serpentwithfeet Doesn't Let Up His 'GRIP'

BY Ian GormelyPublished Feb 14, 2024


Back in the depths of the pandemic, Fred again.. fashioned one of his breakout tracks from  a sample of friend and fellow producer and DJ the Blessed Madonna that lamented the loss of club culture. “Maera (We Lost Dancing)” doesn’t really elaborate on its premise, but GRIP, the latest project from Josiah Wise, aka serpentwithfeet, could be viewed as a multi-media extrapolation of that sentiment.

First heard as the soundtrack to Heart of Brick, a theatrical production Wise premiered in New York last fall, the record showcases Black queer club culture through a romance between a protagonist (presumably some fictional version of Wise) and a club owner.

That basic narrative isn’t immediately apparent — nor necessary to know — when listening to GRIP, but it does help explain its overall aesthetic. A lot of post-pandemic pop music has turned to the dance floor and club music as a symbol of our rediscovered freedoms, but GRIP is more concerned with the culture that surrounds these spaces than the music itself.

Wise wisely avoids the “finding love in the club” tropes, even when using a comical, spoken word  “DJ on the mic” bit to bridge the two sides of “Rum/Throwback.” Primarily working with production crew I Like That, with assists from Nosaj Thing and Sensei Bueno, GRIP has a hermetic sound that fits the darkened clubs and bedrooms the album is meant to soundtrack. But intimacy, probably the most consistent hallmark of serpentwithfeet’s music going back to the blisters EP, remains front and centre.

Guests are kept to a minimum, each serving the song’s — rather than their own — narrative: Ty Dolla $ign and Cape Town singer Yanga YaYa help out on thumping opener “Damn Gloves;” Mick Jenkins adds a verse on “Black Airforce and Orion Sun updates the “will you still love me tomorrow” narrative on “Ellipsis.” But the record remains laser-focused on Wise’s POV. 

The album opens with Wise and his lover dancing closer “than those damn gloves,” suggesting a more carnal interpretation of its premise. But by and large this is a story about love and by record’s end, we see the blossoming of long-term romance. “V-neck on, look at you neck-deep in your feelings” tease Wise’s friends as they implore him to rank his new love on “1 to 10.”

GRIP is more than just a showcase for the return of Black queer spaces. It’s a celebration of the relationships — passionate, platonic, lasting, fleeting, loving, lustful — that these spaces foster. 

(Secretly Canadian)

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