Written by Travis Shosa
This review was originally written for COUNTERZINE on June 2, 2020. It has been re-edited and adapted for Stamens/Pistils/Parties.
The human experience, by its very nature, is personal and often painful. Yet institutionally, those with power and influence have seen it fit to place additional, crushingly heavy layers of pain upon individuals who don’t fit into the narrow mold of what they deem acceptable. It can be race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. It occurs through bigoted law, socialization via government and corporate institutions, and religion. It infects the working class, the regular people we see every day as innocent individuals who warp 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 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 that openly emboldens those who seek to inflict harm on those who aren’t like them. What seems to receive less attention are the mental and emotional tolls: the suicidal ideations, the misplaced guilt, and the understandable social paranoia. God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is the autobiographical account of Montreal-based Zambian rapper/producer Ashanti Mutinta’s (aka. Backxwash) experiences as a black transwoman regarding mental health struggles, societal fear, and a family’s moral scapegoating of God when faced with the true identity of one of their own.
You could reasonably label Backxwash’s music as horrorcore. But it’s also something of a misnomer. There is horror here, but it’s often of the self and psychological rather than physical and aimed outward. 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.“ It’s approached with the broadness of someone hesitant 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 those enemies. She then recalls a drug-induced suicide attempt in more detail in the same song. What’s most telling about how it’s approached is that she’s reluctant to 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 sad boi hip-hop, and the anger that propels it forward gives it far more weight.
Following the opener are singles “Black Magic” and “Spells,” featuring Ada Rook and Devi McCallion of Black Dresses. 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. Rook’s guitar on “Black Magic” provides a density, grind, and industrial heaviness that compliments Backxwash’s dark composition and seething vocals. McCallion provides the hook for “Spells.” It’s appropriately fey, drained, and ghostly, given the occult beat.
Unlike her previous projects, the album is self-produced, outside of the interludes from fatherfake and SKIN. On Deviancy, Flying Fisher and Sugeryhead’s beats for “Devil In a Mosh Pit” and that album’s title track were more compelling than Backxwash’s for “Burn Me at the Stake.” But as strong as Deviancy was, God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It is a more focused effort due to its consistent voice on production, as Backxwash seamlessly melds the heavier and more aggressive aspects of her past producers’ beats into her witchy brew. Metal samples are prominent, and fans of David Lynch will be pleased to catch a clever call to Eraserhead.
Beyond the importance of its conceptual material, its presentation is what truly elevates God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It from a therapeutic writing exercise to something that has the rare potential to help listeners in profound ways. Backxwash is overflowing with charisma, but it’s not performative charisma: it’s relatability. Analogs can and will be drawn between tracks such as “Black Magic” and “Into the Void” and the work of Death Grips upon hearing hooks like “I fuck with black magic / Yah!” and “I go into the void / Fuck!“ But if Death Grips make pulp fiction, Backxwash makes biopics.
While “Into the Void” features the best hook on the album, it almost pales compared to the manic, confident verses that mix strength and fear until they’re indistinguishable, her voice a trembling yet powerful force. Backxwash calls upon her history and processes it in real-time, then magnifies quieter traumas that go overlooked. There are spots where it seems she’s trying to piece the words together as she says them, but it never veers into sloppiness. It’s just the relatable struggle of appropriately summarizing twisted-up emotions. Sometimes connecting to that is more affecting than being presented with all the answers.
Though the album often centers around grim subject matter such as familial strain (“Adolescence”), paranoia (“Into the Void”), and drug use (“Black Sheep”), Backxwash still manages to squeeze in the 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 feels 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. “Redemption” signifies a new clarity and self-acceptance, with Backxwash concluding that her redemption isn’t for the eyes of those who would reject her. It’s for herself, and it begins with relinquishing misplaced guilt over being who she is: “Spend your whole life regretting this shit is pathetic / I wish I started sooner.“
Art can feel frivolous as the world falls apart. Very rarely, however, there’s a work that transcends being a great listening experience and ascends to something 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 an album that could save a life on the intersection of identity. And maybe rescue the minds of those who’ve closed theirs to the hardship of others.
Score: 9 Pollenate Me!
Travis Shosa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Stamens/Pistils/Parties. Formerly the runner of COUNTERZINE, he has bylines at Pitchfork, The Alternative, and Post-Trash among others.