Serengeti’s Ajai

Serengeti’s Ajai

Chicago emcee Serengeti has wrought the Kenny Dennis saga with an arresting level of specificity. It’s impossible to comprehensively summarize the body of work, spread over many albums, in fewer words than the work comprises. The saga is an embellished, artisanal map as big as the territory it’s intended to represent.

Notwithstanding, a summary that does no justice to the Kenny Dennis saga, but hopefully provides entre to the latest entry Ajai: Geti plays O’Douls and brauts-obsessed, 60-year-old, Polish-American Chicagoan Kenny Dennis; Kenny’s secret past as part of Chicago’s (fictional) 90’s GOAT rap collective The Grimm Teachaz is revealed; he loses everything in failing to rekindle his rap career—his friends, his family, his job, his sobriety, his sanity, and his wife (first, to Tom Selleck, then to a plane crash), which is where the tale left off at the end of Geti’s last 2018 release Kenny 6e.

In Geti’s latest addition to the Kenny Dennis saga Ajai, we flash forward three years. Now, Kenny runs a food truck in Minneapolis, gleefully binding his psychic wounds with street fashion tapestries: Supreme sweats inspired by Rammellzee, Guess x A$AP Rocky skinny jeans, the Balenciaga jacket with the spikes on the shoulders. The fledgling hype beast sells that selfsame jacket to Ajai, a more established hype beast. Ajai and Kenny convene but once, online, for the sake of that sale. Before that meeting, Geti spends the first half of the album microscopically mapping the extent of Ajai’s emptiness. Ajai is a fashionista so obsessive that it’s doubtful there’s anything else within him, beyond the compulsion to cop the next exclusive name-brand drop. Given the motormouth, hypertechnical flow with which Geti describes him, maybe he’s a foil to Kenny’s dense but meandering free associations. But Ajai could also be a grim portent of what’s to come for Kenny, now that the longest threads of his history have been severed.

Ajai, Cover Art by Andrew McAlpine

The writing on Ajai is an exemplary display of Geti’s mastery of engrossing storytelling, perspective, and narrative irony. Geti presents Ajai in first person but once, to have Ajai tell us some specifics about his taste in fashion. Ultimately, he reveals that “Those are just clothes. I like the way that I look. I like the people in line. I like the effort it took.” As if the drive to procure new threads is enough to characterize him to himself.

Having been adjacent to sneakerheads for so much of my youth, and being wracked with an affinity for grim material histories, I recount to you the most ambitious conceit I encountered on the album: At one point, Ajai’s nameless wife and her healthcare industry colleagues discuss the fraught relationship between pharmaceutical prices & Medicaid payments. Ajai selfishly interrupts with a non-sequitur about the Nike Doernbecher 8’s, one that’s actually all too pertinent given the sneaker line’s material history. But that pertinence is lost on all parties. I could drop a full-page article about the significance of that vignette, alone, its content, its frame, its wit…

Chicago hip-hop wunderkind Joshua Virtue (whose album is reviewed on the previous page of this issue as it turns out) retweeted a link to The Chicago Reader’s review of Ajai, commenting with deceptive simplicity, “This album is an actual book”. It is not a book being rapped. It is raps, it is a book, its characters and settings as present as anything in Ellison, as embodied as your next-door-neighbor or a parent. Hearing Ajai, you might never realize you were being beat over the head with the latest chapter in the next great American novel. Of course that beating is soothed by the balm of Kenny Segal’s buttery psych-funk production. Less like dropping desks (per Driver), more like dropping lotion, like the next exclusive ‘Preme drop.

Buy Ajai on Bandcamp!

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