Suzi Analogue and Blu's "Best 16" Sounds Like The End of the World

A UNC professor and a West Coast rap legend combine to make a fitting soundtrack for unnerving times.

Suzi Analogue and Blu's "Best 16" Sounds Like The End of the World

Normally, the fact that a UNC professor was the producer behind an unnerving, dystopian rap song that featured one of the most gifted emcees of all-time would be more reason for confusion than clarity.

But when said producer/professor is Suzi Analogue — critically acclaimed beatmaker and songwriter, founder of the electronic/experimental label Never Normal, and collaborator with lo-fi hip-hop royalty like MNDSGN and Knxledge — the appearance of West Coast legend Blu starts to make more sense. And as for those distant, far-off sirens? That dark, gnawing, unsettling feeling of chaos on the horizon? Well, that makes plenty of sense for someone working at UNC.

Far removed from the rosy, idealistic days of "the Bell, the Well, or the stone walls..." — first immortalized in Charles Kurault's 1993 commencement speech, then later in the UNC television ads of the early-aughts — the main thing that "binds us to this place like no other" lately feels more and more like an inescapable, creeping sense of authoritarianism. From the transparently political creation of a "conservative center" to ideologically "level the playing field" on campus, to recent developments that include riot squads arresting peaceful student protestors, the Board of Trustees voting to redirect the school's DEI funding to the police, and campus administration once again threatening the existence of the university's social justice hub (the Campus Y), few locales seem more deserving of an eerie, apocalyptic soundtrack than Chapel Hill.

Of course, even if the timeline of events didn't rule it out already, Suzi and Blu-zi's new, semi-hallucinatory romp, "Best 16 [BLU Version]" (the first single from Analogue's upcoming album, ONEZ, releasing May 31st), likely wouldn't have been based on life at a single, small-town college anyway. But damned if it doesn't fit like a glove (or a freshly tightened set of zip-ties).

Hip-hop fans of a certain sensibility have long revered the rich storytelling and tongue-twisting, riddle-like quality of Blu's verses (“On my knees, fell to God/ Thank you for my broken heart, thank you for my Noah's Ark/ Thank you for the coldest parts/ Ayo, I thank you from the bottom of the bucket where the totem starts,” on “Jesus”), and even without much room to fully stretch out, that spirit is undoubtedly here as well. As is his trademark colorfulness, from the track's brash, indulgently embellished opening lines ("Mr. Fantaaastic/ We master this rap shit"), to the grandiose followup, a few lines later: “I devour total planets/ Every hour that the hand switch.

But on "Best 16"'s fleeting 95 seconds, Blu is more of a highly accomplished accessory to the main attraction of Analogue’s lumbering, industrial production. Even the song's name, with the addendum “[Blu Version]” centers the producer as the central character even more than a typical producer-album vocal feature — as if other iterations of the song exist, this just happens to be the one with Blu on it. 

In successfully conjuring a nightmarish yet irresistibly hypnotizing backdrop, "Best 16" feels like a distant relative of the opening seconds from Gorillaz' "El Mañana," and its sonic depiction of the queasy feeling upon waking up to devastation. "Best 16" has that same characteristic, too. Only instead of the spooky calm of the day after catastrophe, it feels — especially in the song's frenzied, percussive closing seconds — like the middle of one, like an existential unraveling in progress.

Arguably, at UNC, and elsewhere around the world, it does too.


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