Album Review: Sammus - Pieces in Space
By Tanner Bidish, Contributor
[Don Giovanni; 2016]
Key Tracks: “Perfect, Dark,” “Song About Sex,” “Qualified”
It’s hard to be a woman. It’s hard to be black. If you live with a media-scape that doesn’t represent people who look like you, or you live in a society that doesn’t take you seriously because of the color of skin, life can be impossibly frustrating. It can be hard to explain too, but Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo puts words to turmoil under the name Sammus – and yes, that is a reference to the protagonist of the Metroid series. The Ph.D. student and Cornell grad has been putting out music as Sammus since 2010. The album description for her latest release, Pieces in Space, reads, “this project aims to establish Sammus as one of the great MCs, beat makers, and thinkers of this politically charged moment.” It does not fall short of the mark.
Packed with smart, tight rhymes, emotive verses and beats that never cease to captivate, Pieces in Space stands out as superb declaration of self. The thematic range of the work covers topics of childhood nostalgia, online bullying, mental health, self-doubt, body image and ownership, representation and even the perception of rap as an art form. Sammus gets it all across with her brilliant word schemes. “Let’s start with your appearance / A red herring for your merits / I’m embarrassed by the lyrics that you parrot / So generic I can’t bear it” are the first bars on the album’s opener, “100 Percent,” a track that rips into the artists who don’t give it their all. She sets the tone upfront that Pieces in Space is a full-hearted effort.
“Comments Disabled” tells about how girls aren’t taken seriously in online gaming, and by extension, any male-dominated medium. Boldly, she drops a phone number, challenging her attackers to actually talk to her. Women’s issues are all over the album; “Perfect, Dark” discusses how black characters are few and far between in children’s media. Because of that, role models are hard to find for young black girls. Sammus punches hard with an anecdote about sitting down to draw as a kid and not being able to think of a character who looks like her. The other dip back to being young isn’t as troubling. “Childhood” is a nostalgic, relaxing piece about the weightlessness of being a kid. “And I spent a summer / Overdosin’ on Pokémon / Chillin’ with my brother / On the sofa while home alone”.
Her ability to reference the nerd culture she loves and the pop culture that surrounds her makes the vastness of her subject matter a lot more accessible. Sammus’ voice is one that is perfectly adept to the conflicts she’s trying to tackle. “Song About Sex” is a prime example; out of the gate she announces, “This is a song about sex in which I do not condemn women for the realities in which they are living”, and that mantra serves as the chorus. Sammus is claiming her body as her own, and the relationships she has are not subjects she should be ashamed of.
Closing this banging album is “Qualified.” It’s a smooth track that has deceitfully calming instrumentals that juxtapose the anxiety of the lyrics. The jazzy outro is honest and vulnerable. It makes Sammus’s music human, and caps the record with empathetic comfort.
Pieces in Space is great. Sammus is articulate and thoughtful with each word. She’s able to give a voice to complex topics in a way that’s easy to understand. She’s honest of her flaws and as result the album is relatable. You don’t have to a black woman to empathize; what is most impressive about Pieces in Space is that it can reach everybody.