ass?‘
So much of Diaspora Problems is raw and declarative, imperfect in its analysis of self, and absolutely damning in its critique of social problems, in case that somehow wasn’t obvious already. “Coming Correct is Cheaper” has one of the most wrenching things I’ve ever heard from socially conscious music ever, belted out at the end by Pierce supported by thrashy drums and a descending guitar melody:
‘My parents were contorted to build a future where their children get extorted and, of course, we can’t bear to tell them their efforts were consumed in fire. … The true consumption is that of the rich and I don’t mean on no trendy left shit. The tradition of their habit is all the fine print is. You think you understand ownership?’
Even the odd moments, like how Lyn Collins‘ “Think (About It)” is sampled at the beginning of “Coming Correct is Cheaper” – instantly recognizable to any hip-hop head or EDM fan as it’s been sampled thousands of times – work well in context of the track.
“Driponomics” is the album’s coarse, throbbing rap track, like “2K” before it. It’s a wordplay-filled flipping – literally and figuratively – of Reaganomics using the resell market for luxury items as a backdrop for Pierce to speak on a lucrative, reliable hustle you can’t knock and for featured artist Mother Maryrose to stunt with her designer heel on your neck. Pierce’s quickened flow still allows for a lot of lyrical dexterity as he bulldozes through the most catchy hook of Diaspora Problems:
‘Trickle down driponomics yea the flipping of drip
My lil cousin just a kid but he getting the shit
From the cammers to the scammers ni**a Teejayx6
Flipping the only way a ni**a gon’ be coming up quick
Off-White, Birkin, Telfar
Ni**as going hard
Supreme still hot to the hypebeasts‘
As Saba made me reflect on recently, there’s only one viable option in the face of economic anxiety and that’s to get out there and get money. ‘Elites don’t fight fair, I got no time to care,’ yells Pierce in a verse before saying two of the hardest lines on this whole record: ‘Ain’t nun as ugly as a balance in the red/I want bands on every politician’s head‘. Mother Maryrose plays (though I doubt it’s an act) the beneficiary of the drip flip game – lavish, sexy, and self-confident as she’s gifted fancy things from men and herself alike:
‘Fuck being good, I’m a bad bitch
If he buying bags, I’ma fuck him like a savage
I be popping tags ’cause a bitch living lavish
Bitches gonna hate ’cause they know they can’t have this’
I’d recommend looking into Mother Maryrose‘s work if you’re a fan of the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, and Latto like I am because she could very well be among the next up.
Diaspora Problems is just as much about survival and living the life you can in spite of all that wants you dead or in prison. Some of SOUL GLO‘s greater commentary on that is steeped in pain from seeing so many others lose the fight before them. “Jump!!!…” has some cutting lines referring to Brianna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, in addition to Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke who both passed way, way before their time. Pierce seemingly looks death in the face on this song, proclaiming ‘I’ll be in my future, come try to remove it‘. Still, it’s uplifting and sobering, the thesis of the song striking the hardest of all:
‘Would you be surprised if I died next week? Many ni**as, many minds can get through all 10 years of they 20s with no time. Get a bullshit degree and a family and trauma’s still beating them within an inch of they life. Take ten hood ni**as, put them in a line. Each be a genius off they own might. You gon’ learn ten lessons you could apply. You gon’ learn what it really mean to survive.’
The last song I’ll talk about at length is “Spiritual Level Of Gang Shit”, where Diaspora Problems ends, but its purpose reaches an apex that literally hasn’t left my head since I first heard it. It’s a mellow track – at first – making room for more traditional rappers lojii and McKinley Dixon, the latter I can’t say enough good things about (please, please listen to For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her) and the former is now firmly on my list of rappers to peep at some point. It’s an oddly meditative track, suspended in the air by feathery, reverb-licked guitar riffs and a tidy yet funky bassline. lojii is up first, conjuring some fierce imagery with his verse:
‘You might have to flip a key, you might have break a lock
Keep a tight circle, free my cousin out that box
See, on my block, they don’t hide it in they sock
Empty viles Milly Rock all over that blacktop
Where they quick to shoot they neighbor
Before they shoot at the cops
Always spinnin’ ’round the clock, never stop’
McKinley Dixon gets beautifully abstract with his part:
‘Crucify a ni**a locked to the beam
Street lights got a staple for every year they have seen
Me and my ni**as use its power to carry out our schemes
So I guess that’s why I’m used to sun’s warmth on me
But the rays grew wings on my back
And I look to the ground, my people’s feathers ain’t intact‘
The song practically breaks in two after both guests say their pieces, with Pierce parting the track like punk rock Moses to finish it off with a short verse and the closest thing the song – and arguably the whole album – comes to a chorus, ‘It’s a spiritual level of gang shit and y’all don’t know the ni**as I hang with’. Flanked by trombone, saxophone, and trumpet (which appear in “Thumbsucker” as well), it’s a cataclysmic end to a chaotic album and one of the best climaxes I’ve heard in recent memory.
I don’t exaggerate at all when I say each and every song on Diaspora Problems rings equal parts revelation and revolution. From the bludgeoning, heart-rending contending with personal and familial trauma and abuse in “(Five Years And) My Family” to the eye-rolling boredom and frustration with liberals’ feet-dragging complacency and complicity in the way things are in “We Wants Revenge”, SOUL GLO‘s sonic diatribes are weaved into manifestos with no uncertain terms. Unless you plead woeful ignorance, it’s not hard to see where the band is coming from on many issues, and it all comes so much harder than any peer I can think of. Every line is purposed and seems to hide context that branches off into other lines, all interconnected as tracks made to digest with great attention. Read the lyrics, play it loud, feel the emotion, understand the importance. Just fucking listen.
My Songs to Yeet At The Sun review concluded in part with me hoping they blow the hell up, ‘but really,‘ I conceded, ‘I just hope they continue doing whatever the fuck they want.’ Two (very good) EPs later and now this, both seem to have happened. Signed to Epitaph Records now, I can’t help but see them getting a lot more exposure, people exclaiming in video comments how it’s the first time they’d heard SOUL GLO and how awesome it was, how they wanted to buy a shirt or the record. It brings me hope that they’ll listen to what the band is saying and take it seriously – maybe “Fucked Up If True” will be their radicalization moment. It makes me think maybe the kids will be all right after all, and it’s enough to bring a real-ass tear to my eye, to see that a group of people who very well may be one of the most important bands our generation has to offer is being listened to – like, actually heard.
Since the days of Beastie Boys, some growing pains aside, I always believed that punk, hardcore, and hip-hop were all very close cousins and, when done right, can meld so well together that it’s euphoric, tapping into energies from all influences and riding a high that can’t be achieved by much else in the world. My relationship with punk and hardcore is tenuous at best now – especially compared to hip-hop – perhaps not qualifying me to proclaim that Diaspora Problems is one of the best albums in either genre, so I’ll do you one better: this is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years regardless of genre. The fact this came out on the same day as Machine Gun Kelly‘s latest punk/rock… thing should qualify as cyberbullying. Time to find a new musical style, MGK.
Band photo by Alyssa Rorke