The inspiration that fuels King Woman’s most recent album, Created in the Image of Suffering, is dark — to say the least. Traumatized by what she described to Rolling Stone as a “scary and unsettling” religious upbringing, frontwoman Kristina Esfandiari channeled her tainted relationship with religion — along with her anxiety and depression — into her songwriting.
Consequently, the record is a 48-minute deconstruction of Esfandiari’s grief, anger, and overwhelming spiritual unrest. The album uses a murky blend of instrumentals that rise and fall in stormy crescendos: Songs like “Utopia” and “Manna” feature heavy drums and bass notes that quiver with blatant rage. However, the backing instrumentals avoid high-pitched shrillness, creating a tone that is deeply emotional but not hysterically senseless. Piercing through the nebulous instrumental background is Esfandiari’s voice, expressing anguished lyrics like, “You break the bread you drink the wine / When we scream inside.” Created in the Image of Suffering is not a memoir made from a position of comfortable hindsight; Esfandiari clearly continues to process her life story in the midst of recording music, so the album’s motif of despondent loss still comes across as raw and unresolved.
Although born of a scarring period of Esfandiari’s life, Created in the Image of Suffering is not a testament to retreating into defeat, either. “You can literally do whatever the fuck you want to do, and that’s really the bottom line,” she asserts in an interview with The Le Sigh. “So many people tried to tell me who and what I was, and then I finally realized that I create my own future and my own destiny. Once you realize that, no one can really fuck with you.” In the end, King Woman’s album is an expression of, but more importantly, an emergence from, the grasp of pain.
With Mane and Plush at 9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 5, at Great American Music Hall. $12-$14; slimspresents.com
As grandiose as it sounds, it is not an overstatement to say that Slick Rick has permanently altered hip-hop. The single most sampled musician in the world, Slick Rick has been referenced by modern musical icons such as Kanye West and Nas, no small feat for someone whose last album was released in 1999. His song “La Di Da Di” alone has been sampled and reinterpreted by Beyoncé in “Party,” Miley Cyrus in “We Can’t Stop,” and most famously by The Notorious B.I.G. in “Hypnotize.” That one line from “Children’s Story” — “Once upon a time, not too long ago” — has been quoted over and over again by everyone from Jay-Z to Mos Def.
Sampling aside, Slick Rick’s distinctly British flow — an unusual trait for the 1990s Bronx music scene where the artist got his start — and his penchant for a storytelling style of rap has made him one of the most groundbreaking voices in American rap history. When asked about the influential power of Slick Rick, The Roots’ drummer Questlove merely stated, “Point blank: Slick Rick’s voice was the most beautiful thing to happen to hip-hop culture.” When asked by The Guardian for a response, Slick Rick explained his narrative flow in more unassuming terms: “I think what I brought to hip-hop was a visual, storybook-type of a style, like reading a children’s book, but in rap form.”
When Slick Rick raps, his verses sound droll and playful despite often being about grim subjects like crime and prison. Similarly, when his glib voice recites positive lyrics like that of “Hey Young World,” the effect is abundantly delightful. Paired with lighthearted beats that sound as though they’re skipping across his tracks, Rick’s vocals convey an airy, giddy whimsicality. The rapper’s enthusiasm radiates from his records, and is certain to enliven listeners and draw them into his groovy storytelling.
At 9:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 4, at Complex. $25-$350; complexoakland.com
The opening lines of Wolf People’s website biography could easily be introducing an angry political documentary or social commentary speech, as opposed to a psychedelic rock band from Bedfordshire, England. Written by novelist and journalist Ben Myers, the online passage declares, “A.D. 2016 and England is in flux. This bastard island is divided, shot through with doubt and self-loathing, ruled by the feverish egos of passing power hungry-dilettantes, two-bit aristocrats, and smiling psychopaths. The people require a new narrative, a new soundtrack.” Myers goes on to explain that this new narrative is Ruins, Wolf People’s latest album. As the world grows increasingly corrupt by mankind’s capacity for greed and cruelty, Wolf People imagines the aftermath of the turbulent present.
Elaborating further on Myers’ analysis of Ruins, lead singer and guitarist Jack Sharp says, “It’s not a concept album, but a lot of the songs consider what the world might be like without humans. The title refers to the ruins of civilization.” This divergence from human influence is reflected in the album’s ghostly vocals — the wordless cries of mourning on songs like “Crumbling Dais” and “Salt Mills.” Adding to the ominous, otherworldly quality of Ruins are the low electric guitar riffs that echo heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, both bands Wolf People has cited as inspiration. Furthermore, Tom Watt’s drumming on Ruins’ tracks, especially in “Kingfisher” and its subsequent reprises, is not mere rhythm-keeping, but rather a display of thought-provoking solos that build upon the other instrumentals.
In Ruins, Wolf People draws from a dissatisfied present to imagine a nearly post-apocalyptic future. Directly exposing the harmful flaws of humanity, the album paints a bleak portrait of civilization’s fall but also implies optimism about new beginnings. “I may continue to fight / with love and fury as my only spell,” Sharp sings in “Night Witch.” Through this song, as well as in the rest of Ruins, Wolf People suggests that even as society as we know it collapses upon itself, forces such as music, truth, and nature will inevitably survive and live on.
At 9 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 3, at the Chapel. $15-$18; thechapelsf.com