History is written by the victors, they say. But in truth, history is written by everyone – you just have to know where to look. For Ramson Badbonez, exploring that history starts with picking up a mic and donning a Death Mask.
Making waves from a young age, Badbonez has been at the core of UK Hip Hop since he dropped The Official Mixtape Volume 1. Fresh off the back of his Jason Bonez and Mic Day The 13th releases, the Islington emcee takes a more introspective approach on Death Mask, pondering everything from eastern mysticism to colonialism to the artificiality of contemporary society. Of course, you could write it off as faux-spiritual soul-searching, but Badbonez has always been more self-aware than that.
‘Eternal’ tracks a journey through black history like a contemporary Langston Hughes. Closing track ‘The Wrath’ bristles with barely contained anger. On the industrialised brutality of the slave trade, Badbonez snarls: “Take our lineage away / Put religion in its place / In movies that they make / Always aiming to downplay / The facts but Django was only foreplay / Of the way a slave was conditioned with their self-hate.”
Of course, it’s not all grandiose introspection. There’s room on Death Mask for some lighter topics. ‘Signs & Symbols’ delves into the evolution of language, and why modern communication often falls short, with real wit. ‘Skywalker’, meanwhile, takes you on a cosmic journey through a hazy universe of bubble hash, sticky kush and cannabutter, shot through with that signature Badbonez swagger.
With Mark Fear’s steady hand on the mixing desk, every track gets its time to shine. Numbers like ‘Jewels & Gems’ slap hard as an instrumental alone. It says a lot about the connection between Badbonez and Fear; not many people could spit over that wobbly dubstep bassline, grime-tinged panpipe sample and eerie theremin screech.
Death Mask is not an attempt to rewrite history, but an attempt to understand a very personal history. In anyone else’s hands, there would be plenty of room for error, but Ramson Badbonez is too dexterous for that. In Death Mask, the rapper looks backwards to understand his place in the world today – and further carves out his own legacy in the process.
Death Mask is out now on High Focus records.