“I’m the minstrel man, cleaning man, pole man, shoeshine man, I’m a n****r man” sang Scatman Crothers on the opening to Ralph Bakshi’s controversial Coonskin. A cult satire on race politics in 1970’s America subverting the rose-tinted nostalgia of Songs of the South, its stark use of ‘darky’ iconography and plethora of ethnic stereotypes still prompt fierce debate as to the merits of its social commentary. Perhaps the films most zealous castigators are pearl-clutching liberals mired in performative politics and self-satisfied moral sanctimony. Beloved by many in the African-American community, (including Spike Lee and Wu-Tang Clan, the group even wanting to produce a sequel) Baskhi quipped “Everybody loves the film except for the white guy in the street, but that’s always been the case”.
A grimacing blackface inked on Caucasian skin burns potently on the cover of Angry Blackmen‘s latest EP Headshots!. An experimental hip-hop duo formed in Chicago by Quentin Branch and Brian Warren, their very name a provocative exercise in confronting White America with its crafted tropes and archetypes deployed to justify its continued supremacy. Fusing the city’s alternative hip-hop heritage of Kanye West and Chance the Rapper with the industrial volatility of noise mutants from Chicago Research, Angry Blackmen continue the caustic and bruising production as heard on last year’s Talkshit! with even greater fiery resolve.
Coonskin, Oppenheimer’s ‘destroyer of world’s’ speech and Spongebob Squarepants is a queasy, atypical choice of samples for any rap group but illustrate the confrontation and stinging irreverence that courses throughout Headshots! After the narrative introduction to the ‘post-apocalyptic, racially divided’ hellscape in EP opener ‘Dreams!’, an expert slice of taut drum machines and razor synths pound urgently against the duo’s rapid-fire lyrical spit of hopes, fears and braggadocio in the confusing miasma of the Trump era, the media soundbites that litter the track reminiscent of labelmate’s THX1312 synthpunk collages. The title track delves deeper in the sonic cacophony, discordant electronics and digital scree scrape and grind against diatribes of failed late-stage capitalism and its resulting festering resentment.
While the acerbic front never lets up, there are enough shifts in style to provide respite from the programmed assault, albeit an unnerving one. ‘Dance!’ is a skulking trip of hypnotic beats and whining synth that struts along with infectious corrosion, and the crunchy mechanics of ‘Caligula!’ recall Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Reptile’ with its cold, toxic resonance. ‘Rage!’ sees the duo at their most coolly laconic, a terse and brittle beat snaps with biting minimalism, hiding the EP’s most scathing line: “trapped in America, about to go insane!”.
Angry Blackmen have built upon the adroit exercises in primal beats and combative lyrical delivery with an EP that sees their reach into the deeper recesses of noise rap yield a work of greater bite and focus. With an uncompromising admonishment of an imploding society of right-wing ascendancy and liberal hypocrisy stated with great insight and sharp humour, Branch and Warren join the ranks of BLACKHANDPATH and Bob Vylan in making hip-hop that’s inventive, pertinent, and vital.