Super Duty Tough Work Are Fighting for Political Change — Even When That Means Calling Out Exclaim!

"Black radical tradition stay in my veins / Something I won't disgrace
/ For front page placement, or likes, or inches in Exclaim!"

BY Kyle MullinPublished Jun 7, 2024

Super Duty Tough Work don't have beef with this publication. But now that they're re-releasing their latest album, Paradigm Shift, we couldn't resist asking the Winnipeg alt hip-hop group's MC, Brendan Grey, about the lyrics on opening track "Mission Statement": "Black radical tradition stay in my veins /
Something I won't disgrace
/ For front page placement, or likes, or inches in Exclaim!"

"I was wondering if you were going to ask me about that," the gruff-voiced, elegantly thoughtful rapper says with a chuckle, before offering a reply as complex as his group's rhymes. Grey recalls flipping through an issue of Exclaim! at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, and balking at an article about a musician who wrote some pointed lyrics about that period's eye-opening unrest.

Grey says: "We have received a lot of flack for being politically engaged. So when I see people who previously hadn't made any kind of substantial statements in their art about the issues of police killings or racism — or however you want to frame whatever it was we were talking about at that time — when I would see them, all of a sudden, trying to be at the forefront, making a statement, making it the basis for their identity, making it the basis for their music… That just rubbed me the wrong way. And I see the same thing with all this coverage of Palestine. It's great that so many people are being 'radicalized.' But there've been many people engaged with these struggles for a long time."

Grey is irked when these artists receive the limelight, when uncompromising up-and-comers like Super Duty Tough Work need to fight so hard for a shred of publicity in today's volatile mediascape. Hence dropping a new version of Paradigm Shift nearly a year after its release with a new single, "Watershedding," and instrumental versions of every original track.

Grey calls this re-release a "strategic move," because attention spans have shrunk to such an extent that music long laboured over can go sadly overlooked. "So hopefully this is a way to remind people to revisit the record, and engage some new listeners who might not have been paying attention, and focus on the musicality of the group, rather than only the lyrics," Grey says. 

Those instrumentals certainly stand firm on their own. After all, the now renowned live act's sound boasts jazz instrumentation, curated and sampled with aplomb by producer Junia-T, along with smouldering singing and subtle keyboard flourishes by emerging star Marisolle Negash (who left the group after Paradigm Shift). Fans of timeless rap will be quick to compare some of Paradigm Shift's best tracks with a long lost deep cut by the Roots with J Dilla in the booth — a rugged yet soulful, and organically gritty sound.

Strong as those instrumentals are, Grey's lyrics would be just as impressive sans accompaniment, spoken-word style. That's because he nimbly rhymes words that don't seem like obvious pairings until he's done with them, not to mention his fearlessly incendiary social consciousness.

Take Paradigm Shift's key track "Guillotine Dreams." Over Skratch Bastid's razor-sharp record scratches, Grey calls land theft and genocide the "Canadian Dream," before declaring he "only wants to see [Queen Elizabeth's] face in a guillotine" rather than on his hard-earned cash. And as the keys simmer on equally essential song "Molotov Cocktails at Brunch (A Love Song)," Grey decries a "free-market fantasy chasing pesos" before calling for Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to be drawn and quartered in the town square. 

Grey quickly cites Chuck D of Public Enemy as an influence, before adding '90s Brooklyn freethinkers Dead Prez have also been an inspiration. "I don't quote Dead Prez directly like I do Chuck D, but we're definitely influenced by many of the same authors and thinkers," he says. "And I love that great Dead Prez line: 'Bounce to this socialist movement.'"

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