The sophomore album from Zambian-Canadian rapper-producer Backxwash a.k.a. Ashanti Mutinta, God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is a stunningly concise, brutal and cathartic project that has been making some waves within Industrial Hip-Hop circles. Blending noise, punk and metal with horror-core rap and crossing over with other up and coming names in the independent music scene, this witchy and doom-laded project heralds the maturation of easily one of the most exciting new artists in this lane.
Backxwash herself started in her native Zambia making beat-tapes for local rap artists, before moving to Montreal and starting to rap herself at cyphers. She is still independently producing her own music, combining her uniquely demoniac style of rap with Goth and Metal influences, which appear in fuller force than ever on God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It.
A huge part of the narrative behind Backxwash’s music is her experience growing up transgender in a deeply conservative Christian family in Zambia, and she has described this album in particular as being about achieving her version of forgiveness for the misunderstanding, ignorance and hatred she encountered in this environment. As she callously states via one of the album’s catchiest and most Slim Shady-esque flows on “Black Sheep”; “it’s been years since I talked to granny and I think it’s pretty sick how I lost the family”.
It makes perfect sense to embrace the satanic and demoniac Wicken aesthetics forced onto oneself by those who would characterise you as evil or malicious. Backxwash leans into her Gothic influences impeccably, playing the monster she’s cast as with eerie bombastic precision, wallowing in profane, violent and sacrilegious imagery. However, she never loses track of the vulnerable human at the centre of all this who merits acceptance and love. The title itself can be read as an appeal for those around her to relate to her as a unique person, as a sister, a daughter, a friend, and not according to bigoted religious doctrines or guidelines treating her as “a case”.
The trans pride angle of the record also intersects neatly with the applicability of racial pride too, as she really digs down into the double meanings latent to the “Black Magic” aesthetic, implying something that is demonised yet all the more potent, dangerous and intoxicating for it. The layering vocal effects used at key points on the record suggest not only some form of legion demoniac possession, but perhaps also the power of pride and collective unity as she raps with the strength of many.
While her previous work has embodied more of an attitude of defiance and rebellion in respect to her gender identity, as well as a lot of humour on her first EP especially, on God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It, Backxwash’s music comes invested with more of a sense of paranoia and depression as well. The speedy horrorcore flows and rhymes are still in evidence, but the choruses and hooks are swarming guitar riffs and agonised wails. One need look no further than the opening passage of the intro/title track, with its tortured Black Sabbath sample refrain “Oh God no, please God help me!” and lyrics articulating satanic, anger–fuelled sentiments, pondering how beautiful a corpse she might leave behind were she to take some kind of ultimate step.
Of late, Backxwash has become closely associated with both Ada Rook and Devi McCallion of the duo Black Dresses. Black Dresses as a musical duo is now sadly defunct, ending the project shortly after the release of their fantastic Peaceful as Hell record earlier this year, but both members feature independently here on separate tracks. Guitarist Ada Rook features on the track “Black Magic”, supplying a mournfully wailing metal melody that shifts into the song’s devastating and crushing chorus, while vocalist Devi McCallion provides the eerily cutesy hook for the following single “Spells”. However, it’s Backxwash’s ferocious verses that steal the show on this latter track, each word and bar impacting like a bullet spat from her mouth. The instrumental incorporates a shamanic tribal chanting, on this track, and a similar one also reappears on the following cut “Black Sheep”.
The lyrics throughout the album suggestive of a sense of paranoia and surveillance develop on the track “Into the Void”, a cut that was inspired by all the times Backxwash found herself fearing for her life being followed home at night: “maybe it’s my skin or maybe it’s the way I dress […] I’m walking down the street and now anticipating death.”
The album is broken up with a couple of short instrumental interludes, Heaven and Hell, one by SKIN which samples the song “In Heaven” from the Eraserhead soundtrack, and the other by fatherfake. These tracks succeed in bulking out the short tracklist without feeling redundant or out of place and break up the ferocity of many of Backxwash’s choruses, the most fearsome of which are found on “Into the Void” and “Amen”. However, as monstrous as many of these tracks are, they never feel at all cluttered or incoherent, remaining entirely accessible and often very catchy too.
The album finally plateaus emotionally at some kind of peaceful resolution on the almost countryish sounding “Redemption” with Will Owen Bennett, arriving at, if not exactly forgiveness, then a form of self-assurance less inclined towards aggression. Some lyrics feel reconciliatory: “feel like you lost a son, but you gained a daughter”, but she still makes it clear that a line has indeed been drawn; “I wish I started sooner, f—k the hallelujah’s”.
At time of writing her album is longlisted for the Polaris music prize. Unfortunately, it has also been temporarily removed from Spotify. This is implicitly due to issues involving sample clearance, in what Backxwash describes as “an Exmilitary situation”, referring to the Death Grips breakthrough mixtape, which is absent for similar reasons. Ambitious sample usage is nothing new to Backxwash’s music though, as the phenomenal track “AESTHETIC” from her debut EP Black Sailor Moon beautifully flips the iconic riff from Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, as well as some playful snippets from the movie Mean Girls. Hopefully, the album will be back up soon; however, it’s still available to listen to for free via Bandcamp.
In so far as any criticisms I could level against this project, all I can really offer is that I was left wanting to hear more. These short, punchy sub-25-minute projects are extremely gratifying and immediate but I’d love to hear something more ambitious down the line with less of a ‘less is more’ mentality to it.
Backxwash has followed this album with a cavernous and demented 4 track EP Stigmata, produced by Ada Rook and featuring Rook and McCallion, DeathIrl, Alekto, Camp Blood and Joni Void. She is currently working on a forthcoming album Heretics and the People That Made Them, and is also planning more crossovers with Ada Rook and with experimental hip hop duo Clipping in the near future. Wherever future projects take her Backxwash is unquestionably a one of a kind artist worth paying close attention as she not only has a huge amount of skill as a rapper, lyricist and producer but has superb instincts when it comes to attracting fruitful collaborators like McCallion and Rook.