Moor Mother, real name Came Ayewa, is one of the most creative, celebrated, and versatile artists in the underground scene today, even if she doesn't make the kind of rap-influenced music that drives streaming charts today. Her newly released album, Jazz Codes, does have elements of hip hop but, just like with every other genre in this record's pallet, the Philadelphia-based poet abstracts and darkens it until it becomes another hazy detail of the mix. With free jazz as the foundation, Moor Mother's latest record mixes jazz, hip-hop, blues, soul, and poetry in an avant-garde and experimental fashion.
Many of these songs' structures are longwinded, vaguely defined, and bleed effectively between another, but the strong lyrical themes and engaging instrumentation make Ayewa's genre blends a wild and engrossing ride from front to back.
The LP tackles racism, Black identity, Black history, political injustice, and the importance of Black cultural contributions (like these musical genres on display) to the Black experience. Also, the album's increased focus on melody and choruses compared to Moor Mother's previous work make this album a perfect access point for newcomers while giving longtime fans something else to latch onto. This album is also a companion to Ayewa's 2021 album, Black Encyclopedia of the Air, which was critically praised.
The album's lyrical ideas are pulled from Black Quantum Futurism (BQF), a literary and artistic collective and ideological set of principles that Ayewa developed with fellow Philly artist and lawyer Rasheeda Phillips. The practice draws from quantum physics and Black and African cultural traditions of consciousness, time, and space and creates art as a "new approach to living and experiencing reality by way of the manipulation of space-time in order to see into possible futures, and/or collapse space-time into a desired future in order to bring about that future’s reality," according to their website.
Jazz Codes incorporates BQF into its composition and electronic noise manipulation, in addition to commenting on the cycles of mistreatment, pain, and violence in Black communities that BQF aims to heal. With this in mind, Moor Mother's history as an activist, poet, and educator should come as no surprise. She is currently a professor at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music.
Collaborations are frequent on Jazz Codes, with all tracks but one featuring other musicians to build its sonic identity and diversity. For the hip-hop fan out there, tracks like "ARMS SAVE," "RAP JASM," and "REAL TRILL HOURS" are sure to satisfy, especially if you're a fan of more abstract hip-hop like MAVI or Billy Woods (who Moor Mother made an album with in 2020). There's even a New York drill-like rhythm (albeit obscured and hazy) on the opener "UMZANSI." "GOLDEN LADY" and "DUST TOGETHER" make for some sweet and smooth breathers, and the wild pair of "MEDITATION RAG" and "SO SWEET AMINA" bring out the album's poetry and jazz influences in a subtly chaotic fashion.
Moor Mother continues to impress and stun with every release, and her new album Jazz Codes is a versatile and full picture of her virtuous, expansive, and powerful artistry.