That imaginary world is captured in vivid detail in the eight “sext” songs and the six tracks that make up “#SEXTAPE.” Recorded in collaboration with Abraham’s mentor and creative partner, Nathan Reid at Mercury Sauce, and featuring guest contributions from Jane Doed, Catch Lungs, Karma, King F.O.E. and Rhias of Air Dubai, the 14 tunes find the artist pushing himself beyond anything he has done before, both musically and lyrically.
“There’s a lot of tracks I made that didn’t even make it to the point of recording because they weren’t up to snuff,” he says. “The songs that made the cut were something that I’d never been able to do before. The songs where I was doing something I’d already done didn’t tend to stick.”
Musically, Abraham draws from a diverse palette of influences — from genre-pushing rappers like Drake to the dark textural compositions of the XX and Cocteau Twins to industrial noise — to create a twitchy, fractured brand of rap that just might have to be called witch hop.
Lyrically, “#SEXTAPE” finds Abraham exploring the darker sides of our human sexual impulses. The opening track, “When We’re in the Dark (I Can See the Light)” finds Yo realizing that, in spite of the civilized and sensitive face he shares with most of the world, there are some scarier urges beneath that surface. “Aleister Crowley, Marquis De Sade — if these desires came from anywhere, they came from God,” he chants repeatedly, sharing with 19th-century French decadent writers like De Sade and Huysmans the realization that the beautiful and ugly, good and evil must have the same origins. And, as always, Morrissey and the Smiths played an unexpectedly large role in Yo’s creative process.
“Morrissey was a huge touchstone during the making of the sex tape,” Yo says, without a hint of humor. “I’m not Morrissey, but I long for it. I respect the oversexualized Drake and the no-sexed Morrissey. I see the parallel in the male diva thing. It’s almost like castrati. Men that are treated like objects of beauty. Everyone wants to be beautiful. Morrissey and Drake both talk about wanting to find acceptance, wanting to find true love, and they go about it in different ways.”
In the world of Yo, Morrissey might be the Dr. Jekyll to Drake’s Mr. Hyde. On the EP’s fifth track, Yo is truly able to put his mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll aside and indulge his Mr. Hyde. The song tells the story of a man who — deeply in love, but paralyzed from the waist down — buys his wife a Sybian machine to give her the pleasure he no longer can. “I did it because I still love you, and I just want for us to be happy,” says the narrator over a chiaroscuro orchestral beat as he gives his beloved the cyborg sex machine. “All I ask is, when it blows your brain, pretend it’s me, call my name.” While the wife’s acceptance of the gift is initially reluctant, she eventually becomes so addicted to the mechanical love-making that the husband is driven into a jealous — and ultimately homicidal — rage.
“#SEXTAPE” is a disturbing and provocative work that — much like the porn that served as part of its artistic inspiration — is certain to draw a visceral and basic reaction from the listener. The release show will be conducted as performance art at a gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District. The pornographic photos taken throughout the process will be displayed, and the model, Cassie Nova, will be encased in a glass box in the middle of the room, with Yo’s attention fixed on her.
“What I want to do with shows from here on out is control the whole room,” the artist explains. “This is my world. This is my brain. And every little thing is there for a reason. My band, the lights, the room, the ambiance, everything. And if I take it on tour, I swear to adhere to that level of aesthetic excellence.”
“You’re talking about responses that are stronger than your mind,” he continues. “I don’t want to be cerebral. To make it physical is more difficult. To make something that moves people’s bodies is like snake-charming or hypnosis.”
At the same time, “#SEXTAPE” is also a fun and easy-to-listen-to (though challenging) rap record that shows Abraham shedding his resistance to the traditions of the genre and truly flexing his verbal skills.
“I did think about the tropes of hip-hop – the classic context within which rappers play – and how I would do it,” he explains, “and I didn’t want it to obscure the shit out of it. I wanted to do clever, different things, but I respect the form. I didn’t used to respect rappers, but after guys like Kanye West and Drake showed me that you have the platform to be an amazing artist — for real, I’m like a fucking rapper now. Can I hang? I think I can. Drake, Kanye and Yo. I do think I can hang with them niggas.”
Whether Yo is ready to stand toe-to-toe with today’s giants of hip-hop remains to be judged. However, it is clear that “#SEXTAPE” is an artistically and commercially ambitious step forward for the artist previously known as Yonnas Abraham.
“If you want to be a famous rapper, you have to spill your guts and get naked,” Abraham insists. “If you become famous, you’re willingly saying, ‘You possess part of me.’ Am I willing to do that? I don’t know. Is this an act of desperation? Yes, partially, it is. But if it is, I just want it to be beautiful and I want to turn it into an art form.”
The “#SEXTAPE” release exhibit is Friday, Dec 16, at Conceited Bastard Art Gallery, 738 Santa Fe Dr, Suite A. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door.The party continues after the show until 2 a.m. with Reverb at 3 Kings Tavern.
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout for stories about Denver musicians doing extraordinary things. Against his mother’s advice, Eryc has also been known to tweet. You can also follow Steal This Track on Twitter. Sorry, Mom.