Paradigm: “a model of something, or a very clear and typical example of something.”
Canada’s hip hop collective Super Duty Tough Work were formed in late 2014. They are fronted by Brendan Grey and backed by a group of local and international musicians. They now release their second album Paradigm Shift on Next Door Records, the follow up to 2019’s Studies in Grey.
The album title provides a statement of intent from the outset. Paradigm Shift is a commentary on the failings of society across a number of issues. However, it also provides a sense of community with a number of collaborators and contributors, and there is self-deprecating humour as well as messages of empowerment.
Paradigm Shift begins with the voice of the esteemed late MF Doom providing positivity and spreading self-belief in ‘Mission Statement’. The opener continues with the more personal story of Super Duty Work Tough, a crisply delivered rap by Grey. The tempo lifts on ‘First Strike’. Grey’s flow is faster and clear, which is imperative as the lyrics are one of the highlights of Paradigm Shift. References include London graffiti writer turned fine artist Mode 2, Claude Monet, Naomi Klein and Nas, confirming the breadth of interest in creativity. A theme through the album is the struggles of being a creative in the 21st century. The instrumentation provides hypnotic synth beats and drums throughout allowing the lyrics to take centre stage.
‘Guillotine Dreams’ takes a more serious approach opening with the lyrics “trapped in a nightmare”. Here the reference is on the impact and thus contempt for colonial powers and an impassioned commentary on Black Lives Matter. The vocal has a slight distortion and the scratching soundscape bring even more intensity to the track. The female voice and quote to finish the track is perhaps an influence on its very creation.
Grey speaks from the heart on ‘Grey’s Lament (Grandmotherland)’, not afraid to express his opinion on those in his own industry, stating disappointment in a lack of authenticity and honesty. Lyrically this is one of the highlights of Paradigm Shift.
‘New Sight’ lifts the mood and the pace. The female vocal and upbeat vibe provides a soulful breather. When Super Duty Work Tough play live they take to the stage as a seven piece with horns, drums, bass, guitar and keys. Grey’s flow here is pure joy, not only is it speedy but the intonation provides a real honesty. The percussion here is given space to step forward towards the end, an outro to remember.
There is a dignity in the monologue at the start of ‘Quiet Strength’ delivered by legendary American poet, essayist and civil/women’s rights activist Audre Lorde. Message for life
“…they reduce survival to mere existence. And that is not survival. Implicit in survival is joy, mobility and effectiveness. And effectiveness is always relative”. The track continues holding the perfect vibe for such a powerful start. Urgent and brutally honest, this was a track written by Grey on grief and depression in the wake of losing several close friends.
However, the juxtaposition of violence in everyday life is beautifully illustrated on ‘Molotov Cocktails At Brunch (A Love Song)’ . The saxophone adds the emotion here, blended in with smooth vocals. It closes out with the slight tongue in cheek of: “anyone can make explosives like this…….”
Current single ‘Dirty Hands’ takes its name from the infamous Parisian underground graffiti video series of the late 90s and early 2000s. Here Grey subtly paying homage to the artists, writers, creatives and thinkers that paved the way for him to be where he is. It also speaks to those who abuse the culture for social capital and personal gain, a theme commented on throughout Paradigm Shift.
“Most of these fucks just chasing fame with no respect for tradition
talking that shit about B, like ‘He thinks he’s all wisdom’
But when my shit drops, you know they look for us like missing children’.”
‘Mood Swings’ explores the media’s handling of the abuse and murder of Black people:
“Exploit your trauma til the stock is through the roof
they getting off to our trauma looped on the news”
It’s a gentle track also sharing Grey’s personal struggles to navigate out of debilitating periods of depression. Calm and quiet it suggests a longing for peace and perhaps reflects the importance of music in processing such challenging feelings.
The final track ‘Far Away (Champagne Steam Rooms)’ has no vocal by Brandon Grey at all. This speaks volumes about Super Duty Tough Work. They provide voices for others as well as themselves. It demonstrates a degree of humility, giving the final say on their album to calm, repetitive female voices and soothing instrumentation. “We’re too far away” .