“Last night I drove a submarine… not knowing how.” Whether intentionally or not, this line from “Medicinal Hymnal #77” from his latest album, The First Fist to Make Contact When We Dap, rather nicely represents how it can feel to listen to the work of R.A.P. Ferreira. With a stream-of-consciousness style that makes Earl Sweatshirt look direct and logical in comparison, or, to make a nerdier comparison (not that Ferriera would object, surely), he is akin to Doctor Who in the realm of his own music. In just about every episode, the Doctor saves the day, using methods only truly understood by the Doctor. It’s much the same for the spiraling tendrils of thought that make up Ferreira’s dense journeys. Yet, in both cases, the viewer (or listener) leaves feeling satisfied and comforted.
For The First Fist…, R.A.P. linked up with Fumitake Tamura (or Bun), a relatively unknown abstract beatsmith hailing from Tokyo. You might know him from his work alongside Yungmorpheus for 2019’s Mazal, but given that that project didn’t make much of a splash, this may well be your first experience with him.
Tamura asserts himself immediately on The First Fist…, proving a natural companion for Ferreira’s mixture of impressionistic musings and clever references. His work literally bubbles on the subtle head-nodder that is “Mr. Susan Type Slapper”, clatters and weaves on “Jes’ Grew in Osaka” and is a strange mixture of tenderly simple and crashingly bizarre on album closer “Soulfolks Signal”. Throughout, the producer provides a mixture of sounds that’d keep your average rapper on your toes, yet make for a seamless, intuitive soundscape for Ferreira to curiously cut his way through like Indiana Jones wielding a machete in the jungle.
As for Ferreira himself, to my ears, his odd visions have perhaps never felt more intuitive than they do here. He’s weary one moment, comically defiant the next, leaping between reflective ideas accessible to anyone and things that likely only make sense to himself but spark beautiful images within the mind of a curious listener. He remains deft at finding inspiration from his myriad of interests: on “Begonias” alone, he references Guru, Lil Wayne, The Elder Scrolls, and more. On “Elite Mind Flayer Judo” he offers up, “there’s a lot you can do with a pittance of respect / ask Birdman / Of course I mean Michael Keaton,” an amusing gag for most hip hop fans’ whose minds will no doubt leap to the Cash Money grumpster. However, it’s on “47 Rockets Taped to My Chair (For Dr. Refaat Alareer)” that he utters my favorite: “my shit sound like Benjamin Sisko joined Flip Mode,” a delightfully geeky reference that perfectly sums up his knack for mixing sci-fi nerdom (Sisko is the captain on Deep Space Nine, for our non Trekkie readers) alongside his deep investment in hip hop’s greater legacy.
Yet this is to capture only a slight picture of Ferreira’s lyricism and talent. His real passion lies within the surreal, seemingly unpredictable directions that his songs tend to go in. As of publication, lyrics are unavailable on Genius or the like, so at times I’m left to stumble, but this can be part of the distinct pleasure of The First Fist to Make Contact When We Dap. Having played the album for several friends, I’ve yet to hear agreement as to the first words of album opener “Humble Vessel”. I’m reasonably certain it’s, “The fish laughed,” but I’ve been told it’s “The fish lied,” and even had one somewhat intoxicated listener insist he’s saying, “This shit live” (you are wrong, my friend, but I appreciate you).
To be sure, this is one of the simpler lines on the project, but represents Ferreira’s willingness to (and seemingly enjoyment of) leave affairs open to listener interpretation. This leads us once more to the submarine reference. He may be the only one who knows where the vessel is going, and why, but somehow his every thought and whim come together into something meaningful in ways that can be hard to express. The First Fist to Make Contact When We Dap is very much an album that lies within the individual, content to live in your head. By its very nature, it offers an entirely different world depending on the listener, and even multiple worlds, depending on your mindstate while listening.
Personally, by fortuitous chance or fate, I happened to be traveling in Osaka when the album landed, and it was entirely grounded within that experience, seeming to speak to my travels. As soon as I returned home, to my daily life, it became a different companion. R.A.P. Ferreira is traveling with us as much as we are traveling with him, as eager a partner in mutual cluelessness as he is a guide. It’s hard to properly convey the value of music this expressive and unfamiliar, puzzling and inviting all at once. He opened all the doors on this one.