Some Say I So I Say Light

(PIAS; 2013)

By Robin Smith | 19 September 2013

Some Say I So I Say Light happens in the back of your head. It’s an often vague, extremely interpretative record, and it does its best job to fuck with what else is lying about in your brain. You will hear Ghostpoet’s Obaro Ejimiwe compare the blood in your veins to a packet of Pringles, and you will feel confounded. The title, though? That’s not an ambiguous title. It exists outside of the art as much as within it, like a press release you read before you hear the music. Some Say I So I Say Light introduces us, the imagined listeners of his work, as those who call him a rapper. To which he says light, or more officially, “I’m not a rapper, MC, or lyricist.” Whatever the title of Ejimiwe’s second release is referencing, it comes across as a strong refutation, one of those Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) type assertions that’s more descriptive than just a self-titled shrug. Fuck genre, he says, invoking an aging cliché; I make music.

I’m skeptical of a record that tows the Fuck Genre philosophy, especially one like this. Formally, Some Say I So I Say Light is an alternative hip-hop album backed by a bunch of inventive electronic tricks. For Ejimiwe, though, I’ll make an exception, because light means more genre, not none. He treats genre like it can be the colour of the sky or the sight of a tunnel spitting out the last train. This music is light-obscured but light-craving, Ejimiwe’s eyes fixed on the darkened infrastructure he can’t see and fascinated by every aspect of it. By saying light, he is opening up a city of different buildings and waiting rooms. He is shining a torch on the impatient kids in the underground and the talking silhouettes that fill brick walls. Take “Dial Tones”: its scratchy trap backdrop contains the kind of sound one seeks out only to squash, but Ejimiwe alters it as if he’s waiting on something gorgeous. He complements it with a steely beat that bounces around the room trying to find the people in it. Featuring Lucy Rose, an English folkie who’s become unimpeachable over the past two years, “Dial Tone” holds the first of the record’s conversations, exchanging slurred raps for hummed choruses. The duo start disjointed, but that’s because eyes adjust to the dark slow: eventually their voices come together, united in the middle of these walls.

If light is Some Say I So I Say Light‘s catalyst, anxiety is its metronome. Ejimiwe rocks back and forth like he’s walking around in a really consistent nightmare. On “Cold Win,” the record’s beat-blinking, synth drenched opener, he freaks out, taken by that all too convincing skyline: “Show me the way / I don’t know this place / I rose awake in a dream / I need to go back before the sun goes down on my heart.” The scene is so ghostly that even the grains of realism in its verses slip into the night. Ejimiwe mentions kids queuing for the lunch-run he’s working at, as if they have school at four in the morning; then he goes home, sips Lucozade and settles down to the shit that’s on Film4 after nine. I mean, who does that? “Cold Win” is surreal until you’ve reduced your sleeping hours to two or less, when the screws of logic loosen and you’re half way between solipsism and a panic attack. Then you can feel the sleeping city living, chasing you like the imaginary bustle chases Ejimiwe.

When you get on a level with his night-time logic, Ejimiwe is like the average London suit, developing a “palpitation [he] can’t ignore” and folding it mundanely into his commute; the refrain of “Them Waters” pictures him “Sitting at the station / waiting for my train,” because this is all just part of the workday. It can’t take him away from what’s going on in his mind, though: “I can hear those voices / Calling me again.” The scene is of Ejimiwe lounging on a bench, impatiently tapping his foot to train announcements, and trying to get away from what’s nagging at him. He raps with indifference, murmuring lines with an off-handedness that doesn’t match the sound around him. You could describe the song’s synths as neon, which suggests how loud things are getting in Ejimiwe’s head, but “neon” shines too sickly a light; “Them Waters” makes its panic private, the pleas to “Send me down the Thames” echoing as if no one is placating them.

Really, the only constant company Ejimiwe keeps is time. It’s always there for him, which he hates. He obsesses over its ticks and spasms, wishing for the moment when the little hand stops, waking a minute into “Sloth Trot” just so he can complain about it: “This clock keeps going / I’ve tried all night to find a smart way to mute it out.” If anything, it mutes him; he develops a sort of temporal Stockholm Syndrome, treating his songs with doses of rapid-fire beats. On “Msi musmiD” they multiply until they’re covering the song’s every millisecond. “Plastic Bag Brain,” a conventional alt-rock song of clean electric guitar riffing, cuts into the record’s electronic fog as obliquely as an early King of Limbs (2011) number, but it shuffles as tensely, commanded by snare drums and Ejimiwe’s fearful cries of “Wonder where you are / Are / Are / Are.” Like his long changeover in “Them Waters,” Ejimiwe spends this song under the rule of a ticking clock.

Ejimiwe’s nervous energy makes Some Say I So I Say Light exhilarating, whether it’s a lucid dream or a sleep-deprived reality, and fills it with moments that you might mistake for codas—you think this rap ends there, that the scene might cut to black, but another overlaps, or one of the record’s guests takes control while our protagonist recovers. My favourite of those moments happens when nobody’s there for him, though; all he can do is pause and gulp. On “Comatose,” he can’t process feeling this bad, this uncertain, and takes a moment out: “I feel… / Lower than I’ve ever been.” The music fixes him to a spot, his knees buckling in front of this great building as he tries and fails to scream at it. “I feel like the whole world’s turned its back on me,” he continues, “And I don’t feel it’s a tragedy.” Those three lines of thought—from that first “I feel” to the more damning “I don’t feel”—are said with such strain that the record seems to collapse from exhaust, giving way to an outro of woozy keyboard and curtain-calling violin. Ejimiwe gets played out like the night has beaten him, but it’s a fitting defeat. It beckons the morning with a new beat, a new sound and a calm, natural light.