Hip hop

Angry Blackmen ‘Headshots!’

“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.

Backxwash ‘God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It’

‘Witchcraft’ is a term historically defined by Western colonists and labelled on to any custom or culture which didn’t adhere to Christian dogma. Forced to dilute their potent African spirituality to please their British oppressors, the Chewa and Tumbuka people of Southern-Central Africa have co-opted elements of Protestantism in their centuries-old Gule Wamkulu, a ritual dance performed by initiated men of the Nyau brotherhood. Originally celebrating the integration of the communities young men into adulthood, the many masks and costumes that represent evil spirits, wild animals or immoral temptation are slowly losing their original purpose and played out for the entertainment of boring, white tourists.

“I think you mad cos you lost control, you want me to fall in line on the X’s and O’s” spits Backxwash on the condemning ‘Black Sheep’, a painful denunciation of family betrayal during their non-binary discovery. Sampling the Gule Wamkulu practice, Zambian born Ashanti Mutinta performs their own ritual of catharsis and grapples with one of the key recurring themes of their work: the demons that gnaw inside members of the trans community on their arduous road to embracing their identity. Now based in Montreal, Backxwash has been cutting a unique brand of horrorcore hip hop full of hypnotic beats and warped production that’s both aggressive yet introspective. Releasing their second album proper via the queer label Grimalkin Records, Mutinta channels church choir music and televangelical sermons from their youth to reach further into the heart of the haunted wood, and themselves.

God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It (derived from a line in Spanish horror film Verónica) is a white hot flame of cavernous bombast and hellish evocations, sharing similarities with Ministry’s Psalm: 69 both with artwork and heretical aura, establishing the dark tone of the record. Ozzy Osbourne’s wail of doom from ‘Black Sabbath’ circles around echoing drums and whispering incantations illustrating Backxwash’s spiritual conflict, the deep desire to sin against those who’ve sinned you. Mall Date lends their vocals to the bowel-churning ‘Into The Void’, Nine Inch Nails’s ‘Reptile’ grinds and scrapes against a massive droning guitar attack capturing the songs visceral examination of paranoia and vulnerability when navigating a world where every street corner lurks prejudice with a knife. Backxwash breathes new life into a sample as ubiquitous to hip hop as Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’, John Bonham’s famous heavy percussion colliding with eerie keyboards scoring Mutinta’s moving letter to their younger bother, detailing their fears and anxieties in the starkly intimate ‘Adolescence’.

Backxwash’s expert production remain as fresh and creative as prior releases Black Sailor Moon and Deviancy. The brittle beats of ‘Spells’ are devilishly seductive, Devi McCallion‘s raspy guest vocals are stretched and elasticated, imbued with occult-like, midnight howls. Mutinta’s love for Missy Elliot’s chunky rhythmic sonics shine on the furious ‘Amen’, a spiky stab of venom at religious greed and corruption. Inviting fatherfake and Skunk Anansie’s Skin to produce the respective Heaven and Hell interludes provide welcome shifts in mood, the latter utilising ‘The Lady in the Radiator’ from Eraserhead to chilling effect, and Will Owen Bennett’s studio contributions end the album on a note of faded, gospel contemplation, a wounded but defiant hope both personally and for the fucked-up world we’re all in, summed-up beautifully with the exclamation “feel like you lost a son but you gained a daughter”.

Backxwash’s sophomore effort achieves an extraordinary double feat of instilling further density and ethereal intensity to their volatile sound yet still maintaining a punchy, punk urgency. God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It is a fantastic and fascinating mesh of Gothic murk and industrial might which explores the themes of ‘forgiveness’ and facing ones torments with guttural yet poetic insight.

Bob Vylan ‘We Live Here’

“If I wanna fucking rush you, you’ll get rushed” confesses rapper and frontman Bob Vylan on the acidic ‘England’s Ending’. To navigate life with a spotless moral record is a privilege rarely afforded to the disenfranchised and oppressed, moral scruples no currency to those surviving a world of austerity assault and community erosion. For the working class who has no stake in society and marginalised communities cast further aside by the rabid demands of white-centric capital, what reason is there to adhere to the principles dictated by your enemy?

This burning seethe boiling across both sides of the Atlantic has fueled the London duo Bob Vylan. A punk/rap/grime hydra whose politically-charged assault has seen them winning support slots in America and being included in NME’s ‘100 New Essential Artists for 2020‘, have dropped second album We Live Here entirely independently and amid a backdrop of turmoil, protest, and a world teetering on the brink. Switching targets from Dread‘s savagery of gentrification to the death throes of English exceptionalism, the roses, lions and blackletter font which adorns the cover point to an ugly nation mired with imperial hangover, diminishing status and eating itself in its nativist confusion.

We Live Here blasts through its near 18 minutes with ephemeral potency, every riff, beat, and lyric urgent and essential. The title track is an explosive punk blast of rage against the racist rot festering under the St. George’s flag. Opening with the resentful quip of a neighbour nostalgic of the time before “you lot got here”, Bobb13 Vylan’s steady drums pace along with Bobby’s savage revelations of the racial abuse experienced in childhood and dissecting prejudice masquerading as ‘patriotism’. Fever 333‘s Jason Aalon Butler lends his vocal skills to the groove metal fierce of ‘Pulled Pork’, an indignant scream against every greasy, cop intoxicated with their power and excited by their licensed violence. Slyly referencing Body Count’s Cop Killer, Vylan’s correction of Ice-T’s original lyric to “n****r killer killer” is a powerful condemnation of every minority murdered by law enforcement, be it Tottenham or Minnesota. Vylan’s love of MDC rears its head on pummeler ‘Save Yourself’, ferocious percussion and DC style hardcore defiantly imploring you to believe in yourself in a world that perhaps doesn’t believe in you.

A courageous vulnerability characterises this record on a greater level than prior records. The intro track is a naked stream-of-consciousness, an exorcism of trauma, transgressions, and demons that gnaw and haunt. It’s starkly intimate, almost voyeuristic, Vylan dropping names of those that racially abused him and friends tragically lost, you can hear pain bristling underneath his flow. If the title track is arguably the thematic centerpiece of the album, the intro is its tortured soul. ‘Northern Line’ reaches for a more universal study of anguish, the terrible introspective battle one can have with commercial parasites, tabloid hate-mongering and commuter paranoia in a despondent capital city, like ‘Going Underground’ for the Brexit generation. Perhaps the album’s most significant moment is also its simplest, a final track of pure silence which forces you to both reflect on the beating you’ve just taken but also how you may have complacently been part of the problem.

As the world grows coarser and more pitiless, the fight against the stagnant and corrupt system combats with greater resolve and determination. We Live Here articulates with furious insight the daily war against white supremacy many have no choice but to fight and dares to lift the lid on the misguided, blue-collar army who swears allegiance to a flag that has done nothing for them.

We Live Here

Sluggish Shady ‘Volume Ø “Siberian Dungeon Rap Mix” (Tape Rip)’

Legend has it that a team of Russian engineers led by ‘Mr. Azakov’ drilled a borehole over 8 miles deep in the Siberian wasteland and breaking through to an unforeseen cavity. Lowering a heat resistant microphone into the newly dug crater revealed audio of a terrifying wail of screams and howls that reverberated around the abyss with chilling intensity. Man’s supposed reach into the literal bowels of Hell has been an enduring piece of internet folklore since the nineties, even being attested on the American Christian Trinity Broadcasting Network as proof of the eternal inferno which awaits the sinners who have yet to ‘see the light’.

Hip hop, Scandinavian black metal and medieval aesthetic have been crushed together by dark forces creating the murky world of dungeon rap, a lo-fi swamp of muffled beats and fetid gangsta whine clotted with sludgy flow. Acts like AKABXS, Chemm Doggy Dogg and the many doom DJs and occultist MCs which make up the Manchester Natural Sciences label have pioneered the dungeon rap sound: dank and putrid corpses of old West Coast G-Funk tracks left to rot in the Compton sun.

From L.A. to the icy desolation of Siberia comes Sluggish Shady. As the name suggests, a potent mixture of languorous breaks and a possible affinity with Eminem’s darker alter-ego hangs over his smoggy contribution to the dungeon rap underworld. Allegedly recorded in 1999, Shady’s new album Volume Ø “Siberian Dungeon Rap Mix” (Tape Rip) takes thematic guidance from the local ‘well to hell’ legends to conjure an inspired dirge of demonic possession in da hood.

The seven tracks across the tape all prowl down the back streets of broken needles and used rubbers like the gangs hunting for blood sport in Rockstar’s controversial video-game nasty Manhunt. An earnest warning from a concerned televangelist or Pentecostal pastor introduces Volume Ø…, the Siberian mouth of hell opens to a brief foray in the martial pomp of dungeon synth mired with tape hiss and analogue decrepitude. Second track ‘Dungeon Selection’ stalks along like a seedy curb crawler with acidic menace, foggy synths and stretched vocals bleed together like rancid horrorcore. The ubiquity of police sirens and gunshots as heard on Old School N.W.A is given a nod on the eerie ‘Tha Devil Sees Us’, expert drum machines snap and groove around creepy keys with the ramblings of a hypeman taken over by evil forces at its centre. A shade of Afrika Bambaataa electro percolates against gloomy vocal choirs on the morass of ‘Falling Castle’ before ending the album with the final descent into hell: stinging wind and evil incantations twisting with Wurlitzer organs into a whirling crescendo of torment.

Deftly balancing the arcane introspection of dungeon synth with a sound understanding of hip hop production, Sluggish Shady proves as much as any of his peers the unique way in which the genre’s best examples simultaneously has it’s cold, death grip in the streets of a world spiralling into poverty and violence, and the spectral residue of our corrupted forefathers that fester in the ground as the underworld hits, deals, and shoots-up on top of it.