Bar Exam: Levi The Poet – Cataracts (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
I’m listening to something just a little different today. Spoken word artist Levi The Poet just released his new album “Cataracts” and I thought it’d be an interesting listen. I get sucked into the emotional performances Levi can bring when I encounter his videos online, so consuming an entire project of his should be something that stirs some excitement as well as challenge inside of me. The cover of “Cataracts” resembles art that you’d witness on the cover of a metal or hardcore album. The feeling you get of seeing the white of an eye with red pen seeming to scratch it out is somewhat shocking. Then there’s the fact that you can barely read the name of the album due to the font being difficult to trace with your eyes. The whole piece is a work of itself, lending depth to the idea of “cataracts,” or not being able to see clearly.
“Simul Justus et Peccator” — I press play and Levi begins to speak. The music behind his words come at me like a wall of sound. Levi is outlining the problem with self worship, entitlement, and selfishness in general that “quantifyingly converts converts into consumers.” Ultimately stating that we could “call it the body… but somehow the neck is still to blame.” It’s a great start. Levi speaks with authority and his vocal tone has enough inflection you don’t zone out. For me, I was hanging on each word. As a song however I’d have it at the bar. That music bed behind, while it didn’t detract from the piece, it didn’t add either.
This next song, “The Fort Lauderdale Five” tells the story of Patty Hearst. Patty was a lady who was kidnapped and abused in the early 70s. I was struggling to follow this until the end, but then I realized that Levi analogically connects this story to our lives. This is a very well done song. The instrumental includes numerous loops, but there’s intentionality behind the building and deconstructing of layers throughout.
The Antithesis Of Faith
Track 3 is entitled “Motion Made Visible Memories Arrested In Space,” and is about faith as opposed to clarity. I really dig this concept, as I have realized the hypocrisy of people who feel like clarity is an important part of living faithfully. The music bed on this track is really cool. There are strings throughout as well as finger snaps, almost like a Beautiful Eulogy track. Levi probably could flow if he wanted to, but that’s not the point of slam poetry, and regardless of how structured his rhymes are or how tight they fit to the music, he drops lyrical bombs anyway. “…knowledge came with a cost that taught me that certainty is not peace, and trust is more than belief, and surrender is more than a verbal assent to the idea of surrendering.” …”I don’t know how to wish for anything beyond the approval of men who, somehow, had me convinced that buying their indulgences was the equivalent of hearing the voice of God. How do I learn to hear Him if they’re gone?”
Track 4 “Big Business” actually has a beat to it. It opens up with what I think is a snippet of a lady talking about how to treat women. This one is far more structured than what I’ve witnessed so far, which makes it light and easier to take in. However, I wasn’t sure I followed how the concepts weaved together on this track. JGivens has a nice feature here. This is one I will have to revisit.
“The Dark Night Of The Soul” feels dark and meaningful at the top. Levi’s performance here is chilling. This is the most emotional track so far, and I now understand that I needed the previous song in order to prepare me for this. There’s so much darkness in the world, and Levi outlines that thought so poetically. “Of course the world is grey/Of course the mountain is no longer a mountain and the rivers have turned to snakes/I will never forget the way that her father writhed in the dirt the day that he wept over the grave he made for his daughter after begging you to let her stay.”
Thought Provoking Words
That prior track was heavy and almost painful. Throughout this project so far the performances have been dramatic and extremely thought provoking to say the least. Track 6 has an interesting title. “As Far As The East Is From The (Navel To The) West.” It seems to be a take on Psalms 103, where the psalmist describes how far the Lord has removed our sins from us. The music begins big and boomy, with (maybe) some 808’s there. Levi continues with transparency and honesty. He’s talking about losing faith and giving up on God. As the song progresses the music changes to light and airy, almost embodying the sound of hope. “I got lost and the only way that I could talk to God was through profanity and absolutely nothing and maybe that’s what He was going for all along.” …”I have not forgotten Your voice and the only thing it speaks is love and I recognize it because that word never comes to me from me.”
Now we close out with “Keep Forgiving.” Those two words have been uttered quite a bit for this whole project. It seems to be a theme. From the top of this record to the bottom we’re reminded to forgive. Like the title of the first track states, in Latin, we’re “simultaneously just and sinful.” I would submit that living a life of forgiveness is a great way to navigate that truth. Levi thoughtfully walks through what forgiveness looks like. Challenging us all to forgive through pity, abuse, hatred, anger, and grief among other things. He also continues to point to the idea of self forgiveness. “Hate is a prison. keep forgiving/I’ve told my stories, but they’re yours./you may never get your apology and on the day you do, it may not mean a thing/Keep forgiving.”
Words can be therapeutic. Community can be this way as well. There’s something about the idea that realizing everyone else is as messed up as you are. The honesty in Levi’s words, his candor, his bare humanity are all like medicine for the soul. There’s a healing aspect to his words, and I don’t believe that it’s all Levi’s doing. I believe that God uses words, platforms, and all art to call people to Himself, and I felt God at work on this project. For the average hip-hop head this might not be your cup of tea, but if you are able to get past your genre-specific apprehensions and listen to Levi with an open mind, the Truth may change your heart as well. It’s not a perfect album at all, but I found it to be meaningful and all around solid.
Overall Rating – At The Bar