I Turned Myself Into Myself

releases November 22, 2022

The old masters understood the inherent contradictions between artistic compromise and creative integrity. Guru indicted those who “sold their soul to have mass appeal.” EPMD condemned the shamelessness of crossover seekers. But we’re now approaching a second generation raised to believe that greed is good, popularity always directly correlates to skill, and the only reasonable response to late Capitalism is to “get the bag.”

The rebellion against this corporate hegemony has been circulating in some form or another since the late ‘90s underground. But credit the genius of Shirt’s new collaboration with producer Jack Splash, I Turned Myself Into Myself for making this subversion feel entirely fresh. These are nine avant-garde broadsides that bang. Spoken word poison darts. A street art mural spraypainted on the side of a gallery – more innovative than the ordained canvasses on the inside. It is the sound of stained glass orthodoxy being shattered by a baseball bat. Think something like the avant-garde minimalism of Ka crossed with the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, but steeped in the subway car rumble of contemporary Queens. This is an album that understands that devil’s greatest trick is making people believe that there’s no such thing as selling out.

“Marni Invisible Cloak” is a double-barreled manifesto. Shirt meditates on the nearly invisible line between genius and insanity. He evokes Walt Whitman’s claim that he (and all worthwhile artists) contain multitudes. A unique communique from an artist repulsed by the corruption of culture for profit. Over processed guitars and mournful pianos, Shirt recites an elegy for those who refuse critical thought, who never reach their full potential because they are perpetually settling for less (while always trying to reap more). Cold facts in searing language. As he says, “I make art from a frozen glimpse/got the mindset of the boys in Timbs.”

Let the beautiful codes speak for themselves:

From “Death to Wall Art”:

“When I say “death to wall art” I mean, fuck paint by numbers/That’s a hallmark/Don’t just color out the lines, tear the wall apart. Don’t just show me a corny NFT of the shark/Go swim with sharks.”

From “Dave Chapelle Is Wrong”:

“I might’ve learned to fight ‘fore I learned to talk/I got a slick mouth, you already know it/I don’t wanna hear your musty Chappelle opinion I don’t need your review, I read a million/I’d tell that man to his face: You hurt people and put people in danger/Simple as that, the jokes put people in danger.”

From “No Magic No Music”

“You become what you set out to be, but then you become rigid in your ways, can’t see the bend. Watch these fools on Fox News and CNN/Houses and personas like cards be in the wind. Don’t be stuck being a rule breaker, you feeding in.”

From “Cancel Culture”:

I’m tired of the bullshit/Every motherfucker nowadays on they pulpit/And they talk cancel culture is the culprit. If it’s really that what was it before?/If you being honest then you already know The way we treat women here for years been atrocious/From how we treat rape to wage gap…I don’t do the unspoken truth, you should know this.”

If you’re familiar with the last decade of underground hip-hop, you probably do know this. Over that span, Shirt has emerged as one of the foremost conceptual artists in hip-hop, an heir to another Queens hero, Rammellzee. He’s made several music videos that are closer to documentaries – in particular, “Woman is God,” filmed during a revelatory 10-day stretch in Sierra Leone.

Inspired as a child by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollack, the high school dropout found himself studying at prestigious art schools in Switzerland and completing fine arts residencies at Italian castles. Shirt’s visual art has earned frequent comparisons to Marcel Duchamp. He was the first rapper signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records. He’s designed conceptual clothing lines. His work has been hung in museums and he’s lectured at the University of Pennsylvania. Shirt even famously designed a fake New York Times website to write a rave of his work – a stunt worthy of the wiliest Dadaist subversion.

In I Turned Myself Into Myself, Shirt has painted a masterpiece. Alongside production from the Grammy-Award winner, Jack Splash, the pair operate with both meticulous precision and fluid improvisation. Having produced for everyone from Kendrick Lamar to J Cole, Alicia Keys to John Legend, Splash brings out his grimiest palette. Yet there’s a remarkable versatility. The drums on “Dave Chappelle is Wrong” sound built for a Brownsville beat down, but they bleed into the celestial harpsichord elegance of “Marni Invisible Cloak.” “I Make Art” creates a downtown ‘80s funk that you could imagine setting Danceteria aflame. “718 to the World” summons a vintage Low End Theory scenario. Over each suite, Shirt never fails to drop allegorical parables and throat-slitting poems.

In an era where the consumption ethos threatens to consume us all, Shirt stays true. He repeatedly questions himself and society, evolving, second-guessing, staying sharp on the attack. Like all great art, I Turned Myself Into Myself is fearless. It speaks truth to power and refuses to punch down. It is a reminder to pursue your original vision through the pervasive shadows of avarice and self-doubt. It’s punk rock, finding a Picasso at the pawn shop, a steadfast reminder that the flame can’t be extinguished if torchbearers remain.