For whatever reason, all the best all the best albums I’ve heard this spring have been dank, dark, hopeless, fearsome, towering things, all expansive wrath and monolithic misanthropy: Triptykon’s Melana Chasmata, EMA’s The Future’s Void, Wovenhand’s Refractory Obdurate, Nux Vomica’s self-titled joint, the Swans album that’s about to come along and peel your fucking skull back. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea for all these metal and postpunk bands to wait until the weather finally got warm to release their wailing, seething, hissing masterpieces, but that’s what’s happening. And now we have a rap record that answers those albums’ call, that stares into the same abyss. I definitely don’t love VIOLENCE, the new mixtape from the man who calls himself the Devil. I’m not even sure I like it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think I might hate the goddam thing. But I can’t stop thinking about it, and in a week when I didn’t hear any great new mixtapes, that ability to capture my imagination is enough to land it in this space. May god forgive me.
Some background here: The Devil is Derek Schklar, the former manager of the Atlanta rappers Pill and Trouble. But he doesn’t make music the way most Atlanta rap insiders do. Instead, he makes sound-collage pastiches that are as hopeless and terrifying and hate-filled as possible. VIOLENCE follows Harbinger, a tape that Schklar released last year and paired with an obsessively dark, anti-narrative short film. VIOLENCE is just as devoid of structure — it’s almost anti-structure, but its moments of rupture and non-continuous whiplash are intentional; they’re there to make a point, even if we don’t necessarily know what that point is. Schklar’s whole idea of the Devil is less a rap persona and more an art-project alias, there to unite all these different strains of audio bloodlust into one disconcerting, disorienting whole.
The tape takes verses from Schklar and from legitimately hard-as-fuck Atlanta rappers like Alley Boy and Trouble, but it doesn’t leave those verses alone. Instead, it interrupts them with grim, horrifying audio clips — news reports of shootings, audio of killers talking, old newsreel stuff about Texan bell-tower murderer Charles Whitman. Sometimes, we also hear bits of other music. “Kill Radio Kill/The Ride,” for instance, is full of radio static, as it jarringly cuts away from its Alley Boy and Pesci verses, the rap giving way to clips of late-period Johnny Cash, of Converge, of the Dillinger Escape Plan, of OneRepublic’s “Apologize.” The straight-up rap parts, as long as they’re allowed to continue, are mostly strong — intense examples of the guttural goon-rap that’s lately begun to fall out of favor but that can still kick you in the teeth. And by situating them with mass-shooting news reports and Dillinger Escape Plan song-clips, I can’t quite tell of Schklar is condemning the violence of the music — which seems unlikely, given his past associations — or whether he’s merely situating it in a larger context of American violence, asserting that rap’s darkest impulses are of a piece with general society’s darkest impulses.
The whole thing is, of course, a discomfiting and fucked-up listen. It’s maybe the only mixtape I’ve ever seen with a negative score from Livemixtapes listeners, and I can certainly sympathize with anyone who would listen and be like, “Fuck this, this guy is trying too hard.” (I’m not putting it into the Heavy Rotation section because I don’t intend to spend a lot more time listening to it.) But for whatever reason, I can’t shake this weird thing. At one point, there’s a piece of a news story about a shooting at the Mall Of Columbia, the Maryland mall where I spent way too many teenage nights. That shooting was a minor one by American mass-shooting standards — only three people dead, including the murderer — but it still left me shaken, calling family members even though I knew those family members had no reason to be near the mall that morning. And here it was, unexpectedly rearing its head again in the middle of this mixtape, one moment of deep crawling darkness among many.
Download VIOLENCE, if you dare, here.