Regular readers of The Static Dive are well acquainted with Black Hesher (aka King Shem). The San Diego, CA based Alternative Hip-Hop artist has appeared here a number of times over the past year. The inexplicably prolific songwriter and producer drops LPs with greater regularity than most artists can muster a few singles. Present company included. What’s even more impressive is the fact that his records are all really good.
In 2019 Hesh released a trilogy of albums (Rituals, Portals and Sacrifices) which introduced us to his unique mix of old-school Hip-Hop and Post-Modern Alternative. These are the threads that make up the tapestry of Black Hesher’s sound. Of course, musicians have been mixing these styles up ever since Reverend Run declared himself the King of Rock. From Beastie Boys to Beck, Rock & Roll and Hip-Hop mash-ups have grown over the years into a distinct genre. Hesh proudly joins their ranks and weaves the guitars and beats into his own unique sound.
His trifecta of records last year was originally intended to be his final chapter as a solo artist. In addition to making his own music, Shem is the head record producer and label owner at Cult Muzic. In March of this year we featured J. Andrew, another artist on the company’s roster. After completing last year’s catalog, Shem intended to step back from the solo spotlight and focus on developing other projects.
Saints and Sirens
Then, the pandemic happened. Once again, whereas thousands of other musicians have taken the unexpected downtime provided by lockdown to record a song or two, Black Hesher recorded twenty-two of them. From those sessions, “Saints and Sirens” was born. Of the record he simply says, “I wasn’t planning on making an album. But you know… quarantine.”
“Saints and Sirens” finds the Black Hesher sound fully intact. However, this time he is looking at his world through a kaleidoscope. A psychedelic groove flows through most of the record. Songs are peppered with more wah-wah pedals and sitar samples than Timothy Leary could shake a bong at. Whereas Shem has always mixed up Old-school 80’s Hip-hop and 90’s Grunge Rock, he is now also dipping his tab in some 60’s free-love flower power. The resultant sound is a wild mix that creates both contradictions and convergences, all of which will keep your head boppin’.
Paul’s Boutique/Check Your Head era beats and scratching (“One Two”, “Move Forward”) meet trippy De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest style Hippy-Hop (“Hallucinations,” “Dig a Hole”). Sugar Hill Gang and Newcleus (“Van’s on it”) bump against acid-soaked 60’s Pop (“Top Slot”). The grab bag of sounds and references is a ton of fun. It’s not everyday that you find shout-outs to Kojak, Frank Zappa and Monty Python all on the same Rap album. Or on any album, for that matter. And in tune with the psychedelic vibe, I counted at least two direct Pink Floyd references.
It is not all fun and games though. Black Hesher has a good time, but he is no stranger to the dark side. Our culture felt the impact of drug culture in the years that followed the Summer of Love. In 2020, it all happens simultaneously. “Saints and Sirens” reflects that reality. Shem’s lyrics explore all aspects of recovery, relapse, love and religion. Drugs and drink fuel the party, but hangover and withdrawl brings thoughts of suicide (“Robin Williams”) and self-loathing (“Drown Yourself”). Life is complicated. The reality of those complications can sometimes be hard to face.
All that said, I admit I laughed out loud at the line, “I be freebasing with Kevin Bacon.” Right or wrong, that shit is just plain funny. Like I said, life is complicated.
Check out the video for “Hallucinations,” and listen to the track on the Deep Indie Beat playlist. You find “Saints and Sirens” on all major streaming services, or buy the record directly from the artist at Bandcamp. Follow the links below to connect with Black Hesher and Cult Muzic.