Review Babyfather - BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow (Hyberdub)

★★★☆☆

‘Wiley used to be a fucking shit MC’ could be the most earnest line that appears on a project from Dean Blunt all year. The artist, four studio albums deep has reputation for evasiveness, flirting with giving his audiences transparency then blowing a thick cloud of weed smoke in their faces. For his newest studio full length, Blunt has immersed himself with the modern age. The release, ‘hosted by DJ Escrow’, has been widely noted as an ode to hip-hop culture on both sides of the pond. The release is passionately dedicated to the UK, complete with a Union Jack-adorned hoverboard upon the sleeve. But there’s enough here to argue Blunt’s fascination lies also in contemporary hip-hop in the US. ‘Motivation’ is an immediate standout, with knocking 808s, a sleek piano loop and enough bass borrowed from the production techniques mastered by Altanta/Chicago producers Southside and Metro Boomin. Bar-wise, Blunt isn’t too far off from the ‘real deal’ here, riding the production smoothly after a snappy intro from the omnipresent DJ Escrow. ‘Shawty fell in love with a hustler / Shawty fell in love with a G’ Dean sings. The flow is tight, with no troll-like spaces in between bars like on Black Metal’s ‘Mersh’ or any number of his freestyles.

Still, you won’t find one of BBF’s deep cuts appearing on the front page of HotNewHipHop. Blunt isn’t fully ready for his big transition, preferring to put his hazy filter on another subculture. As a result, the project has a problem with immersion. You don’t enter the world of hustler or a G as its a lifestyle Blunt is so flippantly outside of. That’s why the album relies on Escrow, the scatterbrain, borderline-paranoid DJ to inject the missing personal grit. There’s the whirling track intros and outros, shoutouts to listeners and freestyles, bizarre, humorous and buzzing with personal earnesty (see Wiley line). He’s one of the LP’s strongest features, and is most likely the reasoning behind the release being credited to Babyfather. Elsewhere, the shorter tracks, including ‘Juice’ and ‘ glide past without making a mark. With a tracklist running 23 songs long, such indulgences can be shrugged off as filler, yet it’s easy to expect so much more.

These sketches are too short, unplanned and undercooked for a release with such a grand scope. Blunt’s ode to Britain here is tasking by intention, and though the release generally frustrates, the permeating unpredictability is what’s integral in Babyfather’s debut. Dubbed a band, ‘their’ effort is ironically the loneliest listen since The Redeemer, the gaping experiments completely isolated from the strong concepts also at play. Elsewhere, there’s plenty of infuriating moments on BBF. The mantra ‘this makes me proud to be British’ that features on the trilogy of ‘Stealth’ seems to be an overt troll technique, not nailing any message home that wouldn’t have been received the first time around. Other tracks ‘Flames’ and ‘Prolific Deamons’ which feature audibly gripping spikes in sound, don’t hold much power that isn’t frustration. Yet it’s hard to shoot holes in the choices that were so clearly made to antagonise. Questioning Blunt’s aims here could be the key to understanding BBF, though its appeal more lies in finding what you can and turning the rest of it down to a safer volume.

By Reuben Tasker