Album Review: Backxwash’s ‘God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It’

Backxwash

God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It

(Grimalkin Records)

The human experience, by its very nature, is personal and often painful, and yet institutionally, those with power and/or influence have seen it fit to allow additional, crushingly heavy layers of pain to be heaped upon individuals who don’t fit into the narrow mold of what they deem to be acceptable. This can be race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or a multitude of other things. Often it’s many. This occurs through bigoted law, socialization via government and corporate institutions (often working in tandem), and religion. It infects the working class, the regular people we see every day as innocent individuals are warped in the minds of others as objects of fear or hatred. It infects families. These people will project their insecurities on many things, but the go-to is often God. They will blame their failure to accept individuals outside of the assigned heteronormative binary on the supposed word of the Lord Almighty. They use God as a moral scapegoat.

The brutality we encounter aimed towards minority groups of all kinds is often visibly shocking, particularly in 2020 amidst the proliferation of social media and under an administration who openly emboldens those who would seek to inflict harm on those who aren’t like them. It’s physical violence. It’s horrific. It’s a big part of the picture. What seems to receive less attention, however, are the mental and emotional tolls: the suicidal ideations, the misplaced guilt, the understandable social paranoia. Zambian rapper/producer Backxwash’s God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is an autobiographical account of her experiences as a black transwoman regarding mental health struggles, societal fear, and in particular, a family’s moral scapegoating of God when faced with their own’s true identity.

Backxwash’s music is often labeled as horrorcore, which is some ways accurate but also something of a misnomer as well. There is horror here, but it’s often of the self and psychological in nature, rather than aimed outwards and physical. The opening title track is as explicitly violent as she gets and it only goes as far as “Cross my heart and hope to die, I wish blood on my enemies” and “Mama keep telling me, ask the lord for forgiveness / I want war with these bitches, I want corpses and weapons“, approached with the broadness of someone very much reluctant to engage in violent acts, though delivered convincingly enough to allow an examination of the mask many black individuals put on so as not to show weakness to said enemies. In the same song, she makes reference to a drug-induced suicide attempt in more detail. What’s most telling about how it’s approached is that she’s understandably reluctant to fully re-engage with that moment, but still more willing to do so than clarify specific enemies or how she believes they should suffer for making her feel this way, even theoretically. It’s more vulnerable and heartbreaking than any soft sadboi hip-hop you’re likely to here these days, but the anger that propels it forward also gives it far more weight.

Following the opener are singles “Black Magic” and “Spells”, featuring Ada Rook and Devi McCallion both of Black Dresses, respectively. God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is wisely not riddled with features given its insular subject material, but each contribution is meaningful and effective. Rook’s guitar on “Black Magic” gives the track a density, grind, and industrial heaviness that perfectly compliments Backxwash’s dark composition and seething vocals. McCallion meanwhile provides the hook for “Spells”, properly fey, drained, and ghostly given the occult-flavored beat. It’s probably a good time to note that unlike previous projects, God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is fully self-produced (outside of the Hell and Heaven interludes from fatherfake and SKIN respectively). Following Deviancy and the news that Backxwash would take the reigns this time around, while “concern” is not the appropriate word, there was a personal acknowledgement that production-wise Flying Fisher and Sugeryhead’s beats for tracks such as “Devil In a Mosh Pit” and that album’s title track were more compelling than “Burn Me at the Stake”‘s. Any pre-conceived notions have been dismantled: as excellent as Deviancy was, God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is a much more focused effort due to its consistent voice on production, which has been refined leaps as she seamlessly melds the heavier and more aggressive aspects of her past collaborators’ beats into her own witchy brew. Metal samples are prominent (Black Sabbath on the opener, for example), and fans of Lynchian psychological horror will be pleased to catch a clever call to Eraserhead.

Beyond the great importance of its pure conceptual material, the way its presented and delivered is what truly elevates God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It from a therapeutic writing exercise to a universally powerful classic that has the rare potential to actually help a wide array of listeners in profound ways. Backxwash is overflowing with charisma, but it’s not performative charisma: it’s relatability. While analogues can and will be drawn between tracks such as “Black Magic” and “Into the Void” and the work of Death Grips (especially considering both have received large base boosts via coverage from The Needle Drop) when hearing hooks like “I FUCK WITH BLACK MAGIC / YAH” and “I GO INTO THE VOID / FUCK!“, it’s important to remember that Death Grips are more performative and calculated than Backxwash, who puts forth a more grounded and potent picture of her experiences. If Death Grips makes pulp fiction, Backxwash makes biopics, but she doesn’t use that distinction as a “realism” crutch: she enforces it through her delivery. While “Into the Void” features the best hook on the album, it almost pales in comparison to the manic, confident verses which mix strength and fear until they’re indistinguishable, her voice a trembling yet immensely powerful force (“I’m paranoid that everyone is out to try and get me / I’m looking over shoulders as I’m passing through through the deli / Maybe cause my skin or maybe it’s the way I dress / I’m tearing out my limbs, I won’t make it till the next / I’m walking down the street, I’m anticipating death“). It never comes across “put on” in the way an MC Ride performance often does, crafting wild portraits of insane occurrences with blunt, crazed delivery yet complex prose that creates a disconnect. Backxwash is more inclined to call upon her own history and process it in real time and then magnify the voice of quieter traumas that go overlooked. There are some spots where it seems as though she’s trying to piece the words together as she says them, but it never veers into awkwardness or sloppiness. It’s just the relatable struggle to appropriately summarize emotions that are so twisted up, and sometimes connecting to that is more affecting than being presented with all the answers.

Though it’s often centered around difficult subject matter such as familial strain or misplaced guilt (not being able to be a big sister to her brother due to rejection from other family on “Adolescence”), paranoia (“Into the Void”), and drug use (“Black Sheep”), Backxwash still manages to squeeze in the very occasional spot of humor, such as the allusion to having a crush on Serge Ibaka on “Black Sheep”, without it being jarring. And while calling “Amen” anything resembling “levity” is quite a stretch, it can feel comparably so simply because it’s not anecdotal and instead a savage takedown of the opulence and hypocrisy of religious organizations donation-begging from poor folk so they can enrich themselves. The album closes on “Redemption”, which signifies a new clarity and self-acceptance, with Backxwash concluding that her redemption isn’t for the eyes of those who would reject her, but for herself, and it begins with relinquishing misplaced guilt over being herself (“Spend your whole life regretting this shit is pathetic / I wish I started sooner“).

It’s difficult to overstate just how vital this album is, and that’s not said lightly. It’s a time where art can feel frivolous as the world falls apart. Very rarely, however, there’s art that transcends being a great listen and ascends to being something that is or should be culturally significant. God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It feels like that rare art: devastatingly honest, creatively crafted, and hauntingly beautiful, it’s the type of thing that could save a life on the intersection of identity, and save the minds of those who’ve closed theirs to the plight of others before.

 

Favorite tracks: (All of them, but especially) “God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It”, “Black Magic”, “Spells”, “Into the Void”, “Amen”

 

Rating: Masterpiece

 

You can buy Backxwash’s God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It here or here.

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