The Joy And The Fury Of Soul Glo’s Defiantly Black Hardcore
The black and brown punks in the front row are going off — surging forward, screaming, hands in the air. Pierce is the only member of Soul Glo in the frame. His locs fan out from his head and his right hand clutches the mic like he’s pitching it at the crowd. Four or five rows of punks stand in a semi-circle, watching Soul Glo lay waste to the 2018 Break Free Fest, a Philly hardcore festival that showcases people of color. My favorite person in the pic is right in the middle, one hand up to block a neighbor’s elbow, swinging head whipping hair in the air, eyes scrunched, mouth open, grinning and shouting at the same time. I’m pretty sure that Farrah Skeiky snapped the pic half a second before this kid started to levitate from pure joy.
To be black is to constantly police your own presence, so you don’t get policed by others who don’t care about your safety. You can’t be the loudest one in the room. You can’t scream and jump and run. You have to restrain yourself or else face danger from people who view you as a threat. That’s why it feels so good to look at this photo of a Soul Glo show and see black people in a space where they can go off to some punk rock. That’s part of why it feels so good to listen to a black, chaotic hardcore band like Soul Glo liberate themselves by screaming.
And, yo, Soul Glo scream on Songs To Yeet At The Sun, their new five-song EP, and their best record yet. Yeet is less than 12 minutes long, but it covers lived experiences and big-picture politics, spanning dissonant emo-core, fuzzed-out hip-hop, and rampaging rock ‘n’ roll as it colors in the corners of a black life outside the white punk gaze. The first track, “(Quietly) Do The Right Thing,” starts off with a blood-curdling shriek. It takes the rest of the band three seconds to join in, then they’re all off, drums and motormouth vocals speeding ahead, punctuated by an ascending, syncopated riff. Once the part gels, the band downshifts into a half-speed groove, ending on a surging, octave chord-laden section that echoes back to ‘90s hardcore records with manila envelope covers.
While punk has spent decades promoting unity and railing against social climbing, the lyrics to “(Quietly) Do The Right Thing” add a unique layer to the topic: how it feels to work in solidarity with a fellow black artist, only to feel used in the end. “I had to remind myself I wasn’t the first person to be passed over for waifish aryans,” goes one lyric, “and that I too have subjected others to that same rejection and hurt.”
It’s a year before James Spooner’s Afro-Punk documentary, and a decade before the AfroPunk Festival went full-on Black Coachella. I’m at the 2003 Fluff Fest in the Czech Republic. Sweaty European punk boys smile, a sea of white faces, white arms, and dark armpit hair waving back to my disposable camera up on stage. This show stands out from the 90 others my band played that summer because it was the biggest crowd we’d ever had. Because a hesitant bartender poured me a gang of absinthe and I danced nasty to Prince after the show shut down. Because we played with Yaphet Kotto, an ultra-DIY Ebullition Records band with a black guitarist (Hi Mag Delana!), and I’d been on tour for months and could count the number of black punks I’d encountered on one hand. Why did I have to travel all the way to Europe to play with another black punk?
I got mad the first time I heard Soul Glo. I wished so badly that they’d been around 20 years before, when I was sorting out my mixed-race black identity, and dying for permission to be black and also like twitchy, vulnerable hardcore. Soul Glo is making the music I was looking for and, as frayed as they sound, their screams are cathartic. They prove that the hip-hop and soul-food ethos of creating something beautiful out of the scraps you’re given can overlap with the punk-rock ideal of making the most out of a little.
Songs To Yeet At The Sun is Soul Glo’s fourth record, after two EPs and a 12″. On their 2014 debut, they played the type of flailing, Saetia- and Pg. 99-inspired screamo that I saw every night on that 2003 tour. Since then, Soul Glo’s music has evolved into something unique: a blend of aggressive guitar music and freaked-out hip-hop that sidesteps nu-metal, even if the band has been known to tweet about how much Linkin Park and Korn mean to their generation of weird black kids.
On Yeet, the octave chords and other nods to basement-show emo are still loud and proud, but Pierce’s vocal cadences sound equally at home over Ruben’s inventive guitar riffs and bassist Gigi’s abrasive, Danny Brown-ish hip-hop beats. The songs build and fluctuate, surfing a wave of emotion. It’s unpredictable, intuitive music that messes with structure, hitting all the harder in its honesty.
About half of Soul Glo’s songs have numbers for titles, and on “29,” the song starts with a strutting rock ‘n’ roll riff played with hardcore ferocity. Forty-five seconds in, or two-thirds of the way through this blast of a song, a frantic Little Richard piano gets sucked up into the whirlwind, the band speeds up, and Pierce doubles the syllables, ranting about affording antidepressants, “N*ggas know to the cent the cost of their next three steps in any given direction.”
Right when it sounds like the wheels are about to fall off “29,” it speeds up again, bringing the piano along. Before you can start tracing the black, queer roots of rock ‘n’ roll forward from Little Richard, “2K” has kicked in and Richmond’s DJ Archangel is rapping, “Doin’ estrogen in the back of a Chick-Fil-A/ Ain’t know the weather but I know I want some dick today” over a noisy, ever-evolving hip-hop track. The record’s gooey rap center illustrates a quintessential black punk experience: pulling up to a DIY show, pumping hip-hop in the van.
Holding some citation-sized papers, Pierce stands behind the open door of a Missouri State Highway Patrol car, parked on the trash-strewn shoulder of a bleak winter highway. Rows of dead trees disappear into the horizon. The headlights of approaching cars glow, in conversation with the cruiser’s flashing roof lights. In the foreground, two people watch Pierce: a cop in a Smokey the Bear hat and the silhouette of someone from the band with their hoodie up. This is the cover of Soul Glo’s 2019 12″, The N*gga In Me Is Me.
After Soul Glo were racially profiled by police on tour, the GoFundMe to cover their legal fees went lowkey viral, leading to the band’s first big publicity hit. While Soul Glo’s profile was raised, it introduced them to a lot of people as “the black punk band that got arrested.” It only takes a few minutes to be pulled over by the cops. Imagine if people focused on the entire rest of your life instead of blaming you for that brief run-in. Consider the danger of pulling out your phone and snapping a pic during that encounter, when the police are eager to believe that anything in a black person’s hand is a gun.
The lyrics on The N*gga In Me Is Me deal with being a black person in a predominately white scene. Album highlight “31” kicks off with the all-time-great line, “Them white n*ggas you fuck with turn tiki torch real quick.” A year later, the lyrics on Yeet decenter whiteness, tying lived experiences as a black person to the bigger issues that they reflect — like the scramble for antidepressants in “29” or “Mathed Up”‘s exploration of buying weed while lilywhite “cannabis culture” ignores drug laws’ history of fucking over black people. Or, as Pierce puts it, “It’s places you can cop legally, but ’til they drop my n*gga charges it don’t mean shit to me.”
If The N*gga In Me Is Me is about being the black band at the white show, Songs To Yeet At The Sun focuses on black life lived in the moments between the shows. It’s insular, a black conversation that ties overwhelming concerns to personal experiences like buying weed, dealing with a parole officer and, um, being the guy who “ate some ass in a corn field.” On this essential hardcore record, Soul Glo are talking amongst themselves while making their most vital and exciting music yet.
Songs To Yeet At The Sun is out 11/6 on Secret Voice.