Zen Sounds 047: King Vision Ultra
Geng PTP's »Shook World« mixtape is an urgent dispatch from present-day New York City
A few weeks ago, on a random Saturday night, I met two dear friends for dinner and drinks. One of them had pitched an idea beforehand – what if each of us brought a list of important songs from our childhood and adolescence? Then we would play these songs to the group, introduced by a short talk on what they mean to us, and the others would react to them.
The evening came, and we sat on the floor in my friend’s living room, playing Youtube videos on a laptop. I shared how my parents were listening to 70’s progressive rock on huge speakers, while my older cousin lended me her synth pop and disco mixtapes. A lot of punk, metal, rap and rave tracks were pulled up. One of my friends showed us German feminist songwriters that her mother listened to while going through an ugly divorce.
We could’ve had a perfectly fine evening chatting about politics, society and work-related issues as usual, but it was truly eye-opening to hear some of my friends’ early music-related memories. I learned so much about them that night, even though I’ve known at least one of them for more than ten years.
So as I am preparing for our second sit-in round, which will focus on the music of our late teens to mid 20’s, I am listening to a lot of hip-hop. Today’s recommendation is undoubtedly influenced by that immersion. It reminds me of an era when I was skipping uni to dig for imported white-label 12-inches in Hamburg’s record stores and spending my nights in legendary club Golden Pudel where the DJ’s played hip-hop, house, dub, punk and drum’n’bass – sometimes even back-to-back.
While some of King Vision Ultra’s reference points can be traced back to the indie rap of the past, there no element of teary-eyed nostalgia to his music. It is one hundred percent rooted in the here and now. It actually couldn’t have been made at any other point in time.
King Vision Ultra – »Shook World (hosted by Algiers)«
In late 2022, New York artist/producer/rapper King Vision Ultra met with some members of Atlanta art rock band Algiers for dinner. A few days later, the band sent him the recording stems of their yet unreleased fourth album »Shook« for an unspecified remix project.
»Shook World« became much more than that. Manipulating samples of Algiers’ experimental noise rock, King Vision Ultra constructed an hour-long mixtape-style suite of 21 original tracks that flow seamlessly into one another, featuring an armada of guest musicians, rappers, poets and turntablists. It is interspersed with field recordings from trains and stations, menacing drones and snippets of tapes from the producer’s personal archive, once bought at now-defunct stores like Kim’s Video & Music in the East Village and Brooklyn’s Tape Kingz mail-order.
King Vision Ultra, also known as Geng PTP, is a true native New Yorker. His roots lie in hip-hop culture, but in his music, he’s not adhering to any genre formula, instead incorporating ideas and influences from noise, drone, industrial and spoken word into his wildly eclectic sound. »Shook World« is deeply ingrained in his hometown’s avant-garde music tradition, ranging from Suicide’s raw post-punk to Wu-Tang Clan’s dissonant battle raps to Cannibal Ox’s apocalyptic Harlem tales to Ratking’s artsy Downtown potpourri. Not sure what the term ‘underground’ still means these days, but this tape was definitely born out of an environment of DIY cassette culture and non-profit fundraiser shows.
After a voice memo intro from the start of the Covid era, Harlem poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs recites laconic verses over minimal synths and melodic improvisations by jazz saxophonist Matana Roberts. Then E L U C I D (of celebrated experimental rap duo Armand Hammer) spits invocations on an eerie bed of distorted feedback and clattering percussion. All of a sudden, DJ Kid Capri is looping a Mtume break in what sounds like a slowed and reverbed mixtape or live recording from 1991. We’re only eight and a half minutes in, and it gets only weirder from this point.
In 2009, Geng founded music blog PTP – which stands for Purple Tape Pedigree, a reference to Raekwon’s 1995 underground rap classic »Only Built 4 Cuban Linx«. Over the years, it has morphed into an independent label outlet and a collective of like-minded artists. Many of them show up on »Shook World«: Rappers Lord Kayso, Amani and Maassai, queer noise musician Dreamcrusher, electronic producer and DJ Dis Fig. The guest spot from Bigg Jus, a veteran New York graffiti writer and MC formerly part of iconic indie rap group Company Flow, definitely feels like a full-circle moment towards the end of the album.
My dear colleague Julian Brimmers interviewed Geng for his radio show »Calling In A Favour« last year. In his narrations, Geng conjures images of a »pre-internet New York«, where you actually had to leave the house to immerse yourself in urban subculture. Instead of scrolling through TikToks in his room all day, he’d spend his time outside, ride his BMX bike around Manhattan and hang out with friends – similar to what filmmaker Larry Clark captured in his 1995 cult movie »Kids«. It was that time when Geng started making music.
Again, »Shook World« neither takes place in that long-gone era, nor does it bemoan the loss of it. Instead, it’s very much an urgent dispatch from present-day New York City, from an era of deep political divides, everyday violence against trans and queer people, racism and police brutality, surveillance capitalism, the aggressive gentrification of former worker’s neighborhoods and skyrocketing teenage depression and suicide rates, fueled by the omnipresence of social media and mobile phones.
»Like, f*ck all that elegant rap«, MC Nakama barks on »Swing!«. This is dark, unsettling music for dark, unsettling times.
One more thing
In the spirit of this week’s newsletter, I would like to highlight that the catalogue of legendary hip-hop group De La Soul has finally been released digitally, after being withheld for years because of sample clearance issues and legal disputes around fair compensation.
Sadly, group member David »Dave« Jolicoer, alias Trugoy The Dove, passed away three weeks before the digital catalogue launch. He was only 54, but had suffered from serious heart problems for years. The group published a beautiful eulogy on their Substack.
Since their debut album »3 Feet High And Rising« (1989), the Long Island trio challenged the boundaries of hip-hop. These Black suburban kids rapped differently, dressed differently and sampled different music. They proclaimed the »Daisy Age« of hip-hop, critized the commodification of their culture, and inspired other artists from Pharrell Williams to Tyler, The Creator. De La Soul are the godfathers of alternative and experimental hip-hop.
This is a perfect moment to (re-)discover their discography – if you don’t know where to start, I’ve curated a selection of personal De La faves for the Zen Sounds Spotify playlist this week (it’s not a Best Of, more a mix of impactful songs and deep cuts I still love listening to).
© 2023 Stephan Kunze