Even silence has a hum: Inside the blues of Black Daddy Slim

Photo credit: Ginger Photography

I first noticed Black Daddy Slim when he dropped, with a bang, five albums at once on Juneteenth, 2020. Emerging as one of Oakland’s most prolific and multifaceted artists, his work so far ranges from blues to hip hop to punk, throwing in the occasional poetry or funk. His newest blues album, American Home, is both haunting and heartbreaking. In between simple plucks of a guitar, a listener can experience a spaciousness rare in modern music. The organ, dancing like a devil in the ear, eggs him on as he proclaims, “I’m a sinner! Yeahhh!”

And then, the heartbreak. The sound of a voice, alone in a room. The sound of a choir made of digital replicas. The awareness that the only thing backing you up right now is yourself. In Black Daddy Slim’s music, no stone is left unturned in finding the perfect way to express pure emotion. Here, we talk about the components he uses to build his musical world.

Listen to American Home here:

What inspired American Home?

The album American Home was inspired by the naked reality of our current time. 

Songs like “400” and “Afraid,” with their squealing lines like “I’m so tired, but my bed is made” references the anguish and exhaustion of black Americans and people of color around the world.  “Tired” of dealing with the same old oppression of white supremacy. “But my bed is made,” meaning there is no time to rest, for these are times of action. American Home is an album inspired by loss, while still having the will to seek gain. 

Which blues artists have most influenced you, and how?

I would say Howlin Wolf and Screaming Jay Hawkins.  For me their approach to blues was the most honest and free. They had no vocal or subject matter rules. And their range was also very vast. They could be quiet, smooth, and delicate. Or loud and garish, or violent, to sad, somber, and meek. They controlled the listener, and then dropped her or him off where they felt fast or slow. They embodied what all modern day music aspires to be. Simple but complex, strong while being weak, current while forever being ahead of its time.  

How do you feel your blues fits with contemporary music, and how do you relate your work to blues works from the past?

I don’t know that my type of blues fits in with contemporary style at all. I think most modern blues tries to keep with the traditional sound. Where I incorporated all the genres that have come out of the Blues, in turn reinventing the inventor. 

I don’t relate my work to the past. I don’t see music as yesterday or tomorrow.  It’s all in the now. It’s all current in my eyes. The pain, sadness, the hope, joy, anguish, et cetera… is the same yesterday as it is today.  The instruments used to accompany it are the only things that have changed.  

What do you think the future of blues is?

The future of the blues? Who knows !!! Who cares !!!!!!???? What’s the fucking fun in knowing?!

Which, if any, artists outside of the blues do you think have influenced your approach?

Black thought, Nas, Charlotte day Wilson, Yassin Bey, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Etta James, Kurt Cobain, Howlin Wolf, Rufus Wainwright, Tom Waits, John Coltrane, Bad Brains, Ursula Rucker, and more.

Listen to “Cemetery” from American Home here:

The a cappella moments make me more aware of the conscious choices that go into instrumentation in the songs. What do you think each instrument adds to the overall sound, and how do you decide which to incorporate in each piece? 

I usually never know what instruments will go into the song until I sit down to record them. Each song demands what it wants. I usually flesh it out with piano, to help with melody. Then the rest just come as needed. 

You’re unusually prolific as an artist. What is your method, and what inspires you to do so much?

I have no method. I just write. The emotion tells me what genre. How long the song will be. How fast it will be. If it needs to be rap, if it needs to be sung, if it needs to be screamed at. If its rap, I sometimes will write one, and then write 3 or 4 more right after that. Blues the same. Punk the same. Poetry the same.

Ballads take longer. The melody must be correct. Each genre is a different voice, a different person that lives inside me. Some days they all want to speak. Some days just one or two. I would be at the studio every day if I could.

Everything is music to me. Even the silence of a marble table in an enclosed tomb. Even silence has a hummmmmm.

Listen to “Afraid” from American Home here, and read some lyrics below:

Black boys dying
You just feel my rage
Wet up your streets
Or locked in cage

I get lonely
I get afraid
I’m so tired
But my bed is made

Ever busy as in his song, Black Daddy Slim has plans to release a video and two more albums in the month of July.

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