On L.A. VanGogh’s hand is a tattoo of a black panther and an indigenous Mexican woman. It’s representative of his ethnicity—black, Mexican and Native American—and also alludes to the concept that he’s hinged his music on, the shapeshifter (stylized as shpeshftr).
For him, the shpeshftr symbolizes flux, an abstract principle forged by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Flux is the idea that things constantly change. Much of music is staked on this logic: How has the artist developed? Are they doing something new? Are they being derivative? Are their talents receding?
If you dig through L.A.’s catalog, it’s evident that he embraces flux. His 2014 mixtape The Vinyl—a hefty 15-track project that was largely self-produced and self-engineered—was his first real foray into music, a venture into autonomy. It was only when he and fellow Chicago producer Ambi Lyrics created the producer duo safeNsound (something that eventually morphed into a collective), and subsequently released their project safeNsound presents L.A. VanGogh that L.A. was able to break away from his independence and work closely with another artist.
Today, with the release of his newest EP, Friends First, his brand of growth continues to thrive. Sonically, the project’s four songs aren’t cohesive—and aren’t meant to be. Together, they represent the four sides of his musicality. On each cut, the guest feature goes first—hence the title—using the tape as a place to pool some really bright talent, and to, again, hand the reigns to someone else.
Indeed, the project showcases a cast of characters whose accolades are worth noting. Sean Deaux is a member of the THEMpeople collective, a group that closely collaborates with singer theMIND and former DJBooth Top Prospect Mick Jenkins; Ishmael Raps is an emerging rapper from Rochester, New York; Femdot released his latest project to(u). (premiered here) last week; Flex Lennon produced “The Billy Williams Story” for Saba’s Bucket List Project; and Chinza//Fly produced A$AP Ferg’s still-popular hit song “Work.”
Though Friends First is only four tracks long, the last song, “H.O.T. [Heads or Tails],” is the project’s standout track. Chinza//Fly’s hard-hitting production feeds into Femdot’s gritty flow, a delivery that stands in stark contrast to the brassiness of L.A.’s cadence.
As the two shift into a call-and-response sort of verse, you realize that the tape is a true showing of camaraderie and community—two things that great music is often built on.
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.