Liner Notes on Self Reclamation: A Review of 808s and Otherworlds by Sean Avery Medlin

Book cover for 808s and Otherworlds by Sean Avery Medlin

Collecting vinyl has been something I have enjoyed since I was a teenager. Cracking open a well-loved record to sift through the liner notes created a unique experience. These notes were full of powerful lyrics, images, printed and handwritten fonts, and drawings. It seems it took time and a creative, thoughtful mind to stitch together a visual representation of the music. Everytime I opened an album I was transported into a world other than mine. That is how Sean Avery Medlin’s debut collection 808s and Otherworlds works. Through essays, prose, poems, and musicality, Medlin gives you the liner notes on their internal world. This collection is sectioned off by “records.” Each record contains a steady rhythm through alliteration and striking one liners, much like an 808 beat. For example, in the very first sentence of this collection Medlin writes, “heat haze blurs asphalt.” Right away it is known that Medlin’s internal world, their mind, is not slow. It is strong and steady. 

The book is broken up into six “records” and they lead up to an ending of excerpts on Medlin’s album skinnyblk. Each section is titled, in bold, by its record number; signaling where the next shift is, creating new worlds. Under Record I, Medlin immediately throws out a ton of pop culture references. These range from Iggy Azalea dating Playboi Carti to Kanye West wearing a MAGA hat. Creating a familiar world lures the reader to hear the internal world of Medlin. What can be found in the liner notes of this record is a young person trying to find their place in the outer world and inner world that exists in their head. Our society in North America creates boxes for us to live in, and for those who think outside of those boxes, we struggle to understand who we are to ourselves. That forms an inner dialoguean internal worldthat must be expressed. Medlin gives the reader notes on this when they talk about rappers and how they relate to them. They write, “There are no rappers that I relate to. Rappers are hood reporters, and I do not live in the hood. I live in a new housing development. If people who look like me live in the hood, then I am not like people who look like me.” Not only are they sharing their internal dialogue here, but they are addressing the systemic racism of our society and how that changes their world and other worlds. 

Medlin goes on to write about other worlds that contain these issues. These otherworlds are real, fictional, and everything in between. It is expressed that our society cannot escape these issues and neither can their internal mind or fictional worlds. Under Record IV, Medlin dives heavily into this idea. In ‘Paradox,’ they start off quoting Baldwin to address systemic racism and riffs off that to talk about an anime called Naruto. By introducing these ideas in relation to a widely popular show, Medlin is creating liner notes for the masses. It is illuminating major issues that need to be addressed. As a reader, you can hear them loud and clear. It seems that all worlds collide in this book and no issue can go unnoticed. See here how Medlin compares systemic racism to Naruto

“A fictional character from my favorite anime, Sasuke Uchiha, became an outlet. Sasuke’s clan are born with Sharingan—eyes that transform the color and shape of their irises, granting them incredible power. If you know, you know, but you don’t need the mythology to understand the parallels.” 

We all have worlds, real or fictional, that we use to express and cope with our external and inner worlds that we exist in. Medlin gives the reader a safe space to understand and advocate for them and ponder on our own. I picked up this book to understand a world that is not my own. It is so musical in its form, and it takes me steadily and then suddenly all at once, through Medlin’s struggles and successes in all aspects of their life. Just as a song would, you are given a space to learn someone else’s story and reflect on it. How you take on that information is a part of your own internal world that Medlin has given you notes to navigate. Each record holds an indestructible story and rhythm that makes you want to reread each page. It is immersive and like liner notes that come with a vinyl, 808s and Otherworlds holds a unique formatting that makes you think, learn, and understand the world you are diving into. 

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