In May local MC Psalm One (aka Cristalle Bowen) dropped an EP called Free Hugs, her first release under the name Hologram Kizzie. The title is a hat tip to Bowen’s positivity, and the EP’s artwork brings out the dual nature of the words “Free Hugs.” The cover shows a cartoon of Bowen gripping prison bars and sporting white hair and an orange jumpsuit with a nametag that says “Hugs.” “Free Hugs” is as much a posi slogan as it is a call for action—or rather a personal call for Bowen to act.
See, it’s been nearly eight years since Bowen dropped her first Rhymesayers full-length, The Death of Frequent Flyer; she’s released plenty of music since then, including her Women @ Work mixtape series, but she hasn’t put out a proper follow-up for the beloved Minneapolis indie label. When Jessica Hopper recently interviewed Bowen for the Chicago Tribune, the rapper discussed the process of waiting to put out a new Rhymesayers full-length:
I got to the point where I felt like I was in a prison of abandoning songs. It’s been three years of collecting music and having drawn-out conversations with [Rhymesayers] and then abandoning things on my path.
By releasing music under her new name, Bowen’s given herself the chance to free some of that music she’s spent years working on—it’s allowed her to follow that call to act. As Bowen told Hopper, “It was freeing, being Hologram Kizzie.” When I spoke with Bowen over the summer she described Free Hugs as a “breath of fresh air,” and her brand new Hologram Kizzie full-length, Hug Life, shares that rejuvenated energy.
Bowen builds on her earlier work as Hologram Kizzie pretty quickly—the second track, the Probcause-assisted “NerdLove,” is a slightly slower reworking of the amped, antitrend party track “Need Love Too,” which is my favorite cut from Free Hugs. There’s also material that extends Bowen’s work as Psalm One, including “Juke Me Again,” a sequel to her 2011 single “Juke Me.” Bowen raps about not giving in to trends on “Mike Bivens,” invokes the name of the Sausage King of Chicago from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on “Abe Froman,” and delves into a little of what inspired her to take on the name Hologram Kizzie so she can give life a bear hug on “Free Hug Life.” “Bear hug” is a pretty good way to describe Bowen’s approach to the album—she came at it with a strong, heartfelt, and full-on embrace.
Bowen celebrates the release Hug Life tonight at the Hideout, so take a listen to the album to prepare: