Bragging rights and the ability to put one over on your rival is one of the oldest recurring themes in hip-hop, whether its in terms of achievements, wealth or lyrical prowess, but it's always been there. Subverting that into something a little more political is DJ and producer Captain Planet on his new single "Big Man" for which he's teamed up with Zimbabwean-American singer Shungudzo.
"Big Man", which is lifted from CP's upcoming No Visa album (set to drop June 26 via his regular home Bastard Jazz Recordings), places Shungudzo's delicate yet forthright vocals over an intricate, club-ready rhythm that takes inspiration from the West African balafon sound. Together, they pick apart the heavily weighted political, social and economic systems piece by piece and tie it back to the Western hemisphere's colonial roots. Within that, however, the pair manage to find a wry humour as they imagine what life could be like if they'd had the means (or birth right) to buy their own island and sit at the top of the political system.
"'Big Man' is like a classic hip-hop boast song flipped on its head," he told us. "While writing this song with Shun, we were trying to do two things at once — picture what we would be doing if we were in charge, if we had the crazy money that these mega billionaires have, while at the same time pointing out the ridiculousness of power and wealth disparities to begin with. Shun is speaking in the voice of the underdog, dreaming about being on top, the underlying desire that keeps capitalism afloat, while at the same time bragging that if she did have diamonds in her cereal, she'd be making it rain on Skid Row.
"The beat has the deep 808 knock of so much hip-hop music that I love," he continues, "but it's also in 6/8 time signature and is rooted in West African balafon music. I feel like Big Man is especially relevant right now, while this worldwide pandemic is highlighting how differently people with fewer resources are being affected. The disease can spread anywhere, even infecting the British royalty, but it's the folks on the margins who are going to be hit the worst, not just by the disease, but also from the economic fallout, increased racism and xenophobia. And when we still have black men in America being essentially lynched, with police and district attorneys all playing their part to cover it up, a line like 'dem crooked police men, I'm gonna arrest them' sure feels good to sing out loud."
Shungudzo adds, "The original source of inspiration for 'Big Man' was the colonisation of Africa (specifically Zimbabwe, where I’m from), and the 'fuck you, pay me' mentality that these colonisers had while stealing other people’s possessions, livelihoods, and in so many cases, lives. Then we extended that thought onto all of the world, in present times, in which the rich continue to profit from the labor and suffering of the poor. The voice in this song is the voice of a Robin Hood and liberator of sorts, who not only wants to take from the rich in order to give back to the poor, but also to make the rich suffer in the same ways that the poor have suffered for so long."