Tisakorean: Let Me Update My Status

In the fall of 2013, the Treasury Department issued the first new $100 bill design in nearly two decades. The Series 2009A was a radical change mostly because it was, well, blue. These bills present something of a problem for TisaKorean, the Houston-bred dancer and rapper. On “StEvIe wOnDeR (yCg).mp3,” from his new tape Let Me Update My Status, he laments that thumbing through the new currency is leaving dyed residue on his fingers. Like a boom mic sagging into frame, the stains puncture the almost perfect illusion of an LP—or, more likely, a .zip file unearthed from the late W. Bush years.

The file in question might scan as slightly corrupted: Most of Update’s antecedent styles—crunk and snap primarily—coexisted, but seldom fought for space in the same mix. Song titles are styled as if ripped straight from LimeWire, or as if a clip of a Bill Clinton speech is nestled next to TisaKorean bragging about changing a girl’s pH balance. On “cRaNk iT Up (BoNuS).mp3,” snap’s incremental creep seems perpetually on the verge of exploding into a totalizing roar. “StUnNa sHaDeS.mp3” has even more negative space, but the digital pings approximate a steel drum and a dial-up modem searching for connection, instilling the same menace as the most elbow-animating crunk beats.

A handful of song titles, a few appearances of fossilized “YOU!” ad-libs, and other assorted hallmarks frame Let Me Update My Status as an album-length Soulja Boy tribute. But his view of the period is more expansive—so much so that it can accommodate the twilight fugue that rappers like SahBabii explored in the early 2010s (“SiLlY MoAn.mp3,” the sublime “StOp tExTiNg.mp3”), or the type of serrated synths the Neptunes might have handed Fam-Lay in 2005 (“uHhH HuH.mp3”). Still, each of these songs sounds like it could have been haphazardly coded onto a MySpace page. TisaKorean is also a fundamentally different writer than Soulja Boy was in this period; as loose as the latter’s songs could seem, they were generally built around phrases that had been sanded down to their essential elements. Meanwhile, TisaKorean’s verses have a first-thought unpredictability that complements the usually self-produced beats. On “hYpNoTiZ4.mp3,” that unpredictability even survives the instant vocal screwing: As far as I can remember, Pimp C never rhymed “certified” with “circumcised,” even if it feels spiritually correct.

Scattered moments throughout Update recall TisaKorean’s earlier work, which was sometimes so formless it was almost avant-garde. “mOtOrCyClE.mp3” sounds like one long, intoxicating mistake, a series of clipped phrases rapped to a beat that’s largely just distortion. But on the whole, the album lingers on the fringes of pop, nearly every song a potential viral hit that would nevertheless stand out as the oddest thing on any YouTube playlist it burrowed into. They’re not exactly relics and not exactly new—they’re code being mulched and conflated and spit back out forever.