by Big Flowers
How Summer’s End Café redefines the effects of aging
Cafes have long been a social staple in America, I can’t remember a void of a café even down to the small towns. There is something unifying about a café. Etymologically café is tied to our word coffee. Dozens of languages share a similar phonetic representation of coffee (kofi, kaffe, café, etc). Coffee is another unifying entity. Even in the most foreign of places, coffee is still hot, bitter and served in cups. Even in the most alien of terrains, a café still smells like coffee. Now about thirty years displaced from the height of boom-bap, Wu-Tang’s peak celebrity, and the era surrounding, hearing this new Killah Priest album feels like a café. When you enter it, there is familiarity. If you’re unfamiliar with what Priest has been up to in the decades between then and now, the aptly named 95 Bodega puts you right back in the palm of dusty, heady New York hip-hop. Then that stops.
Being a millennial that became cognizant well after Wu-Tang had become famous, I was always catching up with their discography, as with most music from before my time. There is so much of it, still so much releasing, and the bounty seems endless of iconic early hip-hop albums. By this time, when you say Wu Tang, there is an almost dictionary way that the name and sonic quality is understood. So much of hip hop has been built off the foundation provided by albums from the group. This doesn’t intrinsically define the group, nor its members, and especially not the albums their members are releasing in 2021. Still, when I heard 95 Bodega I judged a book by a cover. It sounded like something I’d expect a Wu Tang member to release in 2021, and I thought I knew what I was about to get into, so I shelved the album for a couple days. Then, a friend implored me to get through it. Camouflaged in aged leather and denim, Summer End Café is the book they wrote the idiom about. This is not a throwback album, this is not an homage to the way things were. 95 Bodega recognizes that time as it was, and then Killah Priest takes you, unprepared, into a seamless product of patchwork and crackled, dream-colored landscapes with enough room for you to sit with Priest within the mix. Simply, this is one of the most impressive rap records I’ve heard from any veteran in the New 20’s.
By track 4, Wimbledon 1936, it was evident that what you were expecting is as far gone as the Golden Era. Violently tour-guiding you through a big band tramp anthem, there is nothing hip hop about this song. The only tether is the technical presence of rap, but rap does not equal hip-hop and vice versa. The two are very closely intertwined but they don’t consume each other entirely, an audiouroboros if you will. Killah Priest cuts rug, carpet, tile, granite, grass, any surface he gives himself to stand on, as every track on Summer’s End Café exists as a sonic satellite to convention for the genre. Lady Barbara is a joyful Brazilian guitar traipse, Wild Honey is an empty cathedral ceiling that clouds of gospel bounce on from the other side, Speed Racers is a whirlwind of reversion and serenity. There is an infinity of transition and opposition throughout the sonic makeup of this album.
Lyrically, there is an ephemeral resurgence of faith as a listener for what a veteran is able to construct with relevance to the contemporary. The last song on the album wouldn’t be misplaced on an album like Haram. This is an informed, layered labyrinth of the lexicon. There are moments where you’re so inclined to put it into a box you’ve used for an older decade’s fruit, but Priest’s determination to bend rhyme scheme keeps him fresh on the table. There is elaborate storytelling, like in Wimbledon, along with chaotic and wise non sequitur. There is direct precipitant of morality present, along with wild and reaching metaphor, proving that no amount of time will be trismic to the lyricist, rust is just a word. A journey from one cover to the other, Summer’s End Café is a demonstration, an exhibition, and a festival of progress within a microcosm of hip-hop that can’t be muted, there’s still so much to say. Thankfully, Killah Priest is still burning through paper and pen, or the touch screen sensors on his notes app. I’m only glad I judged this book by its cover because that led to me being purely blown away by the multidimensionality within. The depth is testament to the fermentation of sage with age. Rap is not now nor will ever be dead, it is a breathing meta. As the sound changes, it is important to listen to both the youth and the veteran force. Albums like this serve for the latter as a grandmaster’s blessing, revealing the workings of time and wisdom as they turn for Killah Priest, one of hip-hop’s crown jewels, sipping tea and venting his labors for his audience in the comfort of the café he built himself, as familiar as it is foreign.
Summer’s End Café is on all streaming platforms but if you want a cd go to: