Smoke. Lots of it. Yeezy Season 2 desert tan toned smoke. Enough to obscure the group onstage almost entirely. But then this was to be expected.
Babyfather is a trio of made up of Dean Blunt, DJ Escrow and Gassman D – and the latter two members’ identities are shrouded in even more mystery than Blunt’s. But amongst the haze, three distinct voices and flows were heard over the course of a night that fluctuated from Ruff Ryders b2b Vybz Kartel, to Arca collaborations being played, to paraphrasing NORE, to fifteen minutes of merciless industrial noise and back to the chant of ‘20 Bandz, 20 Bandz, 20 Bandz’ for a minute before the close.
From doors until 10pm, DJ Escrow shelled songs by the likes of the aforementioned Ruff Ryders, Giggs, Sneakbo and Vybz Kartel, while picking up the mic to provide adlibs. “Mans a garage MC, I really shouldn’t be spitting over this,’ he said after spitting a few bars over Rhythm and Gash by Rebound X. It was a funny and knowing nod to the roots of grime.
However, before the smoke fully enveloped the dark room, the Union Jack flag was draped in front of Escrow. The aesthetics and artwork surrounding the Babyfather project are inherently British, whereas in this setting the sonics of the album itself sounded closer to the Ruff Ryders era of US hip-hop. As these sounds were coupled with material such as Esco Freestyle – named in reference to the late grime MC from Slew Dem crew, it created an atmosphere that relates specifically to those who’ve been raised in the UK and have been heavily influenced by hip-hop from across the pond. It’s a perspective that influenced the beats of Slew Dem producer Waifer, who took influence from the serrated snares of early Mobb Deep. At one point, Blunt led a chant of “No more parties in E8”, to the melody of Kanye’s No More Parties in LA.
The majority of the people in the room were white. Dean Blunt often finds himself in situations where he is held responsible for the toxic, appropriating areas of the experimental scene, leading to misconceptions that he is creating black art in mind for a white audience – even though the demographic his music reaches is an after-effect that’s outside of his control.
A lot of great music that can be loosely described as experimental is, like any form of art, prone to appropriation. However, the blame shouldn’t be placed on Dean Blunt’s shoulders as a black musician. Diasporic artists shouldn’t be held responsible for their entire scenes (in which they holistically exist as political) when white musicians are comparatively afforded zero accountability and the ability to create freely. That the experimental scene is largely a self-preserving white audience does not mean the artist of colour’s music will not resonate with and inspire a person of colour, particularly one from their own race. Speaking to NPR Music last week, Blunt described his recent experiences of walking around his native Hackney: “That’s the only time when it’s nice, when I see any brother or sister from my area that was like me, but maybe not quite like me at that time, and just they end up going to art school. And I didn’t go to art school. I didn’t go to any university. But they end up just having a wider perspective.”
The narrative of identity and heritage was weaved into the atmosphere of this gig. Through references DJ Escrow made about his Jamaican roots, to Beenie Man being wheeled over the ‘This makes me proud to be British’ mantra (a sample of one of Craig David’s 2000 MOBOs speeches), to Union Jack balloons being filled with NOS and sold to the audience, Blunt’s art remained as vague and visceral as ever.