When Papa Mbye was a teenager he’d go to the park, set up shop, and draw caricatures for willing passerby. It was a hustle, but the mischievous exaggeration also provided a much-needed valve. He had been raised to be quiet and dutiful since his family had immigrated from The Gambia/Senegal to North Minneapolis when he was two years old. But Papa was an eccentric at heart; an artist. He eventually turned his efforts inward, creating his own extended cartoon universe full of irreverent characters that were something like if the child of Kara Walker and Jean-Michel Basquiat was the creative director of Mad Magazine.
He had grown up listening to the music his parents played, like the Senegalese artist N’dongo Lo, and supplemented it with '80s alt-rock, 2000s pop, UK Drum and Bass and increasingly the sound coming from the burgeoning DIY Rap and R&B scene in the Twin Cities. Rapping was a natural progression for a cartoonist within his generation and with his sensibility. After all, it’s a culture full of larger-than-life personalities crafting exaggerated superhero-esque backstories, and a genre whose musicians are often more than just musicians but auteurs aspiring to aesthetic world-building through illustration, clothing, and film.
That breadth of influence is on display on MANG FI, Papa’s post-everything, shape-shifting debut EP completed not more than a year after he laid down his first track. Over six songs, his vocal and production tendencies go every which way, from the middle of the mosh pit yelps and chest-thumping shit talk to distorted melodramatic electro garbles and breezy loverboy crooning. It’s disjointed art-rap, impressively walking the jagged edge between the familiar and the esoteric. Like the best caricature artists do, Papa Mbye pays homage to the source material, while showing us something we’ve never seen before.