Image via Qusay Al Hashemi
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Kevin Crandall will miss Rudy Gobert in a Utah Jazz jersey.
The Mahabharata is an epic poem written by the Hindu sage Vyasa. Following the details of the Kurukshetra war, it is the longest known poem in history, and has been touted as one of the most important writings ever—analogous to the Bible, the works of William Shakespeare, and Madvillainy. It is also the most recent read of Gabe ‘Nandez, the New York-via-the-world rapper whose interest in global perspective leads him to comb through Vedic epics in his free time.
‘Nandez’s childhood was punctuated by moves from continent to continent, immersing him in a slew of cultures through his father’s work as a U.N. ambassador. His first language is French, a skill he flexes throughout his works (‘Nandez credits his French-speaking with helping him get a feature on billy woods’ Aethiopes), but also represents his time spent living in Haiti. He is also an avid collector of historical art images, keeping a vault of cultural collectibles stashed on his phone that range from Indian war elephants to architectural feats.
These aspects of ‘Nandez’s identity shape his approach to music. His latest work, the heart-thumping Pangea, boasts one of these images as the cover: the Leo Belgicus map drawn by the Belgian cartographer Jodocus Hondius. The map, which consists of a series of countries crammed into the body of a lion, stood out to ‘Nandez through its intricate designs and its titular jungle cat, an animal whose strength and pride he sees in himself.
Recorded in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic amidst world-wide lockdowns, Pangea is a black hole that swallows the entirety of the human consciousness, spitting it out in ‘Nandez’s tar-stained baritone. The title of the POW Recordings release evokes the power of the supercontinent that is said to have broken apart to form the world as we know it, representing the collective emotional state we all shared when the pandemic was at its worst. Locked in with nowhere to turn but art, ‘Nandez asserts that humanity briefly shared a “yo, sit the f*ck down” moment, a cohesion rarely seen on this planet since the supercontinent in question.
Pangea also spins the idea of the titular landmass as a metaphor for New York City, ‘Nandez’s home base. The album features basement-thumping beats from NY-based underground linchpin Tony Seltzer, as well as the talents of rappers and singers from across the boroughs: YL and Vinny Fanta from Manhattan, Radamiz from Brooklyn, and Duendita from Queens. While Pangea was a melding together of the continents, Pangea is a blend of the works of ‘Nandez’s NY music community.
The result is a manic album that burst from the depths of ‘Nandez’s psyche. He discusses his history with drug use on “Transactions.” “Context” sees him muse on the moral philosophy of hustling over piano-licked boom bap. ‘Nandez is multi-faceted, and every part is authentic. The soundscape of Pangea mimics a blizzard, starting with an ominous flicker of keys before engulfing you in a flurry of bass and claps as bitter as they are soul-rattling. What follows is an ebb and flow of bell-ringing intensity and the uncanny softness of a dusty record scratch—a fitting atmosphere for a character like ‘Nandez.
The day before Pangea dropped, I spoke with ‘Nandez over the pandemic-era relic of Zoom. We talked the long-awaited project, French rap, and the importance of recovered addicts in the fight for sobriety.