Album Review: Pink Siifu & Real Bad Man – Real Bad Flights

[Real Bad Man Records; 2022]

Pink Siifu is rap’s foremost chameleon. If music needs some serious shaking up, this guy is usually instigating something at the vanguard. Just witness Siifu’s live shows alongside co-conspirators Negro 6 and prepare to find your head shaking in subtle disbelief; how effortlessly he reconfigures the erstwhile DNA of Parliament Funkadelic, Bad Brains and Sun Ra, all while maintaining the urgency of his contemporary hip-hop peers. 

On his 2021 full-length GUMBO’  we got a glimpse of just how deep Siifu’s bag goes. Nevertheless, it offered virtually no hint on where his artistry could go next. Siifu is just as likely to churn out Death Grips-styled noise rap as free-form jazz spirituals, and making an educated guess is simply folly.

What you can guess is how combining Pink Siifu’s shape-shifting talents with producer and art director Real Bad Man could potentially lead to well, incandescent results. Adam Weissman and his mischief making cohorts have made it their entire brand to pluck the carcass of pop culture to engineer new art movements and subcultures: initially as a clothing brand, but swiftly transposed into street art, fashion, merchandise, illustrations and beat-making. Following Real Bad Man’s two tapes with Boldy James as the main protagonist – Real Bad Boldy and Killing Nothing – Pink Siifu has now taken point in the kitchen. 

Despite being released as a mixtape, Real Bad Flights actually has less of a mixtape feel than GUMBO’. The artwork depicts a kind of a stoner take on Airplane! (is it an airplane-sized blunt, or a blunt-sized airplane? Never mind), which immediately homes in on the record’s central theme: grasping with life in transit. Under the tense seventies funk motif of “Real Negro Life”, we find Siifu about to take off, alone with virgin reminiscences circling his brain. His flow veers somewhere between relaxed and restless, using his pliable vocabulary to give shape to suppressed feelings and observations. 

He repeats the mantra to not “lose” the art form, clawing against the mind-dulling atmosphere of being on a long transatlantic flight. To alleviate Siifu’s fidgety cold turkey monologue, Real Bad Man reassures that they got him covered, using the metaphor of the point guard that their crew will facilitate his vision. “That is our purpose. That is our mission. That is our vibration.”

From here on out Real Bad Flights slowly unwinds. The Boldy James-featuring “Looking For Water” is still anchored in paranoia and the feeling of being watched, as both Boldy and Siifu exchange verses that expose more white-knuckle anxieties about their relationships back home. “Heard they givin’ FED time for hundros and extensions / These niggas old school, 1300 Beaubien snitchin’ / Prayin’ on my downfall, n****s be hopin’ and wishin’” Boldy delivers in his typically unflappable narrative style. 

“Tokyo Blunts” is the most club-ready track on Real Bad Flights, with features by Armand Hammer and Conquest Tony Phillips cranking the beat – with a flute sample that reminds of Quasimoto’s “Good Morning Sunshine” – into higher gear. Along with the grainy old school-sounding “Afro Russian”, these two tracks strike as the instant you arrive at your destination when the nightlife impulses blindside you from fully acclimating yourself.

“View Of Paris” signals the definitive sonic U-turn on Real Bad Flights, where Siifu opens the blinders and realises that over here he isn’t worn down by the baggage back home. Driven by soft-porn funk cadence and laid back whispered flow, Siifu nods in approval of what the city of love can offer him: “I just wanna stand in my spot and shine just like the sun do”. The seductive “Off the Plane” sounds like it could take place on a yacht or a luxury hotel poolside, with Kari Faux’s flirtatious hook narrating the potential companions flocking Siifu’s way. 

In this scenario you’d expect some kind of misadventure to ruin all the fun and games, but Real Bad Flights turns out to be a red herring; it’s more or less smooth sailing from here on out. The snappy beat-making of Real Bad Man – reminiscent of the mid-zeroes output of Madlib and Dan The Automator – give the record’s overall mood an escapist and campy charm. Real Bad Flights is for the bulk of it a fun vibe-out album that follows its protagonist’s journey from edginess to something resembling tranquility.

Closer “Real Bad Gospel”, with its disjointed sampling, sounds like Siifu mired in an intoxicated reverie, his sights set on dovetailing his personal, creative, and spiritual webs into a mental sanctuary. The song blacks out in ominous ambience however, suggesting vacation is over and reality is ready to strike around the corner. As Siifu has to take his next flight, those suspicious thoughts may come creeping back in.

But that’s where Real Bad Flights ends. Whether Siifu will run it back with Real Bad Man like Boldy did is shrouded in mystery (they did record 25 tracks together, so that seems quite likely). But given the surprisingly cinematic field of tension of this first collab, it would be fun to explore more global sight-seeing with these two cultural savants. Given Siifu’s stirring genre-crossing instincts, it’s disarming to hear his talents unravel somewhere in the periphery and, by doing so, allow some more understated realness to sneak past customs.