Ghais Guevara's music is chaotic, confronting, and cathartic. Swirling, jazz-inspired beats whip around his frenetic-yet-precise wordplay, evoking images of Black pain, violence and joy. Channelling those feelings into music is a tried and tested formula as old as the hip-hop genre –– But Guevara’s point of difference, in his own words, is his ideological bent.
“I’m not even gonna say there’s not a lot… there’s no other rapper doing geopolitical communist rap,” the 22-year-old rapper tells VICE, laughing.
“It’s that whole pan-Africanism thing, the whole one struggle thing, you know what I mean? I can't sit and just talk about what’s specifically going on in my neighbourhood because it's always connected to what's going on in other places.”
Guevara, real name Jaja Ghais Robinson, has focused his music career on the violence in the way the world is ordered, and points his finger directly at the source.
“Fuck The Nordic Model”, on his debut tape BlackBolshevik, put the US military-industrial complex in his sights, drawing a direct comparison between imperial violence committed by his country and the more mundane violence Black people are demonised for.
“Kill a nigga daddy, feel like Akuma / Teach you how to hustle, feel like a tutor / Opps steady thinkin' we coo
ll / I’m just settin' you up for a murder like army recruiters,” he raps.
All of this is combined in a sickly-sweet and haunting flip of Jamie Foxx’s live cover of “Slow Jams”, which lends the track its main melody and intro. It’s a masterful use of a sample and creates a hypnotic aura for Geuvara to spit his manifesto-esque bars. The track is musically, lyrically and ideologically compelling, which explains why it’s one of his most popular.
“Mimicry Of The Settlers”, released with follow up tape There Will Be No Super-Slave, ratchets up the rhetoric. The impassioned screed is an expression of something many in the African diaspora feel: that colonial powers are yet to be held accountable for the crimes committed on their former subjects in any meaningful way.
“Belgium should atone for the sins / Committed on Congo” he raps. “Red tide won't calm, till it hits AFRICOM / Do my dance when France / Gets hit with a couple bombs.”
Then, the music drops out and two kicks hit, like a revolutionary speaker thumping a podium to punctuate his point.
Ghais says the point of all of this is to shock, and to make white people aware of the simmering anger many Black people feel. “You look at the centuries and centuries of bullshit and it's just like… do you really expect people to sit here and turn the other cheek about it?” he says.
“You should be made aware of the fact that we are this pissed, and this is how we feel about you and that you should want to be on the eggshells and feel like you’re on thin ice.”
“I’m not calling for random Boko Haram attacks against random cafes in France… you know this, come on. What I’m saying is coming from a place of discontent.”
This cathartic energy permeates much of Ghais’ music. He also rails against needing to appeal to the white gaze to be successful — despite acknowledging the necessity.
“It’s why I tweeted: ‘I see why Noname stopped performing for your niggas’,” he says. “We're commodified. [White rap fans] don't see us as humans. They want to be entertained immediately.”
But Guevara does attribute some of his recent success to white tastemakers like Anthony Fantano, who even makes a brief cameo on “Honky’s Sleep Paralysis Demon”. I’m also sorry to say that I discovered the young rapper through a white TikToker.
“I don't really have the hatred for music reviewers that other people have,” Ghais says. “I understand it because they have a very influential platform and they determine a lot of people's careers, but [reviewers] didn't necessarily ask for that, for the most part.
“It is kind of annoying that the ‘vanguards’ for music taste are all suburban white men. I understand the annoyance, but then again, it's just like, that's how it is for everything. So to just specify that to music reviewers is kind of petty, in my opinion.”
Ghais’ political analysis is not just a cathartic exercise in relieving frustration, though. His approach to criticising bourgeois solutions to white supremacy is similar to how he tackles critiquing US Imperialism; his flippant comparisons to the material conditions of Black Americans seem to follow established hip-hop tropes at first blush, but hide a grounded, left-wing analysis.
On “Shaun King Isn’t Seeing Heaven”, Guevara directly criticises King for profiting off the Black Lives Matter movement, focusing on simmering left-wing sentiment that BLM has largely failed to affect change on a necessary scale.
As scathing as the critique is, it’s likely made worse by the fact the track is arguably one of Guevara’s best. The chipmunked Justin Beiber sample, taken from the song “Peaches”, sounds better than the original, is used in a variety of pitches and contexts, and is made irresistibly danceable with a thumping beat. The song is the perfect encapsulation of Ghais’ talent as a rapper-producer. And during a time when Black critiques of BLM’s track record are dominated by Kanye West’s hamfisted courting of the right, Ghais’ voice is level-headed and deft.
Despite all the braggadocio and revolutionary rhetoric, though, Guevara isn’t preparing for a Marxist revolution in the USA. He tells me his goals are much more grounded.
“I told my homies that I have this one dream: I'm gonna get a bunch of fucking rappers when I'm a millionaire and buy an apartment complex or whatever. We just pay for everything and just give out free housing.
“In exchange we’d give you Maoist books or a political education or some shit, you know?”
As I write this, Ghais is working on a new mixtape named Free Breakfast for Children. Inshallah, it will help him attain his goals.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Ghais was 23-years-old. He is 22 – we regret the error.