Album Review: Pink Siifu – GUMBO’!

[Self-released; 2021]

If one were to haplessly try to restrict Pink Siifu to a ‘style’, it might as well be the unexpected itself. He won over plenty of hip hop purists with his Bag Talk collaboration with Yungmorpheus, only to throw a large amount of them off completely with his acidic, brazen, punk-infused NEGRO. He then turned right back around and linked up with the seemingly eternally underrated Fly Anakin for a smooth, laidback helping of jazz rap via FlySiifu’s.

His latest, GUMBO’!, is yet another left turn, and one that may well throw off all the camps engrossed by any of the above. It also happens to be his most perfectly-brewed masterstroke to date. While Siifu has seen himself living across the map – he currently resides in Maryland – one shouldn’t forget he originally hails from Alabama. It’s not that he’s ever ignored his heritage, GUMBO’! is simply by far the most forcefully – and meaningfully – he’s tapped into this side of himself.

While the album is partly intended as a tribute to one his greatest influences, the Dungeon Family, Siifu is blessedly unable to resist his own supremely idiosyncratic impulses, making for an album that is at once easily drawn to its influences and entirely unidentifiable. Beyond the most obvious through-line to the legendary Atlanta collective – the presence of Big Rube on a couple of tracks – GUMBO’!’s most ready comparison, albeit a dryly reductive one, is the soulful stomp of Goodie Mob. Yet, even in comparing it to that source, it remains an undeniably, delightfully twisted version, spliced with the alien DNA of Aquemini and far more ideas entirely Siifu’s own. However much the album honors the building blocks of his taste, its biggest goal is clearly a far more ambitious one: to set himself apart from anything and everything else.

To realize his inimitable vision, Siifu has enlisted more guests than ever before. Especially compared to the (relatively) one man show that was his last proper solo album, GUMBO’! Is truly littered with guests: there’s only a single track that finds Siifu on his lonesome. Taking a tip from the late MF DOOM, he even features himself under his other monikers, including his R&B-esque persona, B. Cool-Aid. As if emboldened by all the company, there’s not a rug Siifu does tug at. To add the feeling of paradoxically scatterbrained focus, nearly every track is helmed by a different producer, from The Alchemist to close ally Conquest.

As should be painfully obvious by now, beyond its Southern origins, the title couldn’t have been more consciously selected: he tosses anything delectable into the mix. Siifu even considers his very genre to be what he calls ‘gumbo’. There’s bizarro Goodie Mob, there’s elements of Lil Wayne at his weirdest, slices of soul and jazz, and even sumptuous displays of pure rap braggadocio, such as on the all too brief first portion of “Fk U Mean/ Hold me Dwn” (which possesses one of the most smoothed out beats here) and blunt album highlight “BACK’!” (boasting an altered, deeply dramatic vocal loop). “BRAVO’!” even boasts a vibe the likes of Lil Uzi Vert would feel completely comfortable gliding over.

The sound itself is veritably bursting. Following the undeniably Organized Noize-like first track, the album immediately hurtles into a universe of its own. “Wayans Bros.” is chaotic, noisy, while the static beat of “Roscoe!” sounds akin to some bladed machine whirring to life. It seamlessly weaves between its thumping, loud moments and its more reflective inclinations, creating a mixture that never drags, even for the slightest moment.

To that end, guests are often crammed right in together so as to create the most delirious possible concoction, particularly on “Scurrrrd”, which finds Big Rube’s always wise words slotted in right alongside singer-songwriter Asal Hazel, DJ Harrison, the soulfully psychedelic Nick Hakim and, to top it off, Georgia Anne Muldrow playing the quintessential southern mother, offering “I’ll cook you rice, beans and barbecue tofu / I’ll cook you greens and biscuits too / I’ll cook you everything / I’m gon’ take care of you.” It’s nigh impossible to describe the sound of the song, or all the places it goes, but one thing is certain: there’s nothing else around that sounds anything like it.

Fans of the harsher tone and aesthetic may grumble at him leaving the sound of NEGRO behind, but it couldn’t be clearer that his nearly manic, uncontainable sense of creativity is not only still present, but is grasping further, sounding more expansive and less controlled than ever here. For those in a rut over the seemingly endless absence of Kendrick Lamar, you need look no further for boundlessly creative and irresistibly unique hip hop than GUMBO’!.