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By : Alula Hussen

11 min read

A mean mug curls across lips and nostrils, eyes asquint in appreciation, domes a-nod, when FUNERAL Ant Bell’s name glides across the ticker—and when his voice cuts clearly (even through muddled ears) across speakers.

His work over the past four years, especially with frequent collaborator DeevoDaGenius (whose masterworks bear repeated listens), sketches a body of work well-honed in its story-telling capacities, in its message, and in its tone. Ant Bell, known to friends and family as Anthony or AB, isn’t in the business of convincing anybody—and truths told often elide cajoling.


Ant’s concert at Black Market on Saturday, March 9th—to promote the forthcoming release of his fifth album, There’s Glory in the Fire, Vol. 2: The Wind Beneath My Wings—sought to elevate those same truths, surfaced from deep reflection and sincere love. Opening acts at the show (including Milkshaw Benedict, poet and writer with a golden smile; and Najee Janey, an artist whose earnestness instills heart) hammered home their shared message of care for one another and for ourselves. The atmosphere upheld the care, as did the provision of catering that calls to mind the community centers from which hip-hop first sprung. To listen together, we must first come together. And what better way to break (corn)bread than to actually eat it? 


Some tone-setting in the pre-show mixes (curated by Deevo himself, and Tommy Chronic) doubled down on the exact hip-hop tradition this concert springs from: samples abounded in tracks composed by Dilla, Alchemist, and like-minded historic heads who melded musical movements. Ant Bells and his collaborators know both their audience and their forebears, and are in the midst of a scene in Boston that supports the underground.

Yet an important distinction must be made here: the more a listener immerses themselves in rap beyond number ones, the more said listener might find themself hearing boastful bars that don’t cut muster, alongside navel-gazing self-affirming rhymes that serve nan purpose but aggrandizement. A portraited sale of self rings untrue the closer to ourselves we picture the painter. The few who speak from earth resonate; the weight of their burdens is shared across our shoulders as we tune in, and the boasts become audience-affirmations as we identify with the ascendant and walk along their journey with them through the door they’ve opened for us—Ant Bell is this species of artist, the type to speak with you instead of at you as he rips and politicks.

When featured, Ant Bell’s verses elevate whole tracks, and collaborators push themselves to meet his match (listen: “ALL ON ME” on Deevo’s Champion Sound). Intentions become principles become actions in rhymes, and in-person: Ant is warm, friendly, and genuine upon meeting, gauging reception and respect in rooms while moving at trust’s pace alone. 

His WordsSpeakLife labelmate, NaySpeaks, and few others accompany his rarefied air (including fellow young artists like Ajary from Ethereal Visions, who received a shout-out from Ant Bell mid-show). Each paves their own road, with Bell charting a path towards literary lyrics and piercing vocals that echo long after his records cut off. Tracks like “Make It” (on Deevo’s Before Da Gold, released earlier this year) fill memories with quotables that fill 8-bar stanzas; his first verse holds the following:


“It’s some niggas who ain’t present anymore I’m still living for/breaking chains off, I’m here to abolition more/where I come from, every single corner got a liquor store/but I’m religious, so I lift my palms and pray for what I’m wishing for/you saw me living in my purpose so you had to reconsider yours/I stand on blocks of positivity defending ours.”

And his second verse layers in more:

“Before you meet me, God’ll introduce me; real niggas all salute me, if you don’t like me then shoot me: don’t chastise or rebuke me.”  

Further lines shared en vivo from Glory in the Fire, Vol. 2 (“You got fears lil nigga you need to climb! You got dreams lil nigga so you need your mind/You got wings lil nigga you need to fly!”) characterize the uplift running through Bell’s material. The concert comprised the entire album’s tracklist from top to bottom; at times thematically repetitive, every song on the album is a narrative of ascendance, with small specificities that differentiate their content. Trust and buy-in were firmly planted in the room, such that repetition did not serve to distract (and messages like Bell’s are wholly productive and merit re-utterance, regardless).

A strong belief in God animates Ant Bell, a belief in a God who is accessible and amenable to who we are in the here and now in Bell’s lyrics—as present in our good deeds as in our quotidian sin and delight (e.g. “[He] showed me how to have faith when I roll dice,” shared live from Glory in the Fire). Live accompaniment at the show, the accomplished and talented Megazoid band, added a jazz-gospel swing on certain tracks to emphasize the spiritual character of Bell’s material.

The Most High is bound up most especially in the love we share (from the familial to the romantic); proof of point, Bell’s mother and girlfriend were both in the front row of his show and figured heavily in the proceedings. The show closed with both coming up on stage to present him with cake and candles for his 30th birthday; as the band played us out, hands clapped on FUNERAL Ant Bell’s shoulders to celebrate the monumental life milestone, and his jubilant but determined eyes focused on the lights just ahead.

—Alula Hussen

Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #168 April 2024


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