Moor Mother, real name Came Ayewa, is one of the most creative, celebrated and versatile artists in the underground scene today, even if she doesn’t make the kind of rap-influenced music that powers the streaming charts these days. Her newly released album, Jazz codes, has elements of hip-hop, but like every other genre in this record’s palette, the Philadelphia poet abstracts and obscures it until it becomes another hazy detail of the mix. Based on free jazz, Moor Mother’s latest record mixes jazz, hip-hop, blues, soul and poetry in an avant-garde and experimental way.
Many of the structures of these songs are long-winded, vaguely defined and effectively spill over between the others, but the strong lyrical themes and captivating instrumentation ensure that Ayewa’s genre combines a wild and captivating front-to-back ride.
The LP addresses racism, black identity, black history, political injustice, and the importance of black cultural contributions (such as these musical genres showcased) to the black experience. Also, the album’s greater focus on melody and choruses compared to Moor Mother’s previous work makes this album a perfect entry point for newcomers, while traditionally fans have something else to hold onto. This album also complements Ayewa’s 2021 album, Black Encyclopedia of the Skywhich was critically acclaimed.
The album’s lyrical ideas are drawn from Black Quantum Futurism (BQF), a literary and artistic collective and ideological set of principles Ayewa developed with fellow Philly artist and attorney Rasheeda Phillips. The practice draws on quantum physics and black and African cultural traditions of consciousness, time and space and creates art as a “new approach to living and experiencing reality through the manipulation of space-time to look into possible futures, and/or collapse space-time into a desired future to create the reality of that future,” according to their website.
Jazz codes incorporates BQF into his composition and electronic noise manipulation, in addition to commenting on the cycles of abuse, pain and violence in black communities that BQF seeks to heal. With this in mind, Moor Mother’s history as an activist, poet and educator should come as no surprise. She is currently a professor at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.
Collaborations are frequently on Jazz codes, featuring all but one of the songs featuring other musicians to build its sonic identity and diversity. For the hip-hop fan out there, tracks like “ARMS SAVE”, “RAP JASM” and “REAL TRILL HOURS” are sure to be satisfying, especially if you’re a fan of more abstract hip-hop like MAVI or Billy Woods (with Moor Mother in 2020 made an album). There’s even a New York drill-like rhythm (albeit obscured and blurry) on the opener “UMZANSI”. “GOLDEN LADY” and “DUST TOGETHER” provide some sweet and smooth breathers, and the wild pair “MEDITATION RAG” and “SO SWEET AMINA” bring out the album’s poetry and jazz influences in a subtly chaotic way.
Moor Mother continues to impress and amaze with every release, and her new album Jazz codes is a multifaceted and complete picture of her virtuous, expansive and powerful artistry.