I always mention how difficult it is to keep up with new music considering the overwhelming number of new releases that assault music writers every single day. But ever since I stopped doing the music writing thing full-time I learned just how difficult it is while working a day job and building a life with your own little family. What an eye-opener that was, and I have nothing but respect for those writers who are able to do that while taking care of multiple kids. I can’t imagine the stress!
I’m going somewhere with this. As open-minded as I try to be, I still have my own favourite styles of music that I go to as a default, and when it comes to the Polaris Music Prize, my votes always tend to skew towards either indie rock, indie electronic, or metal. Hip hop is always something I have to be coaxed into, and when it comes to Canadian stuff that’s been largely Francophone and Indigenous hip hop, which is still an awfully narrow view. Personally, there has to be a huge WOW factor to get me into Canadian hip hop. That’s just me. I have to be completely blown off my feet for me to reserve a Polaris ballot spot for a hip hop title.
In 2020 that WOW moment happened as soon I learned about Montreal based, Zambian born transgender rapper Backxwash when everyone was gearing up for the Polaris long list vote. Here was a musician who created an angry, tortured, passionate, cathartic record about their difficult, harrowing, and ultimately empowering journey as a transgender African person. It’s dark, it’s murky, and it’s very metal in attitude in that Backxwash creates a larger than life persona while at the same time creating very personal music. Adding to the metal influence is how cleverly Backxwash uses samples of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin throughout the record, not to mention a very strong noise and post-rock influence. It is very, very in your face, and considering the bigotry transgender people have to encounter on a daily basis, this kind of confrontation is necessary.
Backxwash made history when God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It won the 2020 Polaris Music Prize, beating out such stacked competition as Lido Pimienta, US Girls, and Jessie Reyez. After all, a raw, lo-fi horrorcore album normally wouldn’t have much of a chance compared to music that’s easier to take in, but Backxwash’s empowering, brutally intense depiction of her struggle is just as thrilling as it is unique. Sadly, the numerous uncleared samples forced her to issue the album only as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp but that wound up lending the album even more mystique as anyone curious to hear it had to make more of an effort than merely pulling it up on Spotify. Those who did seek it out discovered a powerful new voice in Canadian music who pulled off a stunning first act. Thousands now wait with bated breath to hear what she pulls off next.