Photos: Yaz Alali
"I do not always feel colored…I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background," says Zora Neale Hurston in her landmark 1928 essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me." An examination of how black bodies exist in spaces both black and white, it is a notion that still feels as important nearly a hundred years later on def.sound's VALUE. The second part of the four-part COLOURED series, which takes its name from the aforementioned Hurston essay, is a brilliant moving, meditation on race, how we treat women, and the realities of growing up in South Central Los Angeles.
VALUE opens on "12th Ave.," a poignant rapid-fire flow of outspoken vulnerability that is rapped over a sample of Swell's lofi staple "I'm Sorry." Featuring production from Long beach native Neon Phoenix, who is the musical director for Kali Uchis, the backing soundscape def.sound finds himself placed in is akin to a dream. The dreamlike backdrop creates a mesmerizing juxtaposition to the harsh realities of growing up in South Central Los Angeles. With a tireless flow, def.sound paints a living portrait of the city that raised him. Recounting childhood fears and an age before gentrification, "12th Ave" is not a tale of dejection or celebration but one of brutal honesty.
On "12th Ave.," def.sound shared,
"This one is for all the men to listen to remember we ain't gotta have a bb girl to treat the women like they vital. This song means so much to me."
"DEALS," the second track that comprises VALUE, may leave the streets of South Central Los Angeles, but in many ways, it paints an equally vivid picture of being black in Los Angeles. Produced by Zack Sekoff, who has worked with the likes of Vince Staples and Thundercat, the track is another exquisite showcasing of def.sound's gift for lyricism. Over experimental production, the Los Angeles rapper addresses the disparity that exists in Baldwin Hills in the same breath as America's promise to give every previously enslaved African-American "40 Acres and a Mule." More than just brilliant wordplay, it's an important lesson on America's troubling past and present.
On VALUE as a whole, def.sound shared,
"I use my photogenic memory to paint a picture of my upbringing in South Central Los Angeles on '12th Ave.' & Jefferson. On the other side of 'VALUE,' I dive into not just what kind of deals we make with ourselves but how we deal with what the world has dealt to us. A COLOUR value is never black and white, we exist in the grey of it all. Sometimes our truth is the most VALUable thing we have."
As def.sound highlights the realities that still exist to this day for many people of color, the story he weaves on VALUE is not that of tragedy. It is an autobiography presented to us in such a way that we must each ask ourselves, "how must we deal with these truths?" Upon listening to VALUE in its entirety, it calls to mind another excerpt from Hurston's essay, "I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all."
Listen to VALUE below and catch def.sound headlining The Echo in Los Angeles on Saturday, September 1: