Album Review: bbymutha – sleep paralysis

[True Panther; 2024]

bbymutha scatters laughter throughout sleep paralysis, possibly but not necessarily from intoxication. There isn’t a joke or anything particularly funny, though. So, not too much separates her cackling from that scene in Evil Dead 2 where Ash loses his mind and all the lamps, drawers, and taxidermied trophies join the madness. She just laughs. “That makes me happy”, she fawns at the end of “rich”. “Yee!”

Perhaps it stands out because sleep paralysis arrived the same day as an album from an artist notorious for her “endearing” giggle. (Swift is laughing all the way to the bank.) Any overlap with pop’s superest star ends there, however. bbymutha has gone through the looking glass. Way through it. The Cheshire cat is teaching her to teleport and the Caterpillar is sharing his stash because she introduced them to jungle and garage and says weird shit while she files her nails. sleep paralysis might not be unlike anything you’ve ever heard!, but it creates a world that is solely bbymutha’s: full of scented candles, flashing cherries, filthy mattresses, alien plants, money on the floor, lighters on the dresser. A Russ Meyer film whose heroine wears a Big K.R.I.T.-encrusted grill. 

Maybe she had hinted at this before – 2020’s Muthaland had an opening by a cheerful 80s game show announcer: “Here it is, from the fiery depths of hell”! – though musically, she adhered to trap beats and Miami bass music. The repetitious sonics did little to elevate her from a rut in the “WAP” game. Respectable but inconsistent streaming numbers indicate a difficult-to-read fanbase, though the right people have begun to notice. bbymutha kicks off Kelela’s RAVE:N remix album and Overmono sampled her “Sleeping With The Enemy” as the foundation for “Cold Blooded” (even if her vocal was scrubbed-out entirely). 

Without trying to go overboard, sleep paralysis is to bbymutha’s personality what ATLiens, The ArchAndroid, XXX, and Lost In Translation were to their authors: missives from a fringe that was suddenly at the city gates. Occasionally ethereal and untethered, unrepentently gratuitous and impulsive – after a decade as an also-ran, bbymutha goes freako mode. 

sleep paralysis tunnels out of the rut but stays firmly underground. It’s a revamped “My Two Dads” only the dads – Danny Brown and Freddie Gibbs – abandoned her years ago in the sweltering armpit of a Tennessee summer night. The temperature never seems to drop and everything glistens with a sweaty sheen. Sex is less sensual than transactional in a society where respect is a tithe and can only be paid in cunnilingus. (Sex only tangentially has a functional element: at one point she ponders, “Wanna make a baby / but this Earth’s a little tragic”.) 

Most unexpected is sleep paralysis’ naked ambition for monogamous love. Once you navigate the rubbery, Genesis Owusu-like bass in “lines”, the track splinters into pieces like a dream can shattered by opened curtains. Yet later, as on the standout single “go!”, she resolves to sanctify what her heart wants: “Meet me at the cross / Nail me to that bitch”, then, sweetly, “I be wanting all of your attention / You all over me… I be needing kisses in the morning / Cuddles in the evening”.

The religious bent that has underwritten Southern music since the plantations also rears its head, but there are no pilgrims in this unholy land. “If all my bitches love me / I can’t give a fuck who hating / I’m the antichrist / mutha destruct ‘em / Satan’s waiting” opens “ghostface”, a “N.Y. State Of Mind”/trap/horrorcore orgy. “I’m the type of demon / haunt your ass for life / I’m the type of bitch / You gotta kill me twice”. Her embrace of this persona and the freedom it offers even catches her ogling herself in the mirror. The Gibbs-like way she repeats “bitch” – beeitch, beeish, bish – is like a parlour game where she delights the audience by inventing a new pronunciation. 

The black-magic, Cheshire disappearing act is a tool used effectively. Toward the end of album opener “gun kontrol”, bbymutha vacates so that an instructional voiceover on building an assault rifle – the voice chopped-n-screwed like a kidnapper’s – can send an icy chill through the mix. When she pops up with closing bars, it’s almost as if it was the listener who quickly switched off. On the next track, “piss!”, she weaves through a violin sample that seems to mock Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and then vanishes. Midway into what is now presumed to be a coda, bbymutha’s disembodied voice is panned to the rear speakers and chants the hook with menace. 

She’s laughing again.