Alongside sports, it feels like music and specifically rap is slowly getting better at acknowledging the tribulations that feed into not only participants’ inspirations and backstories, but their relationship with their industry. Lyrics and interviews through this century so far find the genre’s protective shell of braggadocio starting to crack, revealing performers trying to lattice things like confession, introspection, and empathy into heretofore ruthless entertainment. The Legend of ABM shows off Chicago group Angry Blackmen kicking off 2024 following this updated formula, working out their anger on record and in public.
Starting with their lack of stage names, ABM vocalists Quentin Branch and Brian Warren are refreshingly unvarnished. A lot of their bars on The Legend of ABM include long stretches of monorhyme, like Busta Rhymes in half-time, and there are a few repeated refrains that are pretty base and straightforward. (“Fuck! Off!”) Their producer Formants supports them with instrumentals loaded with industrial and experimental-noise influences—the more ambient and minimal moments recall clipping. and their ilk, while others feel like they would fit into the Nine Inch Nails catalog.
Where NIN albums like The Downward Spiral and The Fragile focused on Trent Reznor’s maybe-not-theoretical failures in handling personal struggle, The Legend of ABM has Branch and Warren looking at their own and recognizing them throughout their communities. Especially in tracks like “Suicidal Tendencies” and “Dead Men Tell No Lies,” in a manner matched by few rap contemporaries Angry Blackmen address depression, work/life balance, capitalism, and the coping mechanisms for these that end up painting Black America with a wide and sinister brush.
ABM’s toolbox here includes many violent, disastrous references to film and literary geekdom. They and their guests like SKECH185 make discrete drops on Stanley Kubrick, There Will Be Blood, Peter Pan and more. Most importantly, they’re on record as finding overarching metaphorical inspiration in I Am Legend: Virus-infected vampires, once bogeymen in society, are on the verge of becoming society itself, and efforts to thwart that progress are ultimately recognized as barbaric. It’s not a pretty tale to tell, and others may have told with more poignancy than ABM, but The Legend of ABM is a solid listen and an important addition to a growing hip-hop canon.
Label: Deathbomb Arc
Adam Blyweiss is associate editor of Treble. A graphic designer and design teacher by trade, Adam has written about music since his 1990s college days and been published at MXDWN and e|i magazine. Based in Philadelphia, Adam has also DJ’d for terrestrial and streaming radio from WXPN and WKDU.