Could there be a timelier piece of art than Khemtrails by Philly-based rapper Khemist? It’s as if he had been waiting for the revolution to be televised all along.
Each song delivers a different element of the same riddle that is the Black experience according to Khemist, a Black man from Logan Valley. He does much to ignite the flames of change and call us to his attention in the opening track, “What’s at Stake.”
As the introductory strings slowly play, it is difficult not to notice how much it resembles the opening of a stage play. Stage lights go up, curtains open, and he gives us a section of verse that feels like watching a monologue all the while telling his origin story.
The increase in tempo and the volume of his voice forces the audience with no other choice, but to wake up and listen to his walk through of a day in his Logan Valley community. And if just in case, you get lost, the chorus echoes, “in the ghetto” repetitively giving our scene location a name, a purpose, and a soul.
They say, no one man should be this powerful, but mic in hand, rapper Khemist stands up to the challenge, ready to redefine himself and his community. The introduction of “What’s at Stake” gives way perfectly to the following track, “Khemist Bombaye”.
The recording from an actual Metro station, works effectively to keep us on the homeward bound journey as we continue to travel directly to the heart of his story. The usage of “Bombaye”, famously known as the chant of onlookers during Muhammad Ali’s fight in Africa, not only pays homage to the greatest fighter of all time, but also does much to echo the greatest battle of the artist’s life, his Black existence, donning himself “Khemist 13X”.
A battle cry, he steps in the ring ready to defy all rules of the old school rapping over a juxtaposition of rock guitar strings and dj record scratching. We hear two worlds collide as Khemist stands dead center.
As it is impossible to think of the future without acknowledging the past, Sampson is a perfectly placed third track, acting as a bridge between the new and the old wrapped in historical context. Where most artists would choose to let audiences catch their breath, Khemist hits the gas and travels back in time over futuristic sound and steady bass. But yet, as the music feels very 3030, Khemist tells the lyrical narrative of Sampson, a Black slave owned then later sentenced to jail by James Logan, the founder of Logan Valley, PA.
The background howling of the choir is spellbinding, as Khemist personifies and calls out past ancestors, while the others sing out in support. Taking on the role of Sampson, he blurs the timeline between then and now, recalling his place in society. Ultimately calling attention to the question: Just how different is the Black experience in Pre-Civil War America versus Post-Civil Rights modern day, really?
And yet, as if we weren’t already transfixed on the details of Khemist’s experience, “Upright” completely shatters all stereotypes and presumptions of your everyday Black rapper. Created in the likeness of the tradition of the Negro Spiritual, “Upright” creates hope through the idea of escapism. Moreover, Khemist showcases vulnerability and speaks on his experience preserving his mental health and its complexities alongside the capitalistic complication that is Big Pharma. Serving as a break from the “ready for action” sentiment on previous tracks, but rather a nod to
“Black Boy Joy”, “Upright” is the most revealing and honest version of rapper Khemist on Khemtrails. The track “Two Up, Two Down” is powerful enough to stand on its own while simultaneously acting as the pretty red bow to wrap up the gift that is Khemtrails .
Another homage, this time to Virginia, Khemist masterfully strings together its history of racial tension both past and present. By exploring the moniker, “Two Up, Two Down”, coined by Virginia natives, symbolizing the hand gesture for “VA”, he calls attention to the irony of two peace signs, one right side up while the other remains upside-down. Ultimately, a double-sided narrative on Virginia race relations, the chorus mentions the “tikitorches” that were infamously used in the Charlottesville white supremacist rally.
More so, further exploring the concept of duality, as Khemist dissects the racism and injustice born and bred in Virginia, the slow tempo allows for much of the track to sound like a love song. Particularly, as the choir’s praise and worship, sheds light on the beauty of the Commonwealth and its Black communities too.
Undoubtedly, in each track, Khemist honors his community and highlights his black experience, while rebuking the historical injustice set in place to tear each down. An alchemy of all things Black, beautiful, but most importantly brave– Khemtrails stands as a protest on purpose.
Writer: Shaniece Devieux
Editor: Alanna Milan
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