Of all the artists in the post Drake/J. Cole school of using mixtape outlets like Datpiff, LiveMixtapes and stoned bloggers to build a fanbase and get a record deal, few have done it as strangely as SpaceGhostPurrp. His influences are so defiantly mid-’90s (most directly Three 6 Mafia’s underground collections and Da Beatminerz brooding thuggery) that he’s thrown gaudy statements onto his tapes’ Pen & Pixel inspired cover arts like “Best Album of 1995!” And whether one approached his NASA series of chopped & screwed ephemera or his street albums, the mix was intentionally drowned in lost noise, Mortal Kombat samples and other attempts to sound like SpaceGhostPurrp was recording on little more than a cassette deck in between blunt rips and Mortal Kombat II tournaments. Combined with his bizarre insistence on using some exceptionally awkward form of Greek formatting to title his tracks (which continues here: a song like “Osiris of the East” is lettered “Xsiriz xf thv Xxvzt”) and an uncategorizable persona as likely to drop 5 % Nation references as murder you or have sex with your girl, SGP built himself a mythology that feels as confused as it does self-assured, as though it stands in the eye of a storm.
Perhaps the most immediate item of note on this debut album is the fact that most of the tracks appeared on either Blackland Radio or God of Black, two previously free “street albums” released on the aforementioned sites. This is a gambit that’s been exercised by a variety of labels in a variety of ways, from stunted EPs with bonus tracks (think Drake’s So Far Gone or Freddie Gibbs’ All Killer, No Filler) to promising re-releases in stores that may or may not ever drop (Big K.R.I.T. and the Weeknd’s trilogies come most readily to mind). So credit 4AD for being a label taking two left turns at once without doing a total 180; Mysterious Phonk may be a reissue record on paper but it feels like anything but in execution. You might have heard these tracks before, and, if you haven’t, you can certainly still grab them at no cost to you, but hearing them in this sequence with this budget lifts the stuff from pseudo-novelty to aesthetic-driven craft mastery.
Most notable about this album (other than it’s featureless, all-SpaceGhostPurrp rapped nature) is SpaceGhostPurrp production, which was always the highlight of his experience but really finds a new life in a remixed, remastered, non-Mortal Kombat world. His production almost entirely escapes the period-trappings so many were excited to find him exploring, instead feeling like an Atlanta kid discovered VV2: Venemous Villain and replaced all the comic book minutiae with silicone and dildos. His sonic approach is lonely and morbid in the same way Abel Tesfaye’s team turns the Weeknd’s tales of debauchery into desultory examinations of young life in a depressed yet active state. And then there are tracks like “No Evidence”, which used to crawl around purposeless but now feel as if SpaceGhostPurrp has kept Goodie Mob’s Still Standing LP on repeat for the past two years. Combined with his lyrical approach – mostly dunking in women’s sexual organs like Vince Carter and achieving a God-like independence – Mysterious Phonk is an album that provides a Miami Booty Bass experience for the codeine set, a sort of crunk cousin to the Weeknd’s hedonistic sad-sex series.
What’s most attractive about the sound achieved here is that, for its entire 60 minutes, SpaceGhostPurrp is not nearly as defeated as his music sounds. “Bringing the Phonk” may feel like a lost Dälek banger about housing projects and obstructive governments, but it’s subject matter is as simple as “yea I got that pussy leaking / and the phonk got her body tweaking / ain’t no way she can stop me.” For a guy that was in his teenage years at the time of most of these initial recordings, it’s hard not to view SpaceGhostPurrp as a remarkably confident individual no matter the subject; just take a listen to “Osiris of the East” and admire the way his production and verbiage perfectly synchronize to deliver an anthem to part-time pimps that feels as creepy as a 4AM alleyway yet as confident as re-approaching an old high school flame who thought you’d topped out with a doctorate degree. His raps are delivered in a very deliberate, Project Pat-like monotone for the majority of the album, but his mastery of that style is evident in the multiple occasions his grandest statements are married perfectly to huge 808 drops or other, more subtle beat dynamics.
Mysterious Phonk is not for everyone. It has a five minute sex rap (well, fellatio rap) soundtracked by the sorts of bleeps and bloops you’d hear in the middle of a computer server. But if the idea of “Don’t Get Yah Head Bust”, a song that sounds like Uncle Luke rapping with a Baltimore accent over a beat that’s part post-crunk, part Gregorian chants sounds at all intriguing to you, it’s more than worth a few listens. The feel to this album is such that it takes way more than a cursory listen to appreciate all the well done elements to the arrangements and the overall vibe SpaceGhostPurrp sets, but once you’ve settled in it can be a plenty addictive listen that feels like very little you’ve heard before even as it brings to mind so many touchstones of mid-‘90s Southern rap and early ‘00s IDM. Perhaps Mysterious Phonk drags a little towards the end, which at just 14 tracks is a bit of a bummer, but as it comes to a close, Mysterious Phonk always feels like: what the fuck am I listening to, and why am I bobbing my head so hard to it?