December 15, 2016

LP: Sammus - Pieces in Space

Sammus establishes herself as a much-needed voice in hip hop with Pieces in Space.

I remember first learning, in the middle of a Super Smash Bros 64 marathon, that Samus, the bounty hunter clad in formidable armor and armed with a badass blast cannon, was (gasp)...a girl. In the video game world, female characters like Samus who are neither damsel in distress nor obscenely sexualized are few and far between. In the rap world, women with tendencies towards geeky interests and feminist theory are just as rare. Enter Sammus – the alias of Enongo Lulumba-Kasongo, an Ivy League science and tech Ph.D by day whose dense bars eviscerate Gamergate trolls and address the power dynamics of sex over empowering, anthemic hooks and self-produced beats that vary from sultry jazz (“Qualified”) and sunny, spacious strings (“Childhood”) to dark synths reminiscent of early Odd Future (“Cubicle”).

Much of Pieces in Space is an urgent, visceral response to the intersectional challenges of being a black woman in predominately white spaces, including the nerd community and academia. On “Comments Disabled,” Sammus excoriates internet trolls who spend their time harassing women online, calling out their motives as pathetic (“Who hurt you? Did you have an early curfew? Have a crush but you wasn’t in they purview?”) and mocking the cowardice of anonymous commenters while identifying herself as someone who is not to be fucked with. On “Perfect, Dark,” she attacks the lack of visibility for black and brown girls in pop culture. Over critiques of the inescapable whiteness of comic and anime culture and its resulting internalized racism (“Do any other black kid think it’s all wrong that Super Saiyan status make them all blonde, blue-eyed?”), Sammus issues a call to action for creators: “Black girls wanna have a hero too, all kids tryna get that mirror view.” On “Genius,” she raps about mainstream culture’s reluctance to acknowledge black excellence, paying artistic homage to Kanye over chopped-up soul while citing his unrelenting critics as evidence of the double standard. Elsewhere, she recounts the hard work and dedication it takes to overcome these barriers and setbacks, especially as an independent artist, like on the rapid-fire “100%” and the anxious, reflective “Nighttime.”

While Sammus’ lyrics are more socially conscious than your standard banger, they’re unpretentious and immediate – anthems whose undeniably catchy hooks are powerful rallies for the underdog. By addressing underrepresented identities and taboo topics like depression and sexual exploitation*, Sammus establishes herself as a much-needed voice in hip-hop and in popular music in general. Her sharp flow and talents as a producer lend Pieces in Space an accessibility that's bound to make the project resonate far beyond the identities she speaks on behalf of.

* TW: Those who are sensitive to these topics should know that "Song About Sex" explicitly discusses sexual assault.


Listen to Sammus on bandcamp.

Laura Lyons is deleting regrettable tweets right now. She lives in Brooklyn, works at an indie label, and co-hosts a podcast called Yum Cha, which you can listen to every Wednesday from 10-11PM on Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @lyonsss.