The curious case of Dr. Savage and Mr. Wes

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 7:14pm

Has anyone ever seen rapper Sheck Wes and Parquet Courts’ A. Savage in the same place at the same time? If you have, let me know as soon as possible, because I have a theory that the two men might actually be the same person. If you have any information that could possibly debunk my claim, submit it immediately for verification.

My theory is based on a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort of situation in which A. Savage spreads his message of equality for the masses through the streets of New York City by day and transforms into Sheck Wes by night so he can force the entire city to turn up, whether they want to or not. Like Jekyll and Hyde’s representation of the dichotomy between good and evil, A. Savage and Sheck Wes represent the musical dichotomy of woke and ignorant. However, they both do so in a similar manner. Just listen to Sheck Wes’s song “Wanted.” His delivery and voice during the chorus sound eerily reminiscent of A. Savage’s voice and delivery on the first verse of Parquet Courts’ song “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience.” 

Interesting. 

Given these similarities and their shared influence by New York City and its ever-present punk scene, it’s clear that these two men are actually two separate personas of one incredibly talented and versatile individual, an individual who is attempting to strike a balance between meaning and energy.

***

Sheck Wes and A. Savage are, regrettably, not the same person. A. Savage is a Texas transplant into the New York music scene, and Sheck Wes, the son of Senegalese immigrants, is steeped in New York rap. Despite these apparent differences, they share similar voices and deliveries, and curiously, they share the same influence. 

Their deliveries and vocal inflections are taken directly from the New York punk scene. Think Joey Ramone of the Ramones or David Johansen of the New York Dolls. Joey and David were among the first to warp popular vocal deliveries away from saccharine melody and toward gruff madness. They weren’t so much singing to their audiences as they were shouting at them. These musical pioneers brought music back to its primal state, something that Sheck Wes and A. Savage are continuing.

Despite their shared goal, the two go about it in different ways. Sheck Wes is pushing rap more toward punk rock. He’s stripping back the extravagance of modern rap. No grand production, no complex bars, nothing of the sort. All he needs to talk about life in the city are tumultuous 808 kicks and screeching synths. Nothing more. And when he spits, it’s pure, primordial emotion. Sheck Wes’s songs are little more than raw, unfiltered energy, and Sheck Wes himself is breaking the mold of polished and sparkling rap hits, much in the same way the Ramones broke the mold of overproduced rock anthems.

On the other hand, A. Savage and Parquet Courts are operating in a manner antiparallel to Sheck Wes. Whereas Sheck Wes turns rap in a more punk direction, Parquet Courts turns punk in a more indie direction, and A. Savage is at the helm. A. Savage is borrowing the vocals and deliveries from some of the New York punk greats and is cleaning them up to make them more accessible. A. Savage uses punk’s traditional barked vocals, but he takes away some of its brashness, mellowing it out for a broader audience. What’s more, A. Savage and the rest of Parquet Courts take punk’s antiauthoritarian ethos and adjust it to today’s sociopolitical climate, with A. Savage barking about positive social change via communal uprising. 

Obviously, Sheck Wes and A. Savage are not the same person. They make totally different music. One listens to Sheck Wes when they want to turn up on a Friday night, just like how one listens to A. Savage’s Parquet Courts as they contemplate the current state of the nation. However, given their shared New York punk influences, the two men demonstrate the versatility of the punk sound and how liberally it can be applied to other genres of music. A. Savage and Sheck Wes are only two of the recent interpretations of the punk genre, so it will be exciting to see who the next musical figure to reimagine punk rock will be.