Gabe 'Nandez - Pangea

There’s music that’s meant to sound immediate, but still sounds as if it was created in a focus group: uptempo beats that are nevertheless tidy and polished, with pitch-corrected vocals and sanitized lyrics. By contrast there are records like Gabe ‘Nandez’s Pangea, which sound like they’ve been rattling around in the chest of an artist, desperate for the first chance to escape. After establishing himself as one of the most versatile and consistently inventive rappers working outside of conventional machinery today, the New York City-based MC is releasing his most volatile, magnetic work yet – the product of the turmoil deep within him and the chaos outside his window.

Running contrary to the project’s title, ‘Nandez’s unique life story has taught him just how far the modern world has sprawled. Raised between Haiti and Tanzania, Jerusalem and New York, the son of diplomatic envoys soaked up cultures, customs, and new languages the way other kids might have catalogued pop culture ephemera. “English is actually pretty basic in a lot of ways,” says ‘Nandez, who elucidated this global perspective on 2019’s acclaimed Diplomacy. “Which is also beautiful—it’s not inferior.” For Pangea, he embraced the direct quality of his mother tongue to arrest and unsettle listeners more than ever before.

Recorded in 2020, at the height of the pandemic’s first wave and in the most stringent stages of lockdown, the POW Recordings release reflects the fractured state of ‘Nandez’s existence at the time. He was bouncing between the city and New Rochelle and riding dramatic swings in his energy and attention. “It has been difficult at times to revisit,” he says of the period. “I was going through some pretty severe mental health situations, and the writing was influenced by that: that bigger sound, really high energy, the peaks and valleys.”

The notion of Pangea—the name scientists have given to the lone supercontinent that existed hundreds of millions of years ago—comes from the sense ‘Nandez developed, despite the atomization and alienation of lockdown, that the shared experience was allowing us all to tap back in to a collective unconscious. “Everything I do is off of feeling,” he explains. “It’s visceral for me.” Entirely produced by underground lnchpin Tony Seltzer (WIFIGAWD, Wiki, Key!) Pangea opens onto “another dimension—a different place where there are laws and things are black and white.” As with the supercontinent, the record was allowed to take its own shape. “I was adding songs for a while,” ‘Nandez remembers, until he “was like, ‘Nah: This is done.”

What survives is controlled chaos. The project is designed to rattle your skull even when the tempo is set to a slow creep—see the title track, which opens Pangea with a beat whose patience is matched only by its thunderous low end, or “Angels,” which bookends the eight-song set with a soundscape even more punishing. Threaded through these instrumentals is ‘Nandez’s writing, which is “of the tradition of, ‘Let’s make sure we’re saying something here,’” he notes, “uplifting people and teaching.” This is not the sort of didactic education that can bog down a song; it’s experiential, deliriously subjective. When he raps, on “Pitboss,” that he’s in a “serene mood,” you’re left to wonder just how sincere he’s being.

Despite shirking major labels, expensive publicity firms, and editorial playlisting ins, ‘Nandez had racked up, by early 2023, nearly 850,000 streams of “Ox” and more than 600,000 of “Comets” on Spotify alone. Pitchfork has praised his “head-spinning flow.” Stereogum has hailed his sound as an abstract, heady take on slash-your-face ’90s rap; it’s intense and incisive and spaced-out, all at once.”

Just as important is the respect of his peers on the cutting edge of rap’s underground. In 2022 he appeared alongside the renowned Detroit MC Boldy James on Aethiopes, the acclaimed album by fellow New Yorker billy woods. As his reach widens ‘Nandez, rather than watering down his music for mass consumption, has committed to deepening the idiosyncratic grooves that have got him here. At its core, that’s what Pangea is: a bet on the most urgent impulses being the ones that bind us together.

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