Soul Glo: Diaspora Problems

Soul Glo’s rise to hardcore heroism would be greater cause for celebration if it weren’t such a damning indictment of American society. Since forming in 2014, the Philly quartet has garnered modest acclaim for airing their righteous grievances against being both tokenized and ostracized as a Black punk band, all while sparing no detail on hypocrisy within their own community, our broken health care system, generational trauma, and the false promises of higher education and upward mobility. By the time Americans en masse were starting to admit that things were as fucked up as Soul Glo had been saying, they’d put out their first widely distributed release, Songs to Yeet at the Sun, in November 2020. The message hadn’t changed, but more people were actually willing to listen. Nearly two years later, none of Soul Glo’s calls for political action have been answered in a meaningful way. “It’s been ‘fuck right wing’ off the rip/But still liberals are more dangerous,” Pierce Jordan snarls midway through Soul Glo’s staggering new album, Diaspora Problems, a ticking time bomb hurled by a band tired of waiting on solutions and taking power into its own hands.

Though Soul Glo mix radical, actionable rhetoric, absurdist humor, and breathtaking vulnerability like almost no band before them, Diaspora Problems is above all a flex. “We got big plans coming up in this motherfucker,” Jordan announced on lead single “Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!!) ((By the Future)),” a celebration of their well-earned success and a grim recognition of how quickly it can all disappear for Black artists, whether in the churn of industry machinery or at the hands of the state. Soul Glo’s previous releases often adhered to standard hardcore specs, clocking in between 10 and 20 minutes, complete statements that nonetheless felt like they never captured the full scope of their artistry; 2016’s Untitled was the exception in exceeding a half hour, but it needed 20 songs to get there.

Accordingly, Diaspora Problems is a big album, conceived like a major label debut: horn sections, instantly recognizable and hopefully cleared samples, a half-dozen guest rappers and vocalists, and Will Yip on mixing and mastering. It begins with a bong rip approximating the rhythm of the 20th Century Fox intro. Technically, it’s more accessible than Soul Glo’s past releases, but it dares listeners to think deeply about whether the repeated hooks are theirs to shout back, whether directed at the band’s peers (“Who gon’ beat my ass! Who the fuck gon’ beat my ass?”) or those who might try to claim allyship (“I’m so bored by the left, protests, and reluctance to militarize”).

Aside from a 30-second non-sequitur of twinkle guitar that precedes the blunt force of “(Five Years and) My Family,” there are no breathers or interludes, none of the things that typically stretch a hardcore album to the capacity of a vinyl record. “Can I live?” are the first of Jordan’s many, many words on Diaspora Problems—nearly 5,500 in the lyrics sheet by my count, delivered as rapid-fire Migos triplets, scorched screamo howls, deadpan spoken word, and a very believable Johnny Rotten impression. To some extent, he can be taken literally here, as in, who will survive in America, in the face of everything that is actively trying to kill him as a financially insecure Black man. Even beyond the threat of institutional force, Jordan has spent the entirety of Soul Glo’s existence exploring the feedback loop of poverty, debilitating depression, and the impossibility of obtaining proper treatment. These pathologies dovetail in “John J,” an astute sociopolitical treatise that begins with Jordan’s memory of putting a gun in his mouth just to see what it would feel like, and then fast-forwards to a searing image of 2020’s protests: “I’m on 15th seeing 20 police run toward me to protect a bank.”

Updated: March 30, 2022 — 11:00 am