Reality is non-simultaneously apprehended. The smell of a certain dish can bring back memories like a package delivered by the wind. Sometimes a song places you back in a 1984 Chevy Cavalier driving through south side San Jose California. 15 years younger, reminding you of a past part of yourself. Feeling lost but certain you would arrive on time. And guided by optimism and a trail of your own cigarette smoke. Cigarettes that you would eventually quit. And listening to music you would misplace and almost forget. But you didn’t forget. The music rings in your mind for years and feels like a word on the tip of your tongue that you just can’t speak. More often than not, you accept that there’s something in the way of things and you go about your day with an acute existential agony.
I’ve lost thousands of songs from tapes and CD-Rs. DIY music from homies and mixes. My own damn music. I was never a good at taking care of things. I read my comics, gave away my books, scratched my cds. So the pain of missing music and remembering a melody or bar happens often. If I met a benevolent genie, one of my wishes would be get her back everything I’ve ever lost. I’ve seen enough movies to know dealing with genies is a recipe for disaster but that’s how much I long for lost music.
Uncommon Records re-release of Tracy Jones’ Humancloud Abandonment this month was basically a genie. They pulled this gem from the archives of time and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve heard this before!
Now the wildest thing for me is that I’ve known Tracy Jones for close to 5 years. I consider him a friend and comrade. He’s been on my podcast, the Tokyo Mega Late Show, I contributed to his (now defunct) podcast, The Fire This Time. I’ve followed his writing on his website and various articles for a variety of publications. All that and only recently did I discover that he created this album.
I had no idea that he was reciting poetry in the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, working alongside some of the greatest emcees in hip-hop, and spitting rapid fire poesy over beats. When I heard the title track before the album release, I thought to myself that it sounded familiar. But when I heard “I Know the Name of Every Raindrop,” that backwards shockwave hit me like a ton of bricks.
In all of our convos he never told me he made this album. And it’s astonishingly dope. It both sounds like an artifact of a different age and something completely new. I was fairly surprised when he told me the album was being re-released. And I was even more surprised when I heard the caliber of writing.
The less savvy hip-hop head may wonder why the sentence structure doesn’t rely on conventional rhyming. This is very much inline with with what Uncommon Records label head and emcee, Uncommon Nasa, calls “Progressive Hip-hop.” So the fact that this is nearly 20 years old, but sounds contemporary, is a testament to the artistic approach and NASA’s foresight.
On the opening track Bucktooth Alchemy Tracy reminds us “I’m not an emcee, I’m Tracy” over a Zesto beat that sounds like a hypermodern jazz outtake looped for maximum productivity on a robot assembly line. He punctuates not being an emcee right after describing what used to happened if you called him the n-word.
” I found hope in the toilet/ refusing to flush”
His more recent work as a journalist takes a slightly different approach. Pointing out systemic issues within institutions, seeing the over-aching structure and now better equipped to navigate a ravenous world. After a decade in Tokyo, now with a wife and daughter, hes matured and found himself in a different ways. Both on Humancloud Abandonment and in his journalism, he effortlessly defines himself and experiences. But on re-release a younger Tracy seemingly slips into pessimism and anger more quickly. Before succumbing to those emotions, he brings himself back to life empowered by them as the landscape continuous changes and undulates. The poetry isn’t as non-sequitur as it is capturing the frenetic passing of the objects holding his attention. Shaping them into new meanings.
“Every since i broke out of my cocoon ive grown so much that/ every time i stand straight up the top of my head hits the moon/ and stars buzz into my ears like house flies saying…”
A lot has changed since those years first following 9/11. I make the point to emphasis his journalism and creative writing alongside this music but it’s not necessarily important to the enjoyment of this project. HumanCloud Abandonment is a time capsule for a simpler time that was itself extremely complicated. We knew things would get worse before they got better and Tracy’s energy exudes that uncanny feeling. The nostalgia brings both a sense of dread for the intellect and an optimism of the spirit.
I’ll be listening to this for weeks trying to get towards what Tracy is projecting. Taking his vivid one liners with me for the journey. I’m not yet sure what to make of the individual concept of each song. His line at the end of “I know the name of Every Rain Drop” might answer that question:
“As he travels the solar system with distant companions who don’t understand because he won’t let them.”
Hopefully, he decides to create more music because while this album is a re-release, it fits very well in a contemporary context. Perhaps more now than ever. Fans of Billy Woods, Uncommon Nasa, and the likes of R.A.P. Ferriera should find this album right at home in their listening sensibilities.
On Humancloud Abandonment, every line paints a picture for a new frame of reference. Each picture describing something personal and uncanny. And once combined, you zoom out and see a mosaic of an abstract painting, reminding you of something you know but is also new.