Hip hop is always evolving. Six years after Kanye sparked debate with his ‘rockstars’ comment, rap music has pivoted ever more mainstream and hosts of artists have benefited from the new paradigm. But not everyone. Right now, it needs to change again, to make room for the stories of oppression and violence that we rarely hear told.
Backxwash, aka Ashanti Mutinta, is a queer trans rapper/producer from Zambia, now living in Montreal. Her last album, Black Sailor Moon, (inspired by the ’90s anime, the first to properly treat LGBTQ+ characters) related her experiences as a trans woman in the cis-dominated rap world. It was innovative (mixing up a sample of Britney Spears’s ‘Toxic’ with hardcore techno beats) and like nothing you’ve heard before. But, it’s definitely an understatement to say that as a regular cis-male, white and privileged, this isn’t the kind of rap music that gets talked about. Joining the Grimalkin label and collective, Backxwash’s new EP, Deviancy changes that. With its intense aesthetics and simply brilliant, demon-summoning flow, Deviancy demands everyones attention while lighting a fire trail for other marginalised voices.
There’s an energy to Mutinta’s delivery that is utterly infectious. Her treatment of grainy, gritty bass and guitar samples, pitched up against an anger like that of Zach De La Rocha is a sweet combination that lands its messages with every single beat. On the playfully sinister ‘Don’t Come To The Woods’, Backxwash works with hard core, almost cinematic backdrops and paints them with intersectional and sociopolitical themes. Even if it’s not possible to relate personally to these stories, they have the power to leave you inspired to stand alongside, lean in and fight beside them. ‘Devil In A Moshpit’ sees Mutinta team up with queer producer Flying Fisher in a grimy, tormented meltdown, and ‘Bad JuJu’ infuses Zulu chants and deathly drops into its witchcraft/queerness themes:
“In the wake of the spirit witches and leeches/ Homophobes keep wishing it couldn’t get any different/ Sentences in the sermons are pushing for a repentance/ My middle fingers too hospitable it’s feigning on all these bitches”
Backxwash is much more than rage; there’s a vulnerability and pride in her work, particularly on ‘You Like My Body The Way It Is’, a surprising and poignantly beautiful twist in the form of a love ballad. Its inclusion here is significant, an act of self-disclosure and self-esteem that sets everything else into context – you can’t understand the hurt and the anger elsewhere if this track passes you by.
Photo: Bianca Lecompte
‘Deviancy’ is released on digital, limited edition lathe cut vinyl and cassette on 12th July, via Grimalkin Records
Cassette proceeds go to Project 10 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Project 10 works to promote the personal, social, sexual and mental well being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersexed and questioning youth and adults 14-25.
Digital-only sales go to Nationz Foundation in Richmond, VA.