Mat Randol has a stylist. Her name is Miá—she’s nice, and so is Mat’s agent, Mulu. Mat Randol has an entire crew. I stress this point if only to try to convey my extreme surprise at finding out that I had unwittingly commissioned Mat’s first-ever live performance.
I met Mat on the Internet. He was part of a future-soul scene in Portland, along with formidable rappers like Grape God and Ripley Snell. In fact, these three musicians (Mat, Grape, and Rip) went on to become the Portland faction of a collective I started called The Spacesuits, an international network of musicians putting on otherworldly performances.
(Ripley Snell makes coffee for a live audience during his set at The Spacesuits happening in Portland.)
Before he got onto stage, Mat leaned over to ask Grape if he had any tips for a “first-timer.” Then Mat Randol proceeded to change my life. Mat’s stylist had him looking like a grunge-rock god come back from the dead, but like, in a fun way, you know? Part of Mat’s charm as a stage character comes from his self-effacing, good-hearted demeanor. He laughs at himself on stage. You’re rooting for him when he’s up there, because no matter how much he spits fire, he still manages to come across as the underdog. His power as a musician is subtle, but lethal.
I know of very few Afrofuturists whose work is also hilarious. (Or maybe I’ve just missed a massive section in body of works. E-mail me). I tittered all that way through Mat Randol’s set, but it was because of an uncomfortably automatic reaction to an emotion that felt practically too big for my body. I’ve never felt that ASMR thing but I imagine the closest I’ll get to the cranial tickle is the feeling I got watching Mat smash together his meditations on the epoch of the Internet, social media life, poverty, black man life, marijuana, dreams, dreams, Facebook, dreams, etc. As in: the interception of the grand narrative. The Afronaut tells the disjunctive story of the history of the world, and says it with his own words (read: establishes the new lingual order), and does it covertly, but enormously. The Portland crew’s “brand” of Afrofuturism is set on fierce humor. Soopah Eype, another musician in the crew along with Grape and Rip, is a prime example. The two of us stood outside Portland’s The Liquor Store, chatting. He stood a few paces away from the curb, hands clasped behind his back. He said: “My new thing is to act as n****rish as possible. It’s still illegal for black men to stand like this in America.” I laughed and laughed and felt nauseous, too.
Mat: “I’m gonna need my own emoji by the time I’m finished.” (from “Vortex”)
Randol takes it slow. He’s been working on his recent project, Alignment, for a very long time. The project features a double-album: as in, a single project that comes in two parts and accordingly, two separate albums. Alignment: Process 1 has yet to be released in its entirety and as far as I know, Process 2 was a secret before this very moment. If you ask Mat about what spurred the album, he’ll probably tell you something like what he told me—namely, “I felt like I got to a point in my life where I kept going in a cycle which ultimately lead me to nowhere. I discovered the art of allowing two years ago—which lead me to alignment, which are the steps you take to center yourself. Once I applied these principles I felt like I had to share this message with the world, so now you have music.”
But Mat won’t get into talking about his deliberately variable song structure, his play on the future-nostalgic, his alternation between fierce lyrical delivery and a more soulful (but still lanky) bravado. Why would he? The strangeness of his work comes naturally. Mat’s a Black Weirdo. The music is all parts everything, no parts nothing. No subject is barred, however mundane or grave—and every subject is granted the same stoically brief amount of attention in the whole scheme of things. This is, after all, the new history of existence.
(There are times when I ask myself, “Is it possible that Mat Randol is secretly a Tao Master?” Then I laugh at myself and think about some e-mails I need to write.)
Afrofuturism can sometimes mean a pretending-against the existence of oppression. Afrofuturism as fantastical escape. “Alignment,” however, “the art of allowing”, seems to suggest something far more yogic. Rather than creating another world wherein the marginalized is no longer marginalized, Mat’s entire approach says: “There is no escaping here and now.”
Afrofuturism as a way in which to move energy through, rather than away. Supremely self-aware, the Portland crowd showed me the most sacrilegious form of spirituality I had yet encountered. See below: a photo of Grape God with his eyes rolled back in his head as though experiencing an exorcism (or the descent of the holy spirit), holding a bunch of plastic grapes. You know, because he’s Grape God.
But this isn’t a joke, or at least not what we typically think of when we think of jokes. But whether or not it’s a joke is beside the point anyway. Do you see what I’m saying? Nothing matters. We’re all going to die. Y’know? I think Mat maybe feels that, though he’s much more likely to give you a positive spin on how world history proceeds, if only for optimism-for-optimism’s-sake. He smiles wide, that guy—and it’s good. We need a smiling Afrohero.