Four Finger Ring by The Bad Seed (MC Till Reflection)
Four Finger Ring is the hardest boom bap album of the year. No doubt about it in my mind. In some ways The Bad Seed is like the Roc Marciano of hard boom bap production. Or you could say Roc Marci is the laid back, drumless version of The Bad Seed. But the comparison is helpful in that both emcees have been making incredible music in recent years. One (Roc) went the less-drums-is-more approach while The Bad Seed went all in for hard drums and thumping bass lines and it worked. And while Roc Marci has that more vulnerable voice that kind of creeps and meanders over the eerie production, The Bad Seed’s powering presence fits perfectly with the stellar boom bap production. His voice is deep, paralleling the pitch of the Rockness Monster from the Boot Camp Clik. It rattles the soul. It doesn’t invite you into the music, it stretches out its arm, grabs the listener by the throat, and demands attention. One has no choice.
And this new album, Four Finger Ring, is as good as it gets. He has outdone himself once again. It is every bit as hard as previous releases. Yet, there are also moments of solace. Even though the majority of the album tends to live on the more violent, hardcore, in-your-face side of the mountain, I want to tune into the other side. Or at least the moments that point to another side. Being that I’m a huge Native Tongues fan and gravitate to that kind of style both in content and musically, I love when harder artists reflect on more emotionally universal themes. So, let’s explore that.
We will start with the semi-confessional track Just Be True. Not confessional in the traditional sense but The Bad Seed is reaching out to so-called fans wondering where the support is; Send messages to fans but none of them write back and They love you now, but they don’t show you. Fire emoji is not enough, bandcamp, buy the stuff. On this second song from the album he promises to bring the fire and is rightfully convinced that his music is dope enough for any Hip-Hop fan’s support. Yet, he wonders where it is! So to me it is like a confession where he is admitting that he does not get the love he should. It's like he is saying, “Look, I’m here. I’ve been here. I’ve been dope. What’s going on? Why don’t I get more support?” I find that very relatable. How often do we strive to be great at home with our kid(s) or with a partner, at work or school, or wherever? We constantly try and try only to feel like it goes unnoticed or under appreciated. The Bad Seed is describing this space and many of us can feel that kind of frustration. He does a great job wrapping up that emotion into the song.
A few songs later he gives us the chilling track, “Bloody Rain” where he states Bloody rain falling on the city. God Crying. He goes on to rap about school shootings and the apathy that assists them, They shootin’ schools up. (The) system ain’t given’ 2 f*cks… Imagine bein’ 9 going to school. Cool stuff. Somebody come in shooting, killin people that you trust. Friends, teachers, janitors. Everybody, the news truck outside. Sirens blarin. You scared. You stuck. Hidin’ under tables in class, hopin the dude runs out of all his amo. Gotta wait until the blue comes. God shed a few tears with me. Then it is back into that refrain of Bloody rain falling on the city. God Crying. The image of God’s tears falling on us in the form of blood is a chilling reality of the violence that plagues so many with growing indifference from so many more. I used to live in a neighborhood riddled with violence. I wrote some songs about that very community in a way that highlighted the violence while seeming detached from it. I remember a mentor of mine at the time challenged me to enter into the story: to write empathetically by taking the lament approach. This is what the Bad Seed has done. He is not removed from the violence. He is not judging the people being torn apart by it. He is in it expressing the agony. It is one of the highest forms of art imo and extremely compelling.
The final song I want to highlight and celebrate is “Think About You.” This song is a dedication to folks near and dear to The Bad Seed that have passed away into another form. Maybe these fallen brothers and sisters can hear this beautiful song. If so they’ll hear the hook, Even though you not here, I still think about you. The World is what I think about you. And I’mma still move the earth without fear but I’m sick without you. What beautiful words that the masses can relate to. I know I can as I’ve lost some pretty close people to death. Still, and in their honor, I must move without fear like The Bad Seed mentions in the hook. In part, I must live my life to the fullest to honor those who are not here. I think we must all find a way forward that is fulfilling even while we mourn loss.
Likewise, in the midst of violence we must find moments of vulnerability and honesty (“Just be True”) and reflective moments to lament for others (“Bloody Rain”) along with the courage to live life to the fullest while remembering those who are no longer with us (“Think About You''). The Bad Seed gives us glimpses of hope and inspiration throughout an album that is otherwise filled with harsh realities of life. This is true on the very last song on the album where The Bad Seed gives us an opportunity to reimagine a violent tool, the four finger ring. On the cover of the album, the four finger ring enshrines four fallen Hip-Hop greats; Biggie, 2Pac, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Eazy E. Two of these artists died from poor choices and perhaps bad luck. The other two died violent deaths, both were gunned down in horrific fashion. One of the last things The Bad Seed says on this album is Protect your energy, baby. The Four Finger Ring… Let’s get into this f***in album. Earlier in that song he emphasizes that the four finger ring can be used as a tool to navigate a violent Hip-Hop high school. Hip-Hip is all about metaphors. Or at least metaphors are used frequently in Hip-Hop music. Some might listen to this album and hear the gunshots in the background and the aggressive imagery and think the album is promoting violence. I hear something else…I hear someone relating to that world. He is speaking the language of a world that is not nice and neat and cozy and safe, but not staying in that world totally. In fact he’s living in it, describing it, and sprinkling in beautiful foreshadowing of what could be.
It is easy to judge. And judging someone’s art can bring quick bursts of satisfaction. But it is a shallow and fleeting feeling. To sit with someone’s art that might disagree with your perspective or expectations is more challenging. Yet it yields a much more meaningful result. It can bring understanding and empathy which can go a long way. I assume this is part of The Bad Seed’s secret. I think he relates to the very people he writes about in his music. He doesn’t judge. He speaks a common language and does it over hard boom bap production. I for one appreciate it, enjoy it, and am challenged by it. So give it a listen and if nothing else, take heed to The Bad’s Seed parting advice… protect your energy baby. Check out Four Finger Ring and all of The Bad Seed's albums at thebadseed6.bandcamp.com