Serengeti uses wit and wordplay to ease the pain 

click to enlarge Serengeti: More of a Tuesday-on-the-bus than Friday-at-the-club kind of thing.
  • Serengeti: More of a Tuesday-on-the-bus than Friday-at-the-club kind of thing.

Life is about chapters, and sometimes it's about closing the book. Right now, it's unclear which this is for Midwestern rapper Serengeti, but if you're a fan of alternately somber and wry, literate alternative hip-hop, you might want to seize this chance because the offer won't necessarily be repeated again.

You'll be forgiven if your idea of Serengeti is an African ecosystem. Though David Cohn (aka Serengeti) has been on labels like Anticon and Asthmatic Kitty, and recorded with Odd Nosdam, Yoni Wolf, Son Lux and Sufjan Stevens — racking up more than 30 albums and collaborations — he's never received much in the way of promotion.

He's just a Jewish black man from Chicago employing his wit and wordplay to make it on his own.

"My whole thing was I do a lot of stuff," says Cohn of his prodigious output, "and, when I do something, there aren't any ways to promote it, aside from the whole internet thing. So in lieu of that, I just make something else. I have a stockpile of things. It's not that I don't want to promote, it's just that it hasn't really been there. So I'll just make more stuff. I have ideas."

There's no denying that. His song characters include the frazzled polygamist (whose complex family makes it stressful at Thanksgiving and Christmas), who appears on his 2011 collaboration with Wolf, Family and Friends. And then there's "Negro Whimsy," in which he struggles for self-acceptance and understanding while hearing how he "had so much potential back in the day... getting the whole woulda-coulda-been lecture, too drunk to notice... realize the whole thing is hopeless."

From the beginning, hip-hop was a way for Cohn to make sense of the world.

"I was pretty depressive as a kid, maybe, and it all started with me trying to be my own therapist," he explains. "I didn't come from the world of music where it was 'I'm going to have fun with my friends and rap onstage.' It wasn't a Friday and Saturday night thing. It was a Tuesday morning on the bus."

Following his own path hasn't brought Serengeti glamour or money, but it's made for an exciting catalog. He's currently supporting Doctor My Own Patience, his second collaboration with German electronic artist Sicker Man, whose sleek understated veneers suggest a more symphonic Kraftwerk. The coldly crisp arrangements are abetted by the flat emotional affect of songs such as "Loose Control," whose mechanical precision belies its subject.

Years ago, in the aftermath of an induced coma from pneumonia, the rapper couldn't stop thinking about his unfinished projects. He's still got a handful of recordings he wants to make, but he's starting to feel a sense of completion.

Serengeti is currently completing a thematically linked graphic novel with Owen Cornish. Moving forward, he's also planning on bringing the career of his alter-ego, the mustachioed, hat-wearing, Bears-loving Kenny, to a proper close with an album from the perspective of his wife, Jules. "I'm super pumped. It's the bow on it," he says, "to really wrap it up and make sense of the whole thing."


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