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Gifted young Tucson rapper dies

RIP Jay Mephistpheles

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RIP Jay Mephistpheles

Occasionally there are some small groupings of time where death's hand and the cruelty of surprise meet and we lose souls we selfishly need with us. We don't have to personally know the people who died to be leveled by their sudden deaths. When we know someone solely through their art—their gift and contribution to the world—our loss, the world's loss, reverberates as loud as if it was a member of our own family. That's because the artist's gift to the world is to know us better than we know ourselves, and love us anyway.

Yes, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave died tragically at the too-young age of 52. But I'm writing of the concurrent loss of a brilliant artist in-the-making maybe half Cornell's age, the underground upstart and Tucson rapper Jay Mephistopheles (aka Jay Mephist), who, before he inexplicably took the non-reversible step of suicide last week, had embarked on a catalog of music so distinctive, so different from anything else happening in Arizona, with such a fresh perspective, that he almost sounded like a yearning voiced by a millennial Nick Drake. And without so much as one full-length album to his name, what Jay gave us was unfulfilled, yet rare, potential.

Perhaps the best place to get started on Jay's formidable, year-long solo recording era is the six-track EP Leftfield, self-released earlier this year. What's immediately apparent from the first bars of opener "Blind" is Jay's effortless, kaleidoscopic flow of waking-dream lyrics, delivered with an enticing and soulful light touch. The skeletal beats, provided by numerous producers, whose common threat is a quality of ultra-minimalism—even for trap-inspired music. Indeed, the last few seconds of "Hood Hippie" is Jay riding syncopations atop a drone comparable to a muted wind tunnel. "I Just Wanna" goes further: Its first line is "I woke up this morning and I couldn't find the ground" and the refrain is "I'm out of this world and that's how I want to be." Hardly morbid or depressing, the track is as breezy as a summer pop hit. "Rock the Bells" takes this formula further still; it appears Jay Mephistopheles was gearing up to be all things to all people.

In the last few days, I've exclusively listened to Jay's SoundCloud page. There's not a bad song there. More evident was the hypersonic pace at which his creativity was flowing in the short months before his death. Jay Mephistopheles was a giant in the making. His most recent song, a collaboration with rapper HP, was released a few days before his death. More of a masterpiece than an intentional epitaph, this work of astounding beauty and clarity is called "Bad Timing."


More by Joshua Levine

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