Kingface Mixtape: Kingface
i thought the self was a long hand / angling into difficult minutes
-Justin Phillip Reed, “Performing a Warped Masculinity En Route to the Metro”
we aint got time / i drowned my demons out
-Playboi Carti, “No Time”
i counted the hours. it was 2009. my brother and i knew that any more than 3 hours in the Arizona sun would drive us mad; too many afternoons on the basketball court had ended in childish fights. we were still in the preambles of our teenage years.
i counted the days. when we couldn’t buy groceries until my mom’s next paycheck, certain fridays became the north stars of our weeks.
there was a small patio in our apartment. across from the sliding glass door, a tank of hermit crabs sat on the outside counter of the kitchen. in the corner of the living room, a large red Coca-Cola stereo cooler sat on the floor. while my mother worked, my brother and i spent the summer hours between that stereo and the park.
most mornings we were listening to hip-hop before my mom had left for work. the sound of her shower was like the static of the radio changing stations.
huddled in the living room, my brother and i heard news we weren’t expecting. i don’t remember what our faces twisted into when we learned that one of our former musical heroes was an abuser––hardly unlike our father, and so many men our mother taught us to be wary of.
we walked from our living room through the only hallway in the apartment, past the sliding glass door to the patio on our left and the kitchen on our right, into our mother’s bedroom. the steam from the bathroom extended the already-completed shower across the room. when we told her the news, her face was as smooth as a still river: that doesn’t surprise me .
so many rocks up in my watch can’t tell what the time is
-Wiz Khalifa, “Black and Yellow”
though i counted many rappers among my heroes, i was not unacquainted with the fragility of heroism. i had already found that, with enough time, what seemed flawless always held peril.
i knew that our time was borrowed, which is to say, i knew already that time and money were intertwined. i did not yet realize that there were different ways to move through time, other options besides counting the hours like pocket-change. time was constructed, counted, and zoned. it was not mine and i was watching it eat everything.
when I listened to Gucci Mane brag about his canary timepiece on his 2009 opus The State vs. Radric Davis , i already felt deeply how hip-hop could turn everything gold: the iron fetters of slaves broken and re-entangled as gold chains on Goodie Mob’s necks; the fried edges of a chicken leg, too often signifying Black Southern poverty but gleaming on the cover of Ludacris’ Chicken n’ Beer ; the busy feet of folks affiliated with gangs in Inland Empire turned carousel in a music called jerkin’.
hip-hop was turning time gold too. rappers were bragging about their rolexes, and then their pateks. the diamonds simultaneously obscured time and made it gleam. smoking mind-slowing weed and driving fast cars, these artists made me believe they could control time itself.
yeah imma kingface / patek my time
-Gunna, “Oh Okay”
in 1941, the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Patek Philippe released the first perpetual chronograph; the three-dial look would become a signature for watches to come. in 1945, King Farouk of Egypt commissioned the design of one of these Pateks, joining and preceding many royals who have flocked to Patek Philippe for their time-telling. the king-sized face of the watch matched the control of the monarch, the three dials spinning like planets orbiting a divine ruler.
listening to a red radio in the corner of a small apartment, i was, on the one hand, hearing a departure from the temporalities that were killing people like me. on the other hand, it was the symbols of wealth, control, and royalty that claimed to make this departure.
the paradox is clear, but the absurdity is not isolated. ten years ago, i already knew that masculinity could kill me. i feared it actively, seeking intense association and departure simultaneously.
now, ten years later, the temptation to control time like a king––to construct, count, and zone it––lives in my body as dangerously as the days before a paycheck. it lives in my body as anxiety / as suicide / as burnout / as death. and it is my body that is at stake, dangling between a watch’s circle, signaling the hand-changes of history.
never too bold to right my wrongs / i don't got time so my brain slow / never sold shit, still got my soul
-Kamaiyah, “Me Against Myself”
if, in an attempt to wrench myself away from the time-zones of racial capitalism, i insist on wearing the king’s face, who then will face the king?
i need new time. i’ve found nothing in the diamonds that sit atop watches. but something else has lingered in the Coca-Cola radio, between two Dr. Dre verses, amidst a boast of watches, within the silence of violent heroes––something only as beautiful as it is deadly––our chronic absurdities, making angels in the sand like minute-hands that never move the right way.