Southern rap’s favorite Jermaine “waxes ascetic” on first official album.
With a discography of more than thirty mixtapes and an unmatched, “gangsta/ conscious” brand that some mainstream rappers (who shall remain nameless) seek to imitate, it’s hard to imagine that Nashville, Tennessee rapper, Starlito , could be any more creatively impressive. At 28 years old, Jermaine Shute has already earned his place among the top tier of underground MCs. Cold Turkey, the rapper’s first official album, further solidifies his prowess as one of the most authentic, lyrically agile New School artists from the bottom of the map.
Cold Turkey’s album art is a literal artistic rendering of the popular idiom “cold turkey,” which is most often associated with the cessation of bad habits. And though the album’s art is minimalist, its content is much more complex. Cold Turkey’s intro presents a wiser, more seasoned speaker who aims to impart hard learned life lessons to his audience whom he admonishes to “Quit bullshittin’, cold turkey, and cool out.” He follows the admonishment with a cautionary statement: “Keep doin’ that shit you doin / see where it get ya.” Where previous projects offer more satirical parodies about societal ills and short-lived trysts with the opposite sex, Cold Turkey is blaringly ascetic and proves to be one of Starlito’s strongest, most conceptually astute efforts to date.
Conceptually, Cold Turkey fuses nihilistic elements with ascetic ones and features a track listing that waxes and wanes between the two, mimicking the cause/effect relationship between them. Since Nihilism is a result of trauma, and asceticism is a consequence of nihilism, it makes sense that Cold Turkey’s fifteen tracks are governed by a sort of gangsta ascetics characterized by the negation of “bad habits.” The album’s ascetic thread is triggered by a kind of spiritual reckoning between the speaker and his “nihilistic self.” German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche asserts that asceticism “springs from the protective and healing instincts of degenerating life” (67). And in his essay “How Does the Ascetic Ideal Function in Nietzsche’s Genealogy,” Lawrence J. Hatab further explains that when some life forms are degenerating, those life forms engender new strategies to prevent their “utter abnegation” (109). Cold Turkey’s ascetic ideals present a survival strategy to its audience— specifically the “marginalized” of that audience— that in order to survive it must find more productive ways of doing so. And that may mean making adjustments to street codes, replacing more nihilistic practices like “bullshittin’” with more ascetic ones like “coolin’ out.”
In “No Rear View,” the speaker declares that he’s “Not a quitter at all, but I’m givin’ up bad habits / like women with hidden agendas and bitter bitches in general.” The song itself is a narrative that justifies the speaker’s above ascetic declaration which is based on the untrustworthiness of the narrative’s female antagonist. And like “No Rear View,” “About a Bitch” also features a female antagonist, only here she is, inadvertently, responsible for the death of the speaker’s homeboy. The song’s speaker offers a contemptuous social commentary on the realities of trife life and declares: “My homie got a scholarship, but he got shot and shit…about a bitch.” The heavy use of “gangsta lexicon” in the song functions in clarifying both the corporeal and incorporeal space of its speaker—making it clear that this is a social commentary on an environment of which the speaker is part. There are, indeed, traces of misogyny here—the use of the word “bitch,” the most obvious. However, the speaker is not acquiescent of the behaviors of said misogyny, but is, instead, highlighting the factors that contribute to such behaviors (i.e. the mental trauma that follows the death of a homeboy over a disagreement about a female, and the demonization of the female that ensues). To his credit, the speaker also makes a scathing criticism of males who engage in this particular brand of violence, saying: “these niggas don’t want no money, but they’ll go to war over a nympho.” And in true gangsta conscious style, the speaker implicates and offers commentary on himself as an equal player in the affairs of this environment when he admits: “We all crooked…”
If offering tracks that weave the nihilist with the ascetic isn’t ambitious enough, Cold Turkey also features metaphysical wrestlings with identity. In “Coolin,’” for example, the speaker states “Spent two hours in the cuffs of the vice squad /Stupid racist motherfucker told me: ‘Nice watch.’” Here, racial profiling thrusts the speaker into a sort of metaphysical crisis. The profiling itself occurs because of an identity imposed on the speaker by dominant society (in this case, said member of the vice squad). Since racial profiling has nothing to do with actual reality, but rather, the profiler’s “perceived reality,” the speaker is victimized by that perceived reality and is plunged into an inauthentic reality not his own—one he continually fights to escape.
Sonically, “One Long Day,” “Dumb High,” and “Long Haul” evoke an old school, No Limit-esque nostalgia and celebrate loyalty and camaraderie while simultaneously philosophizing about the fragilities (and petty grievances) of trap life. For example, in “One Long Day,” featured artist, Petty, makes the same assessment of male on male violence in connection with women that Lito makes in “About a Bitch” saying: “I see pussy niggas shooting over pussy /niggas stupid.” In “Long Haul,” Alley Boy voices his disenchantment with those who “say they in it for the long haul / then get in front of the judge and tell it all /no loyalty at all.” Starlito follows with a heartfelt declaration to his comrades: “tell my niggas, lean on me / if you catch a lil’ stretch, dial on me…” The presence of Baton Rouge MC, Kevin Gates, further steeps the album in Louisiana undertones that give the overall project a gruffer, more rugged feel than some of Lito’s past projects.
So far, Cold Turkey has garnered criticism for a “lack of soulfulness” due to tracks with hooks that are rapped instead of sung. But conceptually, the move makes sense for an album preoccupied with asceticism and authenticity rather than phonetic sentiment. In my review of Funerals and Court Dates I said that the problem critics may always have with Starlito has little to do with questions of authenticity and everything to do with his heterogeneity. In Cold Turkey, Lito is as real as ever—perhaps even realer considering the dark meanderings and confessional rap poems in which he not only offers criticism on society, but of himself as well. When critics complain that the album is not as “soulful” as other projects, what they mean to say is that Cold Turkey is a harsher, less sentiment-driven project than ones before it. And if they’re expecting Starlito to heed the rules of an ever dwindling mainstream hip hop game in which the generating of capital trumps the virtue of authenticity, they have sorely misunderstood his character. Mr. Shute is too real for (mainstream) rap shit.
Get Cold Turkey on itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cold-turkey/id668884834
**Check out Starlito’s collaboration with Ryan Hemsworth: http://smokingsection.uproxx.com/TSS/2013/08/starlito-ryan-hemsworth-marley-lion
Hatab, Lawrence J. “How Does the Ascetic Ideal Function in Nietzsche’s Genealogy.” The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, 35/36 (Spring / Autumn 2008): 106-123.
Nietzsche, Freidrich. Geneaology of Morals. Trans. Horace B. Samuel. Dover, 2003. Print.
Shute, Jermaine E. Cold Turkey. 2013. Sound recording.