Charlenie grew up Hindu, and although she doesn’t recall being told stories of Kali when she was young, she says she watched videotapes about the goddess. “I learned Kali was the goddess of destruction, time and creation, ultimately Mother Earth,” she says.
She heard of Wallace through his project with Blu, “Rael Blz,” on the label New World Color, and felt encouraged by social media to reach out to him.
“There is one depiction of Kali as a concubine,” says Wallace, “but that is a bit off, most are very frightening looking.“
Charlenie says that Kali was always depicted with a dark complexion and powerful demeanor. The story associated with her is that she is in the middle of a demon-killing spree gone wild. The goddess is usually holding a severed head and knives. However on the album cover the goddess does not look destructive, frightening or crazed, she looks pretty, intriguing, and maybe even a little high. In fact, she looks like a translucent Penelope Cruz, (the actress;) she’s blue as we all are under our skin.
According to Charlenie it was important to Ramel that she did not portray Kali to reinforce the prejudice that dark skin equates to evil or destruction. “There’s already too much of that hatred in this world,” she says. “It made me want to create a more joyous image of her, especially as Ramel’s aura is more soulful, which comes across in his music.“
“I am 28 and I was trying to find positive representations of darkness both socially and metaphorically,” says Wallace. “It is very much a neo-negro western interpretation of the Goddess. I saw her as beautiful, or at least that’s how she made me feel.”
Wallace says that the album was heavily inspired by Alan Watts’ discussions. Alan Watts was a British philosopher, writer and speaker. In his discussions Watts explains that Kali and her destructive depiction represents the ghastly things in the back of our minds that we absolutely do not want to happen, which actually enable us to know we are ok otherwise.
“We begin to wonder whether the presence of this Kali is not in a way very beneficent,” says Watts. “I mean how would you know things were good unless there was something that wasn’t good at all?”
A similar concept is hell. Would people strive for heaven if they weren’t running from hell? Would they know hell was bad if there was no heaven to compare? Growing up Baptist, eternal damnation was a looming consequence to challenging the norm Wallace had been proposed. “I never wanted to go to hell,” he says.
“When I wrote this album I was just dropping out of college, lost a relationship and my religious views were changing. The process of accepting and looking towards other religions was a big transition for me. In former thought processes I would have seen the acceptance [of other religions] or behavior as cheating on God, which results in going to hell.“
Wallace’s fears are acceptance in self-discovery and depression, things he battled. The associated anxiety is his personal Kali.
“Losing my religion was like losing a father, a heavenly father. I use this music and other forms of expression as therapy. I want to inspire other people to use art or expression to heal and learn how to love ourselves more.”
Wallace says the project was about learning to dance with fears instead of avoiding them. And Kali, (or Penelope Cruz,) depicted as the blue goddess forces him to conquer his ego in order to accomplish this. “Only a woman can wake me up from my ego,” says Wallace. “And if had to pick a woman to put me in my place it would be [Penelope Cruz.]”
“Kali” is produced entirely by Ill Rendition, the duo comprised of Al Love and 21 Gramz, with samples and scratches added by DJ Inform, owner of Beatbox Records in Barrio Logan, a historically indigenous neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown San Diego. Wallace plays his feature-artist selections close; limited to the vocals of Caresa LYnnett and Sterling Gold, with verses from Chuuwee, Bdotwatt and PCH, “Piff California Herrera.” The album is full of marijuana, metaphysical and Mexican-American references, with a theme of counter-conforming positivity. Southeast San Diego accents are heavy on this album, with a strong-content presence of Barrio Logan as well. And true to the city’s signature standard, you can hear a laid-back-beach mentality with street sense, intimidating-rap skills and intellectual lyrical content.
The album opens with a sample of Penelope Cruz in the movie “Vanilla Sky” telling actor Tom Cruz, "Open your eyes.” This theme of awakening is repeated throughout the album.
The first song, “God Mourns,” an upbeat, lighthearted, boom-bap track with an airy chorus from Caresa Lynnett, is the leading single on the album. This catchy song gives you a little bit of all the components of Wallace that his fans are used to: lyricism, party, revolution, and soul. It’s a feel good track that both awakens and relieves. Lyrics such as, “This is all that bullshit, that they try and rule with, an iron fist of politics, power they abuse it… aesthetic black men is natural gods, defying gravity against all odds,” and “Bang the Alpine, inhale the indo, blow it out the air, panties out the window,” offer various realms of mental stimulation. The music video, directed and edited by Frank Luna, presented by thChrch, an artistic-development venue in the Barrio Logan that Wallace co-founded, is composed of soft visuals that depict dawn energy, focus, rejoice, and Wallace in the background with the lyrics of the song in the forefront. "The night just died so good mourning," it ends.
Next comes the song "My Soul," a celebration of life and expression of reflection. "Man kind is obsolete, the modern mind is cursed," Wallace says in the song. “It feels good to be alive, don’t it?” Wallace is depicting the contrast between the beautiful feeling of life when torment subsides. This is again the reinforcement of the benefit of Kali. References vary from sycamore trees to the chupacabra, a rare creature in Mexican tales. He speaks of drowning in depression and consciously battling spiritually dying while alive. This song is where he begins singing his signature monologue-soul hooks that reappear later in the album, repeating, "No death, don't take my soul."
The third track is “Thyme,” feat Chuuwee. Ramel opens up saying, “What’s the yeast I can do to make my bread rise, besides telling half truths and whole wheat lies.” Chuuwee comes in the next verse, “Ey yo, I had a Popey’s last night, squeezing a biscuit like a butter packet, my mother know her only son is ratchet.”
"The cut with Chuuwee was a bunch of food metaphors," says Wallace. "That was fun.
Other tracks with features include “Window Pain,” with the young savage Bdotwatt’s signature smooth rhymes and stand-out voice with modern appeal, and “Peace Pipe,” with PCH.
You immediately recognize the strength in vision of Piff’s voice saying, "It’s been peace since the gawd been woke, I send piece, (referencing a pipe or chalice,) then signs made of smoke, it’s the life of the bold, Minute Made kids, that bright old gold, scribe the light in the barrio tho.”
Piff is Ramel’s elder, and has watched him grow over nearly a decade. “I met Ramel eight years ago,” says Piff, “and I immediately took to him because he was a hype beast yet unbelievably humble and genuine. Watching him master his craft while simultaneously stripping his ego, while thrusting himself bare into the unknowns of life with only the desire to learn and grow, has kept my unwavering support of him and his efforts. He inspires me, and compels the student in me to be still and listen.”
Overall the album is high energy yet a relaxing-easy listen that makes you nod your head with notable bars on every track. It sounds like Real J is consistently writing, smoking, writing about smoking, or smoking and thinking about writing… but there's thick resonation of depth. It addresses the things that make people feel pain and confusion, so the album is Kali, but the music gives you the feeling of appreciation that light brings in darkness, so it is the benefits of Kali as well. And darkness now has a place, it’s purpose revealed.
Awaken, allow the goddess in, (whomever she may be for you,) and release your ego so you may face your fears. Appreciate the light and the darkness, and grow beyond the limitations of your current space. If you want to know more about how the album sounds, listen to it HERE.
(Fun Fact* The album was released on 7-16-16, the numerology breakdown to 777 and San Diego pioneer Orko Eloheim’s birthday, who is also the creator of 777beats. #funfact)
-Written by Coastal Ninja of NoExtra Productions, www.sdhiphopevents.com