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Dean Blunt: 'Every Day Is A Lifetime'

Dean Blunt, left, with the other two members of Babyfather, Escrow and Gassman, who have just released <em>BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow.</em>
Richard Blackwood
Courtesy of Backspin Promotions
Dean Blunt, left, with the other two members of Babyfather, Escrow and Gassman, who have just released BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow.

Hip-hop music and culture informs most things, including works of art and creative expression that don't sound anything like an MC over a break beat. Though not everybody would file Dean Blunt's output as music that falls under the purview of Microphone Check, we are far too intrigued by his work to find out he would be in Los Angeles and not ask him to sit with us. Over his career as Dean Blunt, as half of Hype Williams and now with the trio Babyfather, who have just released a new album, BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow, he hasn't seen much use for face time with the music press, so we were happily surprised when he said yes.

Dean Blunt's music can be, for listeners, a chance to momentarily exist austerely, outside the expectations of genre labels and references that have become so familiar they're less like inside jokes and more like uniforms. His songs make your brain briefly unbound and unwieldy. So does conversing with him.

DEAN BLUNT: And I'm Glenn Danzig.

FRANNIE KELLEY: C'mon. It was all good just a week ago.

BLUNT: Yeah.

KELLEY: Thank you, Dean Blunt, for being here with us.

BLUNT: Yeah, thanks for having me. Thanks.

KELLEY: We were just speaking about sort of the very nature of interviewing and being interviewed — why are you here with us today? We're so honored that you're doing it.

BLUNT: Yeah. I don't know. I guess you just go off a vibe. And I think you've chatted to one or two people that I vibe with and — yeah, just vibing. And yeah, I'm happy to be here. I'm kind of in the present, if you know what I mean. But yeah, it's cool.

KELLEY: Thanks.

BLUNT: Yeah.

KELLEY: I think it helps that Ali is very dressed up today.

BLUNT: It does. It really does. Yeah. Crisp.

KELLEY: You got the vest.

BLUNT: Looking crisp.

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I got the memo that that's the ultimate, key element to a great interview.

BLUNT: Yeah. Got to be crisp .

KELLEY: There's actually a reporter, Gay Talese. He always — he would wear these — what's the word — bespoke suits. He would always dress very very nicely no matter where he was going, because it was respectful to the people he was speaking with. I think about that.

MUHAMMAD: I don't know. I will think about it.


MUHAMMAD: I think there may be some confusion.

KELLEY: What do you mean?

MUHAMMAD: Cause, you know, the genre is not wholly supportive of that.

KELLEY: Of dressing well?

MUHAMMAD: And then, you know, we can rewind to see — good thing this is not a video show, for me. But if anyone goes back 26 years to the original dressing, they'd really be confused right now. But, anyway. We're happy that you're here.

BLUNT: Cool. Bless. Yeah, man, thank you.

MUHAMMAD: What're you doing in Los Angeles?

BLUNT: I'm doing a re-make of Hollywood Shuffle. I'm making it myself, so I'm out here. After my show. I played a show on Saturday. And I'm here finishing, or trying to finish, the film. Yeah. So I'm just doing that.

MUHAMMAD: When you say you're making it yourself, could you give more detail?

BLUNT: As in, I'm getting funding from a guy that I know and kind of doing it myself without the help of, like, someone that works nine-to-five. So kind of like, yeah, just making it myself.

KELLEY: What's Hollywood Shuffle?

BLUNT: Hollywood Shuffle is an old film they made — I think it's an '80s film. I don't know who it was by. It's like one of the first black satirical comedies I've ever seen — American black satirical comedies. And it's when Eddie Murphy was a stereotype actor for black acting in America. And this film, it's a parody of that. Everyone is cast as Eddie Murphy. There's a long audition, and they always want the guy to be Eddie Murphy. It's pretty funny film.

I am — I think the Wayans, one of them's in it. Loads of people are in it. I can't remember the guy that is in it. He played — I can't remember — not Meteor Man. Maybe it's Meteor Man. Can't remember. Anyway, so yeah, I'm re-making that anyway. I can't afford the original actors, so I've found look-alikes of each. And yeah, it cost just about enough.

MUHAMMAD: Why'd you come all the way to L.A. to do that, though?

BLUNT: Well, I had — it kind of worked out with the show I was doing. But I mean, why not? Hollywood Shuffle is about Hollywood.

MUHAMMAD: That was like the most obvious answer.

BLUNT: Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. I had to. It wouldn't work in Hackney, man.

MUHAMMAD: I had to ask.

BLUNT: So yeah.

KELLEY: Well, I've heard that you were also working on a film about a black action —

BLUNT: Black action — yeah, the stoner — yeah, that's going to get finished soon. I think. I need to get it done by when it needs to be out, I guess. So yeah. It's almost done. Almost done.

KELLEY: And that one, is it set in Atlanta?

BLUNT: It's both. It's in London and Atlanta.


BLUNT: Yeah, it's set in both.

KELLEY: So why Atlanta?

BLUNT: Atlanta because — I don't know. It's a place that has so many classes of black people. From where I grew up, I think there was a certain kind of utopia that I imagined when I was younger, and Atlanta embodies certain elements of that. So Atlanta is kind of really essential for the second part of the film, for many reasons that kind of even got revealed as I was shooting the film, to do with these connections between London or where I'm from and there. But, yeah, I just kind of had to finish the film there.

KELLEY: There's tons of films there, shot there, right?

BLUNT: Yeah, I didn't know. I didn't know. I just found my spot — and yeah — shooting it.

I mean, it's not even necessarily something that shows Atlanta. Like, I'm not going to Magic City. Nothing like that. I just think that there's a lot to be said for what happens when you're in a place, whether it's like psychic geography or whatever. So, yeah, something happens and it charges a place when you're there, and that's what comes out of you. It's what comes out. So Atlanta is one of the places, and London's the other.

KELLEY: That makes sense to me.

BLUNT: Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Do you have to go through a lot of red tape with regards to work visa when you're shooting? Or are you on the easy side of dealing with that process?

BLUNT: Yeah. I'm on the easy side.


BLUNT: Yeah. I'm on the blessed side.

KELLEY: I am very curious about your perspective on the music that we cover, not being an American. And I wonder — so when you played New York a few nights ago, and what did you feel like was the reception to your music there and what kind of expectations do you think that people have?

BLUNT: One, I don't really — I have — I don't know. I make sure the place is too smoky for me to even feel anyone else being there, and so I can smoke. So I don't know about people, but the sound was bad in one venue. And I guess you can tell if people are talking more. Or maybe that means that the sound system's not loud enough. So maybe it was that.

I don't know. I don't know. Yeah. Expectations. No idea. I just — in and out, hit and run. And I have like a guy that takes me out the back door. So I don't have to, like, talk. So it's just like a memory by the time I'm — like ten minutes later.

KELLEY: So you don't want to talk to fans?

BLUNT: Well, I don't really have —

KELLEY: Quote unquote.

BLUNT: Yeah, I don't really — it's not really like — it's got nothing to do with what I'm doing. So I just kind of keep that out of everything, and just hang out with my people, I guess. And yeah, keep it normal.

KELLEY: Right. Do you think about how your music will be received? Not on stage, but just ever, at any part of your process?

BLUNT: No. I don't at all. I just do it. I just kind of do it. And yeah. Yeah, I don't think about it at all.

KELLEY: Did you ever think about it? Or, in what — when?

MUHAMMAD: I think — it's a really good question. You think about — I've thought about people, but not completely in the sense of, "Oh, I have an idea for a song, and I know that people will respond to it in this way, so I'm making it just for that point." That's not been my process. It's been knowing that the larger target at some point will be for the people, with hopes that they will receive it.

BLUNT: Yeah. I think it's like a loop. It's like a loop effect. Like, you receive, and you just make. You're compelled. You're kind of — you're at your limit, and you have to just (pushing noise) something back out, and it's just a loop. And that's just how it should be. You give back to the world that gave you stuff. And it just keeps going back, and that's about it.

And I don't really think people come into it, really. For me. It doesn't — it's just like, I absorb a lot of stuff, and I have the chance to purge it. And that's about it, and that's kind of enough. Or else I'd be a pretty bad person, or I used to be anyway. So it's kind of like a way of purging. And that's it really, for me.

MUHAMMAD: Why do you isolate yourself after your show? Is that more for just your comfort level or —

BLUNT: It's not isolate — I'm just not — I'm just not interested in certain sides of that stuff. And I think I'm happier where I'm comfortable. Yeah. Happier where I'm comfortable, wherever that is and whoever that's with. And it's never around people that know me for what I'm doing. Unless they're a certain kind of person, but it's not many of them. So yeah, that's about it really.

MUHAMMAD: What kind of person is that?

BLUNT: Just a certain kind of person. There's a certain kind of persuasion, but it's like, yeah, it just doesn't always go down like that. So at least in my Brooklyn show, I had to bounce and get out of there, and just — yeah, I just don't really need to talk to anyone really.

MUHAMMAD: I wonder if that's cause you got the new Brooklyn vibe or if you would've been that way with the old Brooklyn vibe.

BLUNT: I don't know if old Brooklyn would've wanted me, to be honest. That's a question as well, isn't it?


KELLEY: Mm-hmm.

BLUNT: Yeah, that's always a question. That's probably the big problem. The old Brooklyn wouldn't have wanted me, so we're in this existential flux where we gotta get out of new Brooklyn real quick. Hit and run.

KELLEY: Why would old Brooklyn not have wanted you?

BLUNT: I don't know. Who knows? It's like a — I want to say it's a yin-yang. It's like a funny — old Brooklyn wouldn't want certain parts. Maybe let's say they wouldn't want certain parts, certain elements, maybe.

KELLEY: Yeah. I mean, I think —

BLUNT: But I wasn't there, so, you know, I don't know.

KELLEY: Yeah, I guess Ali could answer that.

BLUNT: Yeah. Exactly.

MUHAMMAD: How do I say that? I was a Brooklyn boy that had a mom that said, "You should get off the block, and I'ma go send you here, and go there and send you there." And you go there, and you experience different things, and you come to the block and you like, "Yo, there's a world out there. Come with me." "Nah, I'm cool." But there are people in Brooklyn who —

BLUNT: Yeah, I always get reminded of that when I walk in my area. I always get reminded of the people that I used to grow up with, of a certain mentality. Let's say less curious-minded people.

MUHAMMAD: How come this experience has not given you a — or maybe it has — a drive to make it — win people over, change the minds of people who may not just be completely open, but slightly open?

BLUNT: So I think, as I said, things kind of go naturally, if you receive, absorb, and give back. Things connect if you do it for long enough, which is forever if it's a thing you have to do. It happens over time.


BLUNT: So I don't really — I was not — I'm never — I've been — I thought about things the same forever.

MUHAMMAD: So you're not forcing anything.

BLUNT: Never have. No, I'm not really trying to. I'm just doing my thing, and some people seem to be letting me do whatever I like, whatever idea. So that's me just making stuff that I want to see exist, is all it is about, I guess. Yeah. And that's pretty cool, I guess.


BLUNT: Yeah. That's about it.

And everything else just kind of happens. Like, you can't control — I know that I meet brothers in the street in my area that say certain things to me, and they're brothers that definitely wouldn'tve been saying that s*** a couple years ago. And that is the only good thing that has come out of this.

That's the only time when it's nice, when I see any brother or sister from my area that was like me, but maybe not quite like me at that time, and just they end up going to art school. And I didn't go to art school. I didn't go to any university. But they end up just having a wider perspective. That's about it. I didn't really expect that to happen. But that's the only good — or like the best or only good thing that's come of it, really.

MUHAMMAD: That's a huge reward to inspire people.

BLUNT: Yeah, it sounds pretty corny as well and cliché. But it's like, you put work — you do stuff and you do it for long, and it connects. And you don't have to do interviews. You haven't got to do s***. You just do what you're doing, and it does what it has to do. It just does its thing. You just leave it and don't try and control it too much.

So yeah, I think that's it. That stuff I've realized — I've noticed that stuff recently. Just cause I've been in the Ends more in London. And that's been blessed, cause it's definitely hard to make sense of why you're doing this s*** sometimes. So it's definitely not a reason, but it's definitely blessed to have that. Cause I was one of those youths. So maybe it's completely narcissistic or whatever.

MUHAMMAD: So do you feel, I guess prior to having that interaction of people who are moved by the gift that you shared —

BLUNT: Young, black, inner-city people, specifically.


BLUNT: Yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Prior to having that sort of impact, what is your drive? When you set out to wake up — well, you don't set out. We just wake up if the creator gives us that, right? But you wake up and it becomes what for you?

BLUNT: You mean my drive for music? Or just —

MUHAMMAD: As an artist.

BLUNT: My drive, to be honest, is to — my drive is whatever I get driven by. And that just kind of comes. And I think that it's really good to trust that the mind and the body is all the same thing, and that you leave it to do what it's gotta do. And it tells you what you gotta do sometimes, or another source tells you, or whatever. So I don't wake up with that. I wake up and get guided by something. So it's different. So it's day-by-day.

MUHAMMAD: I believe in a "give us this day our daily bread" sort of thing. And what I draw from that is, I try not to stock my refrigerator for groceries for the week, cause I might not live to see the full week.

BLUNT: Right. Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: So I understand what you're saying.

BLUNT: Yeah, every day is a lifetime, at least for me or at least — whether it's work or whatever.

MUHAMMAD: So when you are capturing a moment, though, there's the intent to go and to put something — leave that inspiration that you've gotten, and you put it down. Is there any design that you are really giving it to push one particular way or are you just completely leaving your art free to move how it moves? From recording, to the way it's put out, to the way that you share it with the world.

BLUNT: Yeah, once again I think it just flows, and you just follow whatever guide — whatever it's saying. And it says a lot of things that it's not about me agreeing or not. It's the only guidance I've got. So I just follow it, and it tells me — and when I'm making tunes, it happens anytime, anywhere, with whatever, with whoever. And a record or a thing is usually a combination of a million different intentions, because there isn't one. As I said, it's like a lifetime everyday or whatever, or every minute or every whatever.

So yeah, I think it takes a bit of time for your brain to be open. Like, it's not open enough to let stuff come through and to make work in that way, cause I guess it can be pretty intense. So I make a lot of work quickly, because to work like that is just a lot. You're absorbing a lot, and you're doing a lot in a short space of time.

So I think I've learned — at least over time, I've realized that I have periods on and off, at least at the moment. And that's the only thing I know as far as putting stuff down or whatever. But, yeah, it all kind of flows. It's all part of the same thing kind of.

KELLEY: It seems to me like the most important — the feeling that I most get from your music is this patience. And when I bring patience to it, that's when I get the most out of it, when I let it be almost meditative.

BLUNT: I think most things — when you let a relationship be is when it's good. And when you let anything be and just leave it to be what it is, it's good. So I think that's kind of how things should be, really, if that makes any sense.

KELLEY: Yeah. It does.

BLUNT: Yeah. I don't know. I don't think about that with music, but — I don't intend that with music. But we all have an urge to control things, and the things that we love the most or the things that are most beneficial are best when they're left out of control and just to be. And so I guess that happens with listening to music as well, or it can.


BLUNT: Yeah.

KELLEY: So do you — you meditate.

BLUNT: I do TM, but that's something I picked up recently — I picked up in the past couple years. Because I realized that it follows a certain way of thinking that I already have, which is mind-body and just letting things rise to the surface and following that. And that you're — what rises to the surface, what you think is a random thought, is a thought. And that's about it. And, so, take that.

So TM is just like — if you want to stay living in London or anywhere like that, I think you gotta just — you need to hold on to something. So yeah, TM's my ting.

KELLEY: I wish I knew more about it. That's all.

BLUNT: I mean, there's a very slimy David Lynch vibe to it.

KELLEY: Yeah, I've heard.

BLUNT: And that's really not the one. And there's not — there's another vibe, and it's just a very good combination of Eastern and Western philosophies, which is of course how you get a balance. And, so, yeah, I just think it's really important to have a balance, and that that is one thing that provides it.

And it's — why I say it has the Western is because it's got a lot of cynicism involved. And you don't have to force anything. You don't have to make your mind into, like, tame. You just gotta leave it. Let it be what it's gotta be, and it will do what it's gotta do what it's gotta do.

So I guess I picked it up, cause I realized or I heard or I found out for a person that it kind of goes in line with how I think anyway, or how I work or whatever. Or how I've been. So yeah.

KELLEY: And so is there any sort of correlation between absorbing everything that you're absorbing and then putting out what you're putting out through whatever form your art might take? Is it —

BLUNT: They don't happen at the same time.

KELLEY: Oh, no, of course not.

BLUNT: OK. Yeah, yeah.

KELLEY: I meant more as an analogy.

BLUNT: Word, word. Yeah, yeah.

KELLEY: Which maybe is totally forced and ridiculous, but I guess I'm interested in what are these things that you're absorbing. Because as an American listening to your music, I'm fairly concerned, or fairly sure, that there are references happening that I just have no idea, that were I British I would pick up on.

BLUNT: I mean, not even if you were British. If you were from a certain part of Britain with certain — yeah, my word is persuasion. Yeah, maybe. But it's not — the references aren't on purpose. They're just things that end up being in it. But I guess —

KELLEY: Right. Sure.

BLUNT: I guess, yeah, there are definitely things from my background or from where — what I've been around, so. Maybe they are British. Yeah, I don't know. I don't even know what it's in the music anymore. I forgot. But yeah.

KELLEY: Right. OK. Well that — yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Are there things that when you are listening to American music that strike you as not the way you would ever put something or a joke doesn't make sense or a style that seems odd?

BLUNT: What's that? Something in American music?

KELLEY: Mm-hmm.

BLUNT: No. I mean, American music's pretty —

KELLEY: No. Would you —

BLUNT: The world consumes America. We're all the same, so, yeah, it's kind of cool. Yeah.

KELLEY: Really? It's cool?

BLUNT: It's not. But, like, even the conversation of it not being cool is, like, kind of old as well.

KELLEY: Right.

BLUNT: But yeah.

KELLEY: Do you consider what you make — do you know who Nicholas Payton is?


KELLEY: He's a jazz musician, and he's a writer.


KELLEY: His idea is that jazz is dead. You can't use the word jazz. It's called Black American Music, BAM, and he — I'm way oversimplifying his argument. I'm wondering if there's any use for you in genre terms and how you kind of avoid them or reject them.

BLUNT: I think genre terms are really connected, at least for me, to race and boundaries, and I think if you've been — if you've experienced any kind of isolation or boundaries, you definitely treat genres in the same way that you feel about race, I think, naturally, for me. So I don't think about genres that consciously. It's not something that I think of. It's just that I consume, and — I get really put off by people that are too conscious of genre. I find that people who are too conscious of genre usually are way too conscious of race and way too conscious of s*** that I also am irritated by. And so I usually avoid — don't really f*** with them, in general, or make music with them, or whatever.

Cause I don't really — I'm not really bogged down by what's — like, we're just not talking about that. I don't see it. And I don't see it because I don't see a lot of things. I didn't see a lot of things. So I think that for me, at least, they go in direct correlation. Because I wondered why I couldn't experience everything, and I was open to it. So from the position I've come from, whatever, political whatever, socially whatever, I definitely feel like genre, the way I see it is exactly the same, or it comes from the same thing. There's just no, yeah, boundary to it. Or there shouldn't be.

And I think the links between music are very very clear — very very clear — and between elements in one genre that have such kind of racist undertones are so much prevalent in another. And how dub sound system culture runs through to doom metal and bass sound — like it's all the same s***. And everyone's all smoking weed and everyone's all in the church and it's all a congregation and it's all the same s***. It's all the same s***.

So I think that music's great because it makes human beings really stupid. Because it transcends any b******* that they say. It just does what it does, and it communicates past anything. So, yeah, I think genres don't really matter at all. I don't even know the names of that many genres, to be honest.

I just found out that a certain kind of hip-hop is called trap. I thought it was just called hip-hop. I thought it was just a certain thread of street hip-hop that's just carried on, and now it's called trap and it's specifically called something. S*** is quite funny. Because there are people that speak about it like it's a thing, specifically. But it's got — the same kind of clubs that I heard Ruff Ryders in are the same clubs that play it in my area, so I think it's kind of — I think it's funny. People seem to really like to create these categories to maintain the order, should I say.

KELLEY: Yes, I think it's about distribution and knowledge. Hierarchies.

BLUNT: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Can't have everyone having everything. That'd be a problem.

KELLEY: Right. Exactly.

BLUNT: Big problem. Big problem. Look what happens when a few things mix. It changes. It really shifts a whole lot. And that's just a little bit.

KELLEY: Right. So you told me earlier about how you were playing, and somebody was requesting trap from you. And you couldn't give it to him, but you understood what he was asking.

BLUNT: I mean, it was like a bro in a bridge-and-tunnel club in Manhattan, like a white guy asking a black man, "Can you play trap? Cause I'm hearing you play noise." I understand what he wants, and we just left it at that. It was kind of that.

KELLEY: He wanted you to conform to what he thought you were.

BLUNT: Yeah, that happens so much. But he was mouthing it. But he was — it was — maybe cause I was high at that time, it was very animated. But it was — he was a funny cat. We locked eyes. Apparently if you look at a dog in the eyes and do this, you can hurt its balls. So I did that. And he — we had a moment, and he looked away.

KELLEY: You won.

BLUNT: So he's a dog, I guess, and he shook his tail and moved away. So, yeah. All good. No more trap.

KELLEY: I think that — yeah — with genres and all these things, they do seem designed to sort of stop music from happening. And I guess it's — it's everything that you said. And it's a lot about money. Is there — how do you make a living off your stance?

BLUNT: Subtle maneuvers.

KELLEY: OK. And do you think that you are any type of model that could be emulated?

BLUNT: I don't think anyone should follow me. No. I don't think I have a model really. I think I just know how to do my thing. And I don't even think it would be considered successful or anything. It's just that I'm still — I'm able to do it, like, daily. So one of those like Praise Jah daily kind of things. But yeah, that's about it. I couldn't — I wouldn't ask anyone to follow because I'm just doing my ting, and everyone should do theirs.

KELLEY: And so then how do you then find people to work with?

BLUNT: I work with a bunch of derelicts, I guess, people as retarded as myself, that seem to — we all seem to share — we're maybe different, but we obviously share something that makes it OK for us to work together. That's kind of it. And those people are sometimes musicians, sometimes not. Most times not.

But it's not really about that. I think it's just, there's a certain kind of openness as a quality, and anyone can have it. Anyone. And if we link or if by whatever means we come together, it just stuck. Yeah, we work together, and that's kind of how it goes. But, yeah, I don't know. Sometimes the people I work with are brethrens that don't even like the music, but they're just — they understand it's a conversation, and we're just here, you know? We just do it.

Talking can be overrated.


BLUNT: There's other ways of having conversations with people around you, and that's how I've made a lot of stuff. Or some stuff. Not that much. Some stuff.

KELLEY: I would like to talk about your impressions of certain styles of rap music, ways that you might think you fit into that conversation or — lineage is not the right word, but family — if you do.

BLUNT: Yeah. Yeah. I think, at least for me, I just kind of — I can't not relate to it, cause it's like the main representation that we get, or that we have had, or that I have had when I was younger. So I can't not. It's the music that I grew up around. It's the music that I always heard, and I obviously had some connection, because there were black men on the screens. I have a relation to it that's just because of — I listen to everything, but I relate to that.

In the U.K., it's funny, because you don't — it's not something you hear so much out. It's not on the radio as much. And people have very funny thing about hip-hop. It's very — it's still a very black music. And here it's like — though it's black music, of course, it's on the radio and it's mainstream and it's part of people's dialects and stuff. Even if they're far from black people, they're still part of the culture.

And so I think it's — I don't know how it is now, but at least when I was growing up, being a youth in Hackney, hip-hop, DMX, Ruff Ryders, whatever, all that s*** was just kind of what your model was of how to be a man. That's what we learned, and that's what we went off. And if you have better satellite, maybe you see some better role models. Maybe you catch Tricky at two o'clock. He might save your life. But, yeah, I don't know. It's kind of just — well, he definitely wouldn't save your life. But I feel kind —

KELLEY: Not if you're a girl.

BLUNT: Nah. Not if you're a lot of people. I like whatever. I like when I hear it kind of thing.

KELLEY: I mean, that's what's so exciting to me about your music, is this idea that 40 years later this is possible. Or that this is what's happening — somewhere else. And to me, it's the flexibility and the power of that culture. And even just that specific way of making music, of taking things in, of sampling, of making something your own. And I don't know. I think about it. I think about it a lot when I listen to your music, though I don't — you know, I have to think about genre because of my job.

BLUNT: Yeah.

KELLEY: I know it's false.

BLUNT: I think with hip-hop the one connection, or the only real affiliation I think I understand, is the kind of combination of isolation and resourcefulness. I think that's the thing that — and that's why a lot of rock and, even people I like, Steve Albini, whatever, I don't like a lot of s*** he says because he's got that b******* white rockist nonsense of s******* on sampling. And that not being understood as an instrument, that most very very very obvious instrument of making music, and it shouldn't even be talked of as anything more than just how someone plays a guitar as an instrument. I find that funny, because that door — that won't ever change, and it's like some very clear differences in politics of people you'd find that think that.

So my thing with hip-hop that I can only say is that really — is yeah, I definitely — at least from how I started making music it was because — it was in a similar way based on what I have and what I had, and that's how I understand music and how I understand making stuff.

KELLEY: Well, Ali's talked a lot, before — we've talked a lot about how European audiences are different, respond to different frequencies.


KELLEY: I mean, that seems to play not a small role — when was the last time you were there?

MUHAMMAD: In London? Or in Europe? Been maybe three years, which is the longest amount of time that I have not been there, actually.

BLUNT: Do you like it?

MUHAMMAD: It's just different. I won't say that what occurs in America or Asia is better or less than. It's just different, and I like that vibration that I feel, specifically in London.

I don't know if it's still the case because the world is a lot smaller now due to technology and everything, but 25 years ago, it just seemed that there was an openness to absorb — and I will use the different genres of music, and people just kind of accepted it as one. I know, take radio for an example, that it didn't appear to be as segregated as it is here in the States, so that might be the reason. Simple.

BLUNT: Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Being in an environment where there's that sort of segregated interaction, just speaking from music, you accept it cause that's what we grow up in, but when you in an environment where it's not like that, it's just a different harmony. It feels —

BLUNT: Yeah. That's how I feel. Imagine when I come over here then.


BLUNT: It's pretty — yeah, I mean, at least where I'm from, at least London, at least Hackney, that's just standard. Class is a bit more of an issue. Race is definitely an issue there, but class is a bit more. To be honest, once you're within the class, you're still — racism goes on.

But I think over here, I think in the genres as well, which is all connected, I definitely noticed the segregation — I mean, the segregation's obvious. It's just different. It's just different histories, completely different histories. But, like, a connection. But very different histories. So there's this — it's pretty — it's a pretty —

MUHAMMAD: Do you feel out of place in the environments in the U.S. where it's just a different sort of a vibration? Or do you understand it?

BLUNT: I definitely understand it. I think that I just can't stay there too long. Yeah. I'm glad that we're only allowed three months here. Yeah. Because there's only so much —

MUHAMMAD: Does it make you go home and really hug your homeland?

BLUNT: It makes me go home and, yeah, I wouldn't say hug the homeland, but it just — I just get a balance. I just get a balance. Yeah, yeah. Definitely. For sure.

MUHAMMAD: I guess what I meant by that question is that the grass is greener on the other side, so you think. But it isn't.

BLUNT: I mean, it's not necessarily. Not necessarily. Because we're weighed down by different kinds of situations. And there's a lot to be said for being a young place. Things are a bit lighter. So there's a balance for sure, between the two.

MUHAMMAD: You know, I once went to Saudi Arabia — this was 16 years ago. So I was there during the turn of the millennium from '99 into 2000. And was there for my own, whatever, spiritual journey, and experienced racism as just a dark-skinned male in that environment. And once my American passport came out — this is when everyone in the Middle East had more of a liking to Americans — it was completely different. And in a conversation with a gentleman from Saudi Arabia, we were just talking about some of the differences of their cultures and my experiences as a young black man in America. And the gentleman said to me that it was — that I should probably re-think my position a little bit, because the Civil Rights movement in America changed the world greatly. And even though I feel — he said, "Even though you feel some sort of resentment towards the way people are treated, it was through the movement that occurred there that really transformed and helped the world move to a better place." I guess I needed to hear that.

So I go into all that to want to ask you, from your position, your viewpoint, where life is for the young blacks in the U.K. in comparison to what we're experiencing now even 40 years later — the police brutality and some of the injustices — how do you guys view Black Lives Matter and what's been happening here?

BLUNT: I don't know. I mean, I don't know how anyone else does. I think that race is such a complicated situation that, unfortunately, a lot of people that deal with it are dealing with it from their own personal perspective, and the whole — and it's very personal. It stops being this general thing that they're supposedly kind of supporting. So I think there's a lot of — when you have a lot of people together, it's going to be — at some point, it's all going to f*** up.

So I think it's really cool that over here there's definitely — I've noticed — I've met some people here; there's like a new kind of black consciousness that's happening that is always good to see, as a result of this stuff that's happened. I think it's cool. I think that our histories are very different. Like, my parents are Nigerian. We've got a different experience as first generation, born-in-Britain. It's completely different.

We have these connections, but we're very — we've got different histories. And I think that this new kind of consciousness or whatever that I'm seeing here is starting to pick up on some of the stuff that people have spoken about — intellectuals in the U.K., black intellectuals, have spoken about in the U.K. for a while, and there's like a connection happening between the two.

Because I think it's really important for the black diasporas to connect to each other. I think it's really important for there to be communication, and I think it's — so, yeah, I think that in America I've at least noticed it from just coming out. And in the U.K. it's happening too. Because America is just influential in many ways, and I guess somehow this thing kind of somehow affects some sort of consciousness or brings it up.

I think it's — too much discourse is a problem. It's problematic, definitely. And I think that it's just — I get pretty pissed off with — I'm not into protesting, for various reasons, but I just don't — I believe in rioting. Obviously that's another issue.

So, yeah, that's about it really. I don't see — and too much discourse is pointless. I don't want race to become a trending topic, because that s*** is lived forever. And it's lived heavily, and it's weighed down. And you deal with it daily. So I don't need it to be a f****** trending topic that fades away.

So I don't pay attention to any of that. I just have noticed that people are — there is some consciousness that's like aware of the black experience, while internationally — diaspora — the fact that I'm Nigerian, British-born doesn't mean it's a good thing. That's still — some f****** still went down for that to be possible.

So we've got a lot — we both still — we've both got trauma in different ways. So I think, yeah, it's interesting kind of times, I guess. I hope. But, you know, it's just good that people are thinking. That's about it. Even if it's one person. It's good that people are thinking.

KELLEY: I've been thinking a lot about the word artist, how we use it, who gets —

BLUNT: I think it's funny that rappers have now started to think it's a word —

KELLEY: That's what I'm writing about!

BLUNT: I think it's hilarious that rappers have found out about what an artist is. It's really hilarious. It's like a thing.

KELLEY: We're going to have to have a whole separate interview.

BLUNT: When you see August Alsina talking about how he's an artist, it's f***** up. It's a problem. And they're like — they're into the — like, someone watched a Jimi Hendrix documentary or something and like —

KELLEY: I think it's about Basquiat.

BLUNT: It's the Basquiat thing. It's definitely the Basquiat thing.

KELLEY: Right?

BLUNT: For sure. I mean, it's been the Basquiat thing for many years, for many different phases of people. But like, this is on some other s***-, because they're bringing this rock star nonsense into it, too. It's a really really funny time. When I hear people talking about a very simple process of making music, it's like, yeah, you just meet up and make a tune together. That's how people do make music, yo.

But yeah, some people have discovered that being an artist is like — but maybe it's like hip-hop being "entertainment." And this idea of the artist in the most cliché way is starting — and it's not a bad thing. I think people are still trying to experiment in some way, as shallow as this idea can be. But there is some level of experimentation going on within it, and that's cool. But it's just pretty funny.

The artist is like a commodity now. It's like a — especially in hip-hop, I hear it a lot. Kanye of course is someone that is like — commodified being an artist in hip-hop first, and everyone followed.

KELLEY: Yeah, I think people use it as an out also. To be like, "You don't understand it."

BLUNT: You don't understand — oh, it's a way to — yeah, yeah. "My s***-'s too deep for you. I'm an artist." Yeah.

KELLEY: Yeah. But then I think — the only way to hold somebody's feet to the fire is to be like, well, are you making us see the world in a totally different way? And then also in that, do you have any type of social responsibility? But a lot of people, especially like '70s, '80s era, would say that artists don't have responsibility. And you don't feel like that, right?

MUHAMMAD: That I have a responsibility?

KELLEY: Well, that it's expressly a part of being an artist, that you are supposed to do this thing.

MUHAMMAD: No. No. I don't, because I think my perspective on life is different, and I strive not to take my ideals and place them on another human being. At the same time though, I do hold my own self to a state and so that state —

KELLEY: But you feel a responsibility as a person.

MUHAMMAD: I was about to say, that state — my personal state is I feel responsible. And because I express myself through the music, I want to be responsible in that expression and how it carries on well after I'm here. But that's just me.

BLUNT: Yeah, I mean, I'm definitely responsible to the things I'm working on, and to my own stuff. And that's it. I'm kind of — I don't think — I'm not going to try — yeah, it does what it does past me, and I let that happen. And whatever that is, it is. But yeah, I just — yeah, I kind of just trust in it I guess, and let it do.

But I don't think people — I don't think everything needs changing. So I don't think — I think some things are best left as they are. And the way that we deal is to add on top and not try to counter-act. But that's just an approach, one approach I guess. Maybe.

KELLEY: Yeah, I hear that in your songs.

BLUNT: Really?

KELLEY: For sure. Yeah.

BLUNT: I don't know if it's my approach, but it's an approach. It's definitely one.

MUHAMMAD: Well, I'll just say that moment in Saudi Arabia — this was before 9/11, 2001. I came home with a different thought process. Because my parents were civil rights activists, and certain government agencies used to come my house often when I was a baby. Because my parents were in the mix, and so — and then there's also the Native American side of me — but I definitely understand the evolution of humanity and things kind of start off maybe really dark and ugly but you gotta go through that to get to the golden, the light. And so when I was 15, 19, where I may have really frowned upon the idea of ever, I don't do that any longer, because, like that gentleman said, whatever happened, it made a difference. It changed the world. And so we move forward and through the difficulty.

There's — I hate to be all this — whatever. But there's something I live by, and it's a verse from the Quran. It says, "Through the hardship comes the ease." And so through the hardship comes the ease. And it's not like, "Oh, things'll get better later on." No, it's like, while you're in the moment, it's happening. You may not be aware of it, so I'm still not carrying the flag, but the idea of possibility. It could be as a result of what we do with it right now, where we are with my part, with my hands, my voice, so.

BLUNT: Yeah. I guess — yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Is that the same for you? I don't know.

BLUNT: I mean —

MUHAMMAD: First generation, you got a —

BLUNT: I just have a — my relation with the country, I guess, is very typical of all people from my generation. And you — I don't know. I don't know. I think Americans are a bit more patriotic. I think black Americans are more patriotic than a lot of black British people, for obvious reasons, I guess. So like, my perspective on it is going to come from a British perspective, but I think — I actually do try to think about it from both.

And I think, yeah, America exists on white supremacy, and it is very hard for me to understand any support for a place that exists based on the supremacy of — the oppression of one and the other — if that changed, it's f*****. And so I find it very difficult for people to defend or support any place that is kept up by the very thing that has kept you down.

That's my perspective, and that's just how I feel about America. And that's just like, it's really straight forward. I don't care about Britain for that — it's not like political. It's just that the effects of s*** is still happening. I'm still feeling it. I'm still — why is this — it's not better. It's not fine. Why am I — I am still living the trauma of this s***. I'm first generation. Yeah, I'm still living the trauma of all that s***. All that King Kong nonsense. All that s***. It's still going on. I'm not British. I'm not British at all. The British told me that.

So yeah, f*** that. No. We have our own little bubbles that we make ourselves. And yeah, I don't believe in supporting certain places. Dutch people, I tell them the same. Belgian people, I definitely tell them the same. For all the f****** they did. Dutch people, like, can't even with them. So like, yeah, I just don't believe it.

All diasporas, as far as I'm concerned, should just — I think it's just out of pure — just not doing that. Just can't support that b*******. I can't support — I understand the place and what has happened in the place. But I think the flag represents the place as a whole and that can't be supported, because it exists — it's standing up on f******. So, you know, if it wants to be better, it needs to come down and start again or something. But it's built on f******.

Even the things people are enjoying, it's built on f******. Someone's always experiencing what one oppressed person felt at some point. That's how the place is existing. A lot of places are, but like, we're talking about here. So I think when it comes to the black experience, it's just — it's different. And I think black America should definitely travel to experience what it's like as a black person in diaspora, because the world is ours. Because we've been thrown all over the world, and that's a good way to understand things. But staying here is not the one.

MUHAMMAD: For sure.

KELLEY: That's a pretty strong note to end on. Or would you like to continue?

BLUNT: Nah. I think I'm good.

KELLEY: You think you're good.

BLUNT: Yeah, I'm chill.

KELLEY: OK. Well, thank you for giving us some of your time while you're here.

BLUNT: Word. Thanks.


BLUNT: Hollywood Shuffle soon.

MUHAMMAD: Hollywood Shuffle.

BLUNT: Hollywood Shuffle re-make. Soon.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ali Shaheed Muhammad is a world-renowned producer, songwriter and musician, and a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest, Lucy Pearl and production group The Ummah. He cowrote D'Angelo's "Brown Sugar" and has worked with John Legend, Maxwell, Mint Condition, Angie Stone, Mos Def and Gil Scott-Heron among many others.
Frannie Kelley is co-host of the Microphone Check podcast with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
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