Written by Jesse Silbert
“5 miles + voice” is the third track on Alexander Kollman’s, (aka s. al, aka Safari Al) latest project, fear, uncertain. This record is a similar yet clearly distinct companion to Al’s second most recent project Restless, which I reviewed here a few weeks ago. Again, Al raps and sings over smooth chill beats, while further developing his distinctive brand of expressive, personal, and intelligent hip hop.
On “5 miles + voice,” Al picks a non-original beat from New York based producer Tindergram, a member of Brooklyn’s Paxico Records. The song has a simple but fitting structure. There are three verses of varying lengths, and a hook, which consists of the refrain, “Woe in strange cycles”
The track’s beat kicks off with slightly syncopated staccato guitar chords that Al added himself, a steadily laid back simple drum beat, a sustained synth, and a slow bass line, all of which last throughout the entire two and a half minute track. Each synth note sustains right up against the start of the next, which along with the low grumbling repeating bass line induces a slow, intoxicating groove. These components create the swaying-danceability of the track, and the bouncy synths that enter during the hook ensure the beat’s catchiness. The instrumental is simple but does everything one could want from a hip-hop beat — it grooves enough to stand alone, has enough texture to be interesting and distinct, but also establishes a perfect foundation for Al’s rhymes.
The lyrics begin by following a progression of stray thoughts in a stream of consciousness style, shifting swiftly from the universal to the personal. Al begins with the question, “Is it moving?,” perhaps observing an object, which leads him to wonder, “What is the origin of motion, is it engineered or living?” This jump from the immediate to the cosmological shows the agility of his thoughts. Eventually meditating, again, on the personal, he notes, “I am on my floor again, practicing my dental flares.” He writes his rhymes in this verse in such a way that they do not feel like a perfectly wrapped up package, ordered and organized, but rather they offer an honest look into Al’s traceable yet wide-ranging thought patterns.
The third verse opens up lyrically and adds an address to an unknown “you.” Consistent with the other two verses, Al uses his sing-song flow, with some faster lines, but in this verse, many of them resolve smoothly into sung-out final rhymes. He begins the verse, admitting that he is “inside a lot,” and then he goes on to advise, “if you’re getting intimate with me, contain my instability by tracing a Brian Nyquist plot along my back in finger flips.” This line is quintessential Safari Al. He opens up to the listener by admitting that he has “instability” that needs to be contained; he alludes to his engineering background with the mention of a Nyquist plot, a graphical representation of a frequency response; and he exudes a playful sweetness when he says the Nyquist plot should be traced along his “back in finger flips.” Throughout the whole song, but especially on this last verse, Al doesn’t just rhyme on the main accents of his lines, but he actually matches the inflections and pitch of each rhyme, giving a satisfying tension and release to his flow.
As Al releases more and more music, he continues to paint an increasingly complex portrait of himself, to which “5 miles + voice” adds beautifully.
Stream or buy and download the rest of Safari Al’s newest project here.
Check out Tindergram’s Bandcamp here.