Lao Tzu claimed that, “Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.” Occasionally, the universe can also stir music from the chambers of the soul. These are the songs tattooed into our memories, torn from headlines and unsettling encounters, intense anthems of immediacy. Soul music.
You can hear these eternal truths on Words Paint Pictures-Big Pooh’s debut release for Mello Music Group. Over seven songs and two remixes, the North Carolina MC captures the complex agonies of the human condition-specifically the black experience in America over the last several centuries. These are tales of racial profiling and corrupt politicians, reality TV distractions, thieving preachers and rapacious exploitation-all offset by tremendous strength. They are uniquely American stories, chronicling both the damned and hopeful. From bleak circumstances, a profoundly durable human spirit emerges.
While Pooh sketches in vivid detail, Apollo Brown supplies the canvas. The Detroit-via-Grand Rapids alchemist chops classic soul samples and scratches hooks into bangers-head nodding and hard, but still beautiful. The holy trinity of DJ Premier, Pete Rock and J. Dilla supply divine inspiration. As Pooh spits on “Candlelight:” “this is what they call boom-bap/when they try to find what’s in that backpack.”
What’s in that backpack is as intangible as the light in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. It’s a main vein of discontent and mother lode of inspiration. Over a gorgeous antique loop on “Augmentation,” Pooh sketches the duality of the greed-choked world we inhabit, and the sacred feelings he’s bringing back. On “Stop,” he harrowingly chronicles a racist police stop and in the process eulogizes Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, and those exterminated by brutal law enforcement goons. “Promise Land” paints a haunting picture of those “hanging by gold ropes.”
The guest list helps buoy Pooh and Apollo’s vision into the third dimension. Ras Kass indicts everyone from the media to Obama for the mess we’re in. Gorgeous and raw hooks come from Steve Roxx and Eric “Blakk Soul” Keith.” L’Orange contributes an unsettling remix and Detroit representative Marv Won exhales fire.
But at heart, you return to the words, the pictures, and the complications inherent in the soul. You might have previously known Big Pooh best for his work in Little Brother, but this is the most powerful music he’s ever made. Mining deeply into the personal, he’s created something profound and universal.