In just 25 minutes, the self-styled Babyfather contrasts braggadocious raps with wildly shambolic instrumentation.
Born in the Hackney borough of London, Roy Nnawuchi (a.k.a. Dean Blunt) has been an outsider his whole life. “You have to understand, Hackney is really cut off from London in a very specific way…,” he told the Wire in 2014. “It’s almost like Staten Island out here." After the shooting of 29-year-old black man Mark Duggan at the hands of Tottenham police in 2011, Hackney became a locus of the furious resistance that consequently swept London. Writing for the Telegraph, Pauline Pearce, a Hackney resident who witnessed the riots, pinpoints gentrification as the catalyst for unrest in the borough. “It has caused real problems for the youngsters," she says. “A lot of them don’t know where they should go now, or where their real communities are."
By the time the riots broke out, Nnawuchi had been working for two years with Inga Copeland in the off-kilter pop duo Hype Williams. As his relationship with Copeland grew less and less productive, Nnawuchi embarked upon a solo career under the pseudonym Dean Blunt. He dropped his first project as Babyfather in 2015, yet another alias to add to a CV that can be read as a kind of laundry list of alter egos.
Nnawuchi’s Soundcloud page tells us that the performers on his second Babyfather mixtape Platinum Tears are ‘DJ Escrow’, ‘T’, ‘Mandy’, and ‘Gassman’. In typically mysterious form, we may never know whether or not these are all just nom-de-plumes of Nnawuchi himself. In a brief 25 minutes, the self-styled Babyfather contrasts braggadocious raps with wildly shambolic instrumentation; one minute, the listener is treated to new age synths, the next to incendiary UK club music. Platinum Tears is unapologetically black, a brazen statement from an artist who has known ample racial discrimination. “The … kids asking for me to sign their records be the same kids holding their girl tight when I used to walk past them," Nnawuchi says to the Guardian, “and that’s a joke I’ll never stop finding funny."
Glitching and cutting out intermittently, “Bruiser”, the first track here, seems to function as a means of weeding out anyone unprepared for the experimentation that is to follow. The high-pitched Quasimoto vocals of Platinum Tears are enunciated in a quintessentially British timbre; by no means does Nnawuchi deign to tone down his regional patois. On “+ Flow”, a PC Music approach to sound design is conspicuous. Abundant MIDI sonics evoke a late ‘90s videogame soundtrack, as synthetic strings and wind instruments complement a thumping groove. “Deeper” features wordless crooning over an instrumental reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Ambient series. This is all the more powerful for the strange context within which it appears. Amidst the male bravado that is par-for-the-course on Platinum Tears, here is an achingly beautiful vocal showcase devoid of structure. The particular brand of machismo that was on display in East London five years ago is present in the swaggering raps all over this mixtape, yet for a few short minutes, it’s interrupted by an impassioned lament -- for what exactly we can’t be sure.
To Nnawuchi, the Hackney of today is a sort of quasi-utopia, a palimpsest, all signifier and no signified. “[It’s] a place that’s either full of possibilities that aren’t real, that never really existed, or just generally a way brighter world that never really existed living here," he explains to the Wire. On “Millennial Rain”, the penultimate track on Platinum Tears, an apocalyptic vision is evoked, of a London torn asunder by ill-will: “It’s dark clouds out there … / Bad energy and that." Perhaps the true evil is the ambivalence embodied in post-gentrification Hackney. “It’s the inferno, man”, Nnawuchi says. “We’re right inside it”.