UPDATE Oct. 20: Last night Backxwash won the Polaris Music Prize for the album God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It. The article below was originally published on June 6.
Ottawa/Montreal rapper and producer Backxwash doesn’t hold back on the incendiary and impassioned album God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It. In fact, there were times when she even surprised herself.
“These are my thoughts, and I’m not really used to hearing myself say this stuff,” the rapper, real name Ashanti Mutinta, said from Ottawa. “The first time I heard myself say this stuff out loud was in a verse, so it was scary to write and put out there. These are my inner thoughts, exposing them for all to see without a filter.
“Sometimes it can be alarming, to be honest,” she said about writing personal lyrics. “This is what I’m thinking about? Sometimes it’s a feeling like it’s part of your healing process, facing them and being able to plan to next part after that.”
True to the album title, God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is a battle between light and darkness. Backxwash had a religious upbringing in Zambia and as a trans rapper who grew up watching sermons on television at her grandmother’s place, she hopes the project is “relatable for queers who were raised in the church and had those same experiences.”
The last track on the album, “Redemption,” samples one of those TV sermons she watched as a kid, and lyrically it gets to the heart of where Backxwash is at right now. She’s mostly left the church behind but has become closer to her tribe, and the album finds her battling each side in real time.
“It’s about forgiveness, but I don’t even know what version of forgiveness is the right one,” she said. “Have the people who have done me wrong, do they deserve forgiveness, and do I myself deserve forgiveness? And is it just about the past, or are you scared that these people are going to hurt you again?”
A largely self-produced affair (Montrealer Will Owen Bennett co-executive produced), Backxwash turned to an unlikely sonic palette to best extract her most personal verses: classic rock samples. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and even a Jimi Hendrix demo figure prominently on the record.
Backxwash said the samples fit the “sad, brooding” mood of the album perfectly, and that her favourite thing about the producer side of the equation is taking particular elements and driving them further left. While her unique sonic and lyrical brew is downright intense here, she says there’s more to come. It’s why she moved to Montreal for a short period — it was an inspirational place to find her voice.
“I finally found my sound. I’m really happy with what I’ve been creating. It sounds authentic and I want to up the ante,” she says. “My dream record is to make something like Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition. I think that’s a perfect record, and I’m still trying to make my perfect record. Something more experimental and something rawer, and even more brooding.”
As Backxwash continues to hone her craft, one thing listeners can expect is continued intensity.
“Within all of that pain and destruction, I think it’s nice to remain hopeful at times, but hopeful in a realistic sense. It sounds pretty jaded, but that’s been my experience. Maybe there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, but how much space is there for us to pass through? It’s that type of optimism,” she says. “And I think the world gets me more jaded. When I was younger I was a bit naïve, and I learned how the systems around us work, and it made me more jaded only because from the get-go I was put at a disadvantage. What I’m trying to communicate with my music is you’re not really alone by having that feeling.” ■
God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is out now. Backxwash performs as part of Suoni per il Popolo on Sunday, June 7, 9:30 p.m. See details about the live album-launch here.
For more about Backxwash, please visit Bandcamp.
For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.