Experimentation and theatricality are the stock and trade of Detroit hip-hop duo Passalacqua. With their convention-breaking aesthetic in mind, it’s appropriate that Blaksmith (Brent Smith) and Mister (Bryan Lackner) preface the release of their new album not with a run-of-the-mill music video, but a narrative short film. Filled with provocative imagery—horses and Hazmats, gilded gas masks and burning fields, social discord and double-barrel shotguns—The Baptism is a suitable showcase for the song from which its title is gleaned.
The six-minute movie is the product filmmakers the Right Brothers, Andrew Miller and Jamin Townsley, and was independently created in Detroit. The Hygienic Dress League, a street art duo with installations in several major cities, also collaborated on the film.
The song centering the work, “Baptism”, is the opening track off Passalacqua’s forthcoming record, CHURCH, due out August 19. The album is a collaboration with brother and sister Jax and Seth Anderson, founding members of spaghetti western-steeped indie rockers Flint Eastwood. In this capacity, the Andersons go by the moniker SYBLYNG.
“We sent an early version of ‘Baptism’ to Andy and Jamin months ago, and they had the outline for the video shortly thereafter,” Lackner said. “We trust those guys. They knew what needed to be said.”
The song and the record it’s culled from mark a sonic departure for Passalacqua, courtesy the Andersons. Rather than the smooth soul, jazz, and funk tracks Mister and Blaksmith rapped over on their prior records, CHURCH finds them backed by infectious and crashing beats amid atmospheric soundscapes, with Jax Anderson singing the hooks. “Baptism”, both aurally and in the film’s incendiary visuals, encapsulates the dichotomies at play throughout the album, sounding at once like the scorching of the earth and the cultivation of new life in its ashes. Its creators describe the short as “a film about the fears many Americans and the issues the people of Detroit are facing.” It also draws specific attention to the city’s recent decision to shut off water to its poorest residents and features footage from citizens’ protests.
“We really try and focus on telling a story with the videos we create,” Miller said. “When Passalacqua played early demos of their album, this track really jumped out at us. The lyrics are very powerful, and Jax’s chorus still gives me goose bumps. We knew we had to go big with this project, we told them our themes and ideas and they all about it. And when Hygienic Dress League signed on we knew we were dealing with something special.”