by Mike Scarfo
When you’ve been hated your entire life, the hate becomes a part of you” reads a description on the website of Shrewsbury, MA alternative hip-hop artist, TAHA, for his song, “BLOOD”. The tone of the quote may initially sound morbid and off-putting, yet it highlights a necessary perspective of clarity from a year that has been like no other. Now more than ever it feels as though hate is all around us, and it bears a deeper burden than we realize. Not only do we project the hateful things we hear onto ourselves, but we start to only see the ugliness in others, leading to the spread of more hate. It’s a toxic cycle TAHA conveys, and 2020 brought the worst of it: an ongoing pandemic that continues to affect the lives of millions, paired with outward social unrest and division across the country.
It is important as a society we carve out a place to build empathy for each other and spread hope for our future; however, HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT ME, is certainly not that place. Instead, TAHA’s latest project represents the unspoken consequence of ongoing chaos as it takes a deep, albeit abrupt, journey into the dark facets of his psyche. After its fifteen minutes of runtime, the end result is as much a reflection of anger, depression, and pain, as it is a self-confident statement of arrival.
A dark, tortured persona is the version of TAHA that is portrayed on HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT ME. Glimpses of the 22-year old going in a more artistically aggressive direction were present on his previous effort Breath of the Phoenix with tracks such as “Gasp” and “Man Down”, despite the rest of the record being melodic and lighthearted. And yet, the predominant themes of mental health and Islamophobia within Breath of the Phoenix make their way back onto HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT ME. This time, the descriptions and aesthetic are more vivid, a testament to deeper imagery through much-improved songwriting. On lead single “NIGHTMARES”, TAHA is at his most ruthless, criticizing the destructive behaviors of social media while simultaneously addressing those that attempt to disrespect and undermine him. Over blends of eerie synths and a stark-stringed bassline, he delivers:
“Imma go and kill it I’m better than all the rest / I be working with the positives saying that I was blessed / They talking they be mocking don’t ever go second guess / Imma pull up to the spot like Hey, Have Nightmares About Me”.
Sir Rollie’s production creates an anxiety-heightening, cinematic mood that’s much more grim, and urgent in its tone than any song in TAHA’s previous discography.
TAHA continues to dismiss the "fuckboi's in his DM's" and at the end of the track, boasts about scoring an OnlyFans model through an infectious outro, “I drop 100 in her OnlyFans...she calling me now!”. TAHA manages to point out the fallacies of our connectivity and content consumption, while pronouncing his arrival through variations of engaging vocal inflections. It’s a haunting aura that’s chillingly addictive.
“STEADY” is the next track and another standout as TAHA deeply addresses Islamophobia in America:
“A lotta teachers tried to touch me yea I do wonder why / I had some friends they said they didn’t really like what I eat / A lot of people said I never did smell good in the heat / Ye I loved making friends I was always so generous / Till those same friends surrounded me and called me a terrorist”
The imagery in his lyricism highlghts the microaggressions he faced as a young Muslim boy in America. TAHA painfully seeks answers to these oppressive insults, only to have his father paint him as being “less than a man” for his emotional reaction. This dynamic drives him further into an already present sense of worthlessness, followed by the emergence of a monstrous anxiety, leaving him tongue-tied and unable to keep his hands steady no matter how hard he concentrates. The origin story of his anxiety alludes to TAHA tapping into a dimension of self-awareness that many of us currently seek, making “STEADY” the most relatable song in the tracklisting.
The song “NO COLOR” depicts a psychoanalysis of America’s judicial system in his best Death Grips impression, and is followed by the EP’s climax, “BIG SHOT”. TAHA describes the track perfectly, as a “Blade Runner meets Unforgiven meets Cowboy Bebop in this genre blending odyssey. ‘BIG SHOT’ is a Cyber-Punk Western about fighting for your life.” The sonic tension ultimately builds to a catchy refrain “once upon a time not too long ago / had my heart ripped out had nowhere to go”, and concludes with his most profound statement on the EP: “Only time I felt something was when I was fighting”. “BIG SHOT” is TAHA’s most creative and cinematic track to date.
“BLOOD” is the EP’s closer, and by this point he’s at his wit’s end. The division. The hypocrisy. The dangerous rhetoric. He’s expressively angry about it all, and that's the most beautiful element of this song. TAHA calls out anyone and everyone through jarring lyricism over warped production, led by a sample from an Asian string instrument known as the erhu. It’s a song that’s psychedelically abrasive, as its closing seconds mimic an episodic meltdown that abruptly cuts out, leaving the listener potentially uncomfortable but awake. And that, in essence, is the entire point of the project.
HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT ME is the creative, erratic, mind-bending experience that demands to be heard. It acts as a necessary release of toxicity, with the foresight to still reflect mobilizing change on the many social issues that plague our society. Real, true change starts from within; in the aftermath of the EP’s closing seconds, TAHA appears to understand this. He publicly grapples with his demons on HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT ME as a therapeutic means towards healing. It is a bold, brave statement rich with authenticity, making it one of the best indie alternative hip-hop releases of 2020.
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