I'm a bit late on this one but I'm pretty excited for this project, so I felt like it was worth waiting until I could do a live review and get a chance to say something about it. I first found out about Dean Blunt around five years ago when I was using what.cd's better.php to grind to Elite (why I was doing that, I can't remember) and I saw a Hype Williams album. I, pretty reasonably I think, figured this must be the same Hype Williams that did music videos... and the strange, emotionally disjoint, sample-heavy stuff I heard felt very appropriate for someone working in a sort of "secondary" medium... I dunno if I can explain it perfectly.
Anyways, I realized at some point that it wasn't the same Hype Williams, that they had... basically nothing to do with each other, and that the music Hype Williams was a duo, and uhh... this should have been more obvious to me much earlier, hahaha. But still, even thought it was baseless, this perspective of "outsiderism" was extremely compelling as I started to explore the discography. On The Redeemer, it feels like a distanced, bleak, appropriation of music forms to suit a narrative of heartbreak and self-loathing, like "if this is what pop is, how could it apply to me?". And on Black Metal, with its overly-twangy guitar and track titles like "Punk" and "Country", seems like a more confrontationally confused "is this what music is? huh???".
But, of course, for all this insincere engagement, his music has a beauty that betrays a deeper love and understanding of these forms. No matter how bleak his message or experimental his form, there's a core of such masterful production that listening to his albums is still a wholly blissful experience. Now he turns his focus on hip hop, specifically the pseudo-spoken word breed of grime, a style that already has much of this "ironic distance" inherent in it. Taking on a "rap name" with the bizarre "Babyfather", and being hosted by the fictitious "DJ Escrow" , he's eager to subvert the subversive, seeming to be both disenfranchised with guys like The Streets and doubly disenfranchised with the many things The Streets was disenfranchised by. If none of this makes sense it's OK, like I said, it's more about the addictive blissful feeling of listening to the music than anything else. We got a taste on last year's Babyfather mixtape, and the Arco-produced single "Meditation", and it was... can I still use the word "banger"? Hell yeah I can.
Babyfather - "BBF" Hosted by DJ Escrow
1. Stealth Intro
Stealth + escrow makes me think of DNMs but uhhh let's not worry about that. "This makes me proud to be British" over some mandolins or something, I feel like this is... sarcastic, a little, hahaha. Getting semantic dissonance or whatever it's called, where they stop sounding like words. And the crowd(?) noise in the background of the sample(??). But yeah this insane juxtaposition, this is the exact sort of thing I was looking for, this is the exact sort of thing I love Dean Blunt for. Like I feel like I am being both attacked and serenaded. The listener is being both accommodated and wholly disregarded hahaha. I feel like if I was actually proud to be British I wouldn't be by the end of this. And if I was even just British I would somehow no longer be British by the end. It really seems like some surreal sarcastic rewriting of a lot of rap music, maybe? I'm not sure if I can explain it. Like proper grime type rappers, repping London in a way that the "convention" would find undesirable? How many layers of sarcasm, how many layers of irony, are we operating under. Oh and the cell phone ring tone?? And now an ambulance siren? What sort of harsh drone dystopia is this? Good lord. YOU HEAR THE SIRENS, YEAH? S
oh HELL YEAH, the way the sirens go onto the beat here, and this Quasimoto/Grime hybrid? What can I make of this? Is this Dean Blunt himself? I have no idea but whole shit I like this. Oh hell yeah "oh shit there's that nigga Dean" oh hell yeah, "I heard you lot are down for the ruckus", this is sooo grimey and yet has this radiant cleanliness to it... it's Madvillainesque, and you know i don't just throw around that compliment. Outro of this... insane alien distorted argument, what am I supposed to make of this? S+
oh hell yeah I listened to this one a bunch. ARCA BEATS HELL YES, Arca should produce tracks for Young Thug to bring about apocalypse. twenty bands twenty bands twenty bands, let it out let it out let it out, and that second of baby autotune. Insane. This sort of flow, conceptually aggressive but languid in output, hits this surreal hybrid of relaxing/drill. "Get these white girls out of my home" and then the beat goes NUTS, i love it. The baby sample works so well. "Pour some liquor on my head", with that super-British way of saying "liquor", I love it. The lighter sounds too... there's all these little sonic treats. The way the beat goes super fuzzy and underwater is so powerful too... You just wanna drown in it, or something, idk. And more samples from this argument, a little less distorted, but still very distorted, what can we say about this? It is intense, uncomfortable... "Take off those shoes as well!", I think this is a mugging or something? And then the sudden silence... the sound of money being counted? So mysterious... so good. **
A little interlude... more of the "money counting" sounds, I think that's what it is. "My babymother's stressing me out, innit?", interesting. "Like therapy innit", yeah, it is soothing. Good.
Oh hell yeah, so immediate, so straightforward... and this bassline is SUPER CATCHY, how is that. "Don't panic, don't panic". And a story that's a little slice of the UK grime underground. "Anybody snitch and they get left leaking", classic. Dean seems like... not at all depressed anymore??? LOL. But the whole persona seems to have some inherent sadness just through its juxtaposition with the real, or something. More sirens, very cool. Sirens are very sonically fascinating, from a noise perspective. "Fuck MI5, MI6" lol. S+
oh hell yeah are those some off beat "hey"s???? Is this beat... amazing? Yes. Oh it's the same lyrics as before, oh no now it changed. Cool cool. "Drop a lyric, cause every nigga needs a gimmick", interesting, unsure what that means. "If you're one of us, I mean, why?" LOL, did I hear that right? Oh man though this beat is just pure bliss, his piano usage and such, Idk how he does it. And that growing rumbling static oh mannnn, so good, so good. And the "Quasimoto" voice again on the outro awahawwguahahwuhauhauahuah *
7. PROLIFIC DEAMONS
GUN SHOT ON THIS ONE over some serious harsh noise, oh hell yeah, are we actually gonna go all the way with this? this is RAW NOISE. and the brief interludes of just vocals, holy moly, I can't believe he's gone this far with this. this is like some bizarre parody of Whitehouse like "hey weren't they rappers???" hahahhaha. "Ay, who's that?" "Fuck that man" hahahaha. As if nothing is "wrong". I mean I kinda like this stuff to begin with but I can see why this would be offputting to people. And the way the cell phone comes in oh man, "THIS ONE'S AN EXCLUSIVE" and the noise gets doubly harsh ahahahha. Still though he could have made it louder. He's being accommodating in that sense. Ahhhahaha. I can believe he did that. **
8. Platinum Cookies
and then right back into nice sweet beats. Platinum disco beats ahaha. I really feel this, I can tell already that I wish it was longer, or that he would rap on it OH there we go. WOW actually going in rn, "Got bars as well, you know". LOL this is hilarious. Talking about how good he's gonna get. S+
9. Esco Freestyle
Okay let's hear them baaaaaaars. This is another fantastic beat but that almost goes without saying. Yume Nikki industrial. "Runabout free, everyone looking for me, cause a man got an eighth of a key" lol I don't even think that that's that much?? I guess it is. It all feels very real though. "Back to my yard/Didn't try hard", this feels suddenly very very bleak hahaha. The cell phone ringtone, the sniffing, very very bleak, very very real. *
Oh, like... the intro? HAHHAA yeah exactly like the intro again, the same vocal loop, the mandolin now more stop-start. "Go straight through the fucking red light on this one", where is everybody coming from, the DJ trying to figure out how to appeal to people. "A little hip hop ting". I think this "character" is "DJ Escrow" maybe? I'm trying to figure out the little drama he's assembled. And this beat at the end, ohhhh man... S+
11. God Hour
oh hell yeah, this is niiiiiiiice. Feat Micachu? as in of "and the Shapes"? seems like a bizarre combination but whatever I feel it. holy hell this beat is nice though. I could listen to this for ~2 hours. AND THE VIOLIN yes that is perfect, how did they know I wanted that? the little "warp" at the end of the violin is the exact thing I love about Dean Blunt, in a perfect nutshell. "Gold leaf on my fingers keeps me from pain" haha wow. What are they saying? "Tourists in my heart, and in my brain"? Damn I love it though, and these little drink sounds at the end... ahhh, what a clear picture. **
WHO KNOWS ABOUT THIS ONE? I uhhh, I don't think I do. It doesn't sound familiar at least. WHATCHU GONNA DO? ah these are bleak existential questions, not ghostbusters or cops type questions. The sample(?) at :50 is strange haha, I like it though, should figure out where it came from. "What you gonna do when life's getting long?" :( "What you gonna do, make another mom cry?" :((((( "Fuck with your soul like heether"? Unsure what this word is. Cool tho S+
oh shit this beat what the hell??? And more of his "host" hahaha. "This one's emotional man" holy shit it is, how is this beat so emotional?? This is like a hilarious exaggeration of how DJs host I guess hahaha. So good. S+
14. HELLS ANGLES
hahahaha oh man these insults, this echo, and OH MAN THIS BEAT? what the hell??? "Take a few and abandon the lot", Dean going somewhat in, but also sounding like he's another 1mg of alprozalam from passing out. and there it is. S+
Hahahhaa sick name, cool beat Oooh OH YEAH right at :15, that was nice. ANOTHER ONE. is this a DJ Khaled memer?? Maybe. I think another one is just generally a cool thing to say. This beat is so simple and so genius, the way it reversed before the big transition was sick, the bells and stuff are sick, good god. "All you people just don't get it, and all my niggas is copacetic", that's the first time I've heard that word in hip hop gj. Oh man, the chimes, the doubling up, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful and silly. And the cellphone again! The drink again! *
16. Escrow 2
can't be repping three cliques at once!! hahaha. but those guys are beefing!!! hahaaa. This is good.
repping ARCA apparently oh hell yeah, dude this beat has already destroyed me in the best way. I have nothing I can believe about this anymore. The rhythm makes no sense, the chords make no sense, but I still wanna wild tf to meditative stasis. good god. I have to go listen to Mutant again after this I think. How does he make that "chunkakachunka" sound lol I have no idea. BLACK TOP NINJA, that's pretty sick tbh. god damn i'm feeling this. It really is sorta Burial-esque, which I hesitated to say for some reason... but it is LOL. there's no other way to put it. Beyond just the London aspect. This feeling of... off-kilterness, this very slight aggression, this heavenly radiance... ahh, so good. **
18. Escrow 3
lol shots fired at the young Gs. This is pretty funny. Man's rapped over all those beats! Good advice though.
19. The Realness
This sorta reminds me of Jaylib, too. Champion Sound, sorta, like some twisted London nightmare version. Move up, move onwards, that's the idea though. Chatting too much haha. Holy moly this song though, this is a pretty crazy sound. A way of showing love, of keeping it real. "The only person I could understand and depend on 100% was me. Trust was a luxury I couldn't afford" damn. But what does it mean to be real? oh SHIT cormega the realness! I know that one! I forgot about that one, but I remember now. This is so real... this DJ Escrow character is real as shit too. "If I die, would you cry?", "You wanna rise up on some Marcus Garvey shit" hahaha. OH MAN GETTING NOISY AGAIN *
oh shit another harsh noise interlude? i can really fuck with it. It feels like... a really abrasive attack on the meaning or comfort we could derive from these crises. If you don't know what realness is, if you have nothing to rely on, you're living in hell, or something, and this is what hell sounds like, maybe. They have to make it actually abrasive. It can't just tell you. You can't have fun with it. fuk u mate!!! haha and the switch, the second one is even better. Nice. *
oh shit final Arca beat, way too short I know already. The cellphone again! It sounds so good in this context! In this .flow-esque nightmarescape, someone is trying to call you. You're annoyed on top of everything. toooo shooooort. *
22. Stealth Outro
ahahahahahha holy crap, and again on the outro of course, good lord. this album is absolutely insane jesus. this album is like this show I watched last night, Haifuri, where they make you think it'll be cute and then they get fucking bombarded and then they still try to make stupid jokes. AHhhh, the vocals fade away, into this delirious but beautiful mandolin. This is the sort of music you'd have a vague dream about and then wake up frustrated. The way this mandolin section seems to get "tripped up" or "confused"... there's an aggressive illogic to this album that pervades all. How compelling! good god. direct attack on the sensibilities. This thankfulness for his fans feels genuine, transcendentally genuine. It's beautiful. *
Unified! Unified! Man could do a big fucking ting! But you have to overcome division. and of course THIS MAKES ME PROUD TO BE BRITISH, and I believe it in an extremely confused way.
Alright, that's it.
This makes me proud to be British
Wow, what a crazy album. Conceptually, I think it's supposed to be a live DJ set at a party hosted by DJ Escrow, the Quasimoto-esque "character". And in a sense, it's a microcosm of all these struggling non-famous DJs trying to make a name for themselves, and it feels like a very real and loving portrayal... when he's asking for people to say where they're from so he can play stuff they might like... when he's rapping a bit and talking about how it was pretty basic, yeah, but he'll get better... when he's promoting messages of unity and respect that are cliche, sure, but ring all the more true when you consider how many people are espousing these cliches without anything being accomplished... when he explains the appeal of Cormega's music... It's a unique and fascinating character study, one bleeding with empathy.
But at the same time, there's a strange diegetic break, where what we're hearing couldn't possibly be his DJ set. Stuff like interjections of harsh noise, the strange sound effects usage (a whole code generated through clinking ice cubes and sirens and cell phone ringtones), the weird distorted samples of muggings, and Dean's rapping itself, fly in the face of what could make sense to play at a party. So it isn't just a recording of that, but of an entire slice of the British underground nightlife that contains it. And all of that is summarized in the ambiguously ironic/beautiful "Stealth" segments, and the endlessly repeated "This makes me proud to be British"... But if that's the "ultimate" layer, then how do we get "DJ Escrow" talking over it at the end?
I dunno man. It is a very tangled hierarchy of meaning, and one that doesn't seem to resolve in any sort of coherent or singular emotional message. It reminds me of a lot of stuff that covers British subcultures, like... this video comes to mind, or the TV show Shameless, maybe... where the highlights and lowlights of the entire scene are presented in equal measure, where nothing is glamorized but you're still enamored by the camaraderie, the freedom. I think it's very cool, definitely a rare cultural attitude that one should be sincerely proud of, as a Brit.
I dunno, I dunno, I could be way off the mark with all of this, I'm not even British lmao. The more important thing is that the music is, as always, wonderfully produced, compellingly varied, taken to so many extremes with a sort of disregard for comfort or expectations, but a greater understanding of what makes memorable and meaningful music. Good stuff overall. I dunno. I'll think about it more.