This is an extended version of a piece written for Stool Pigeon
“The idea that everything is great now because we have a black president is a little naive, you know?”
It’s the day after Barack Obama’s inauguration, and MC Dälek is happily injecting a bolt of realism into the media’s unchecked optimism from his studio, Deadverse, in New Jersey.
“I mean, I voted for him, it's actually the first time I voted for a guy who won, so I'm excited about the change and i think it's definitely something the world needs, even if it's only symbolic. Unfortunately I think one of the problems is that people tendency to overlook and rewrite history when it's not convenient for them."
This is apparent from the off on Dälek’s forthcoming seventh album “Gutter Tactics”, which opens with a fierce invective against American domestic and foreign policy sampled from a speech by Barack Obama’s reverend, Jeremiah Wright.
"The speech just wasn’t played in the media, they would only use snippets. Obama distanced himself from it, which I found kind of funny. I don't hear anything untruthful in that speech, or anything unpatriotic. Just because we now have a black president you can't sweep everything under the rug as if it never happened. That's one of humanity's fatal flaws, to not learn from history. I‘m just doing my small part to remind people.”
Anything other than an all out condemnation of 9/11 didn’t play well within the American media, leading to Obama’s controversial dismissal of the speech, and to a tunnel-vision inflicted brand of US patriotism that Dälek do not share.
“If you’re a student of history, of American foreign policy and domestic policy, it’s very easy to see why people get desperate and do desperate things. Imagine if you were living in some of these areas where you don’t have a military to defend you… these things don’t happen for no reason. An understanding of American people about that would help everyone.”
Dälek, a duo completed by producuer Oktopus, inhabit a space of their own making between noise and hip-hop. The different elements of their sound have allowed them to connect to different audiences and music communities, such as Mike Patton’s Ipecac label. The last time they were in the UK was to deliver a blistering set at the Mike Patton curated ATP festival.
“ATP blew me away, man. I got a picture backstage of myself, Brett from Mastodon and Kool Keith. I don’t know if you could get that picture anywhere else, it’s pretty remarkable.”
But there are difficulties associated with crossover music in today’s genre-marketing dominated world.
“It’s a blessing and a curse. If you name a genre it’s allowed us to play with a band in that genre. Which is great, but that same flexibility scares a lot of people. If you can’t put music in safe box people tend to run away from it. Like, if we play with The Melvins, half the crowd will love us and half will hate us, but nine times out of ten it’ll be one or the other. And I like to be that kind of band.”
Dälek’s heavily politicised approach sets them apart from much commercial hip hop just as much as their heavy sound.
“Hip-hop is the pop music of our generation and within that realm, like Phil Spector says, there’s good music and there’s bad music, the only two genres. The lyrics might not always be great in commercial hip hop, but there’s a time and place for it, you know? If I’m out at a strip club I sure don’t wanna hear my music. But I honestly believe there are more interesting things going on sonically in mainstream hip hop than any other kind of mainstream music. If you listen to mainstream rock or emo or whatever the fuck you wanna call it, that shit is even more cookie cutter and formulaic. I’m a fan of Timbaland’s production, I like Ludakris and when Jay-Z puts his mind to it he can make great music, although it might be hard to concentrate when there are that many bills to count."
But the domination of commercial hip hop does create problems for the more progressive underground scene.
"That commercial sound does overshadow all the other sounds that are out there. It’s fine for there to be big mainstream acts, but you should still be able to hear like today’s equivalent of A Tribe Called Quest, PDP or Rakim or EPMD. It’s better for each of us to find our own voice than for all of us to sound the same.”
The relentless intensity and darkness of Gutter Tactics stands starkly against the new background of positivity and change in America. But for Dälek there’s as much need for their voice to be heard as ever before.
“This stuff was written in the midst of the campaign with the understanding that this could definitely happen. The idea that this is Martin Luther King’s dream fulfilled is really naïve. This happening is a great step along the journey and we can’t forget that, but there always needs to be the voice of dissent, and I’ll happily play that role.”