There’s a Tumblr, run by an anonymous user, called Where Is The Protest Music.
It’s devoted to cataloguing the seemingly endless cavalcade of articles demanding to know why contemporary artists are no longer writing political songs, a journalistic form long since perfected by dubiously coiffured Britpop chronicler John Harris, and which continues to spew onto our laptop screens like the contents of a broken effluent pipe. The articles rarely deviate from the template: middle aged white guy talks about Dylan, bemoans the ‘selfie generation’, wonders why nobody is writing songs for Red Wedge, maybe throws in a Grace Petrie reference to show that they are, in fact, still in tune with the kids. Collect your £70 fee; do not pass go.
The problem is that these people don’t actually understand what politics is. For them, it’s simple: man writes song on guitar about political party. In reality, of course, politics is far more complex than John Harris or Tony Parsons could ever have imagined. It’s about the struggles of living, day to day, in a world that wants you dead; about the daily acts of resistance that constitute the life of, for example, a working class black person in London, or Ferguson, or Cleveland.
Enter Dean Blunt, multi-faceted performance artist, accused prankster and formerly half of hypnagogic enigmas Hype Williams. Hyperdub have been keen to underscore on Twitter that BBF is not actually a Dean Blunt solo record, but one has to wonder what Babyfather actually is. Likely, it’s Blunt plus aliases, although BBF also features guest appearances from Arca and Micachu. But where Black Metal, one of last year’s very finest records, saw Blunt trading on introspection to the point of depression, on BBF he turns his attention to the world at large – or, more specifically, the experience of a black man in the UK.
The first track is the most explicitly political thing Blunt has ever done. It’s a five-minute meander consisting of a loop of a man stating, “This makes me proud to be British,” (possibly a speech from London’s 2012 Olympics?) over a delicately plucked instrumental. If the piss-taking wasn’t immediately evident, it becomes so through the drudgery of repetition. It sets the tone for the rest of the record. It’s about the multitudinous interpretations of national identity, about the exclusion of marginalised voices in moments of national celebration, about the sheer bullshit of state-sanctioned public events. It’s a difficult listen, but it immediately underscores the sense of despondency running through the record.
“It’s a poetic rejection of the limitations put on people who aren’t born into a comfortable life”
The backbone of BBF is a series of voiceovers spoken by a fictional wannabe pirate radio DJ, perhaps Blunt himself with his voice pitched up. They begin as a vaguely comedic parody of the struggle rapper before giving way into something celebratory, conflicted, complex, and ultimately tragic. On ‘Shook’ the DJ intones: “Fuck MI5, fuck MI6. Obviously you can hear this, but fuck you.” He wants to please you; on ‘Stealth’ he says, “If you’re into the Afrobeats ting I could play that too,” before playing on the tropes of the perception of second-generation immigrants: “I’m gonna move out, back to fuckin’ Africa or something”.
It’s an extremely difficult listen, especially when you hear tracks like ‘Greezebloc’, which self-consciously adopt American hip-hop themes to vertiginous effect. It’s all so acutely uneasy that the listener can’t quite understand who they’re supposed to feel for, who they’re supposed to sympathise with, even what’s real and what isn’t. “I don’t want any trouble with gang members,” says a kid on the Arca-featuring ‘Meditation’, only to be laughed at by the people he’s talking to, underlining the fact that there is so much more to the working class urban experience.
And all the way through, that radio DJ voiceover. On ‘Platinum Cookies’ there’s the hubris of youth: “Wiley used to be a fucking shit MC, yeah, and then he got sick. That’s gonna be me.” On ‘PROLIFIC DEAMONS’ he confesses, “I ain’t even making no Ps from the music ting yet.” It’s touching in its innocence, and one wonders how much of this is Blunt trying to re-situate himself away from the bullshit middlebrow art intelligentsia that has taken him to heart. For Dean Blunt, the joke has always been on (a portion of) his listeners. Here, he seems to be explaining that he is simultaneously more pure and more interesting than you are: he doesn’t give a shit about your Vyner Street private views, and that’s why he opened an exhibition consisting of a single stock photo.
And then it all comes to fruition in ‘The Realness’. “Don’t do the crime if it’s already been done,” the DJ says. “That’s why I’m here, y’know – not just to play tunes but to show man certain things, innit. You can rise up and be better like, you can advance yourself.” This, like so much on the record, plays into ideas about the realisation of marginalised power, about the rejection of the circumstances that hold down those who aren’t born into the white middle classes. It’s a wholesale, poetic rejection of the limitations that are put on people who aren’t born into a comfortable life, and it’s a rallying cry for everyone who wants to break free of the constraints into which they are thrust.
BBF is an important record, even if, at times, it isn’t a very listenable one. But then maybe that’s the point. Dean Blunt has never offered a sop to to your aesthetic prejudices – he just doesn’t care. Instead, he seems to want to make us stew over the horrible little aggressions that constitute the life of marginalised voices in the modern world. It’s wrapped up in a pastiche of so many different genres, but in fact BBF is a celebration of the passion and perseverance of sidelined people in a homogenised Britain – something that John Harris could never understand. Blunt doesn’t seem to give a fuck about anyone other than the people he’s writing for, and that’s what makes him so exciting.