Since 2017, NYC band Baby Got Back Talk have been steadily releasing EPs and singles that hearken back to the sounds of pop-punk and emo from the early 2000s (Yellowcard, New Found Glory) with a political edge (a la the Fat Wreck Chords crew) and an ever-relevant call to “decolonize pop-punk.” Now they’ve released their debut full-length album, Genre Reveal Party–34-and-some-odd minutes of hyper-catchy melodies and food for serious thought.
Like their 2018 EP Up In Open Arms, the record was produced by Corey Zach at The Cocoon, and it carries a feeling of continuity; with violin by Rhiana Hernandez, pumped up guitar by Jake Lazaroff, and no shortage of clever, referential lyrics from singer/bassist G’Ra Asim, they’re still playing with classic sounds. There’s a nostalgic sweetness, like a bowl of sugary cereal from your childhood, and the prize inside? Baby Got Back Talk also excels at writing directly to the present.
“Back to Before” challenges the rhetoric of the “return to normal,” whether in American nationalist fantasies or in response to COVID-19, in bright, tapping riffs and a chorus of historic proportions. “When They Go Low, We Go Six Feet Under” takes the album to its darkest place, tying into the ongoing protest movements against the police violence disproportionately visited on Black Americans. A harrowing music video came out in August of 2019, and its continued relevance is sobering. Just as sobering is Asim’s gut-wrenching assessment of the pressure on Black life in a racist society: “The shortest distance from the cradle to the casket / Is to go about the business of your blackness.”
On “Historically White College,” Asim gets down to the level of the day-to-day microaggression; the teacher who struggles to pronounce his name and the white kids who don’t think twice about which words aren’t theirs to use. The song originally appeared on their 2017 debut EP Take This the Wrong Way, and it deftly points to the nature of all colleges as raced spaces–not just HBCUs–as it sends up institutions that offer little more than left-of-center lip-service and a more polite flavor of alienation. The re-recorded version is slicker and punchier–amped up and more anthemic than ever.
It would be a mistake to think of Baby Got Back Talk as a purely topical or didactic project, though. Beyond the issue songs, the album aims to decolonize other time-honored pop-punk tropes. Take the “what say we blow this town” wanderlust of “Anywhere But Here,” with dreamy acoustic guitar to match Hernandez’ soaring violin, or the on-again, off-again romp “Call The Whole Thing On,” with its a cappella “da-da-da” intro. No matter the subject, Asim’s verses favor snappy rhyme schemes rich with wordplay and plenty of punchlines (emphasis on “pun”).
The open secret is that all art is political as a matter of course, whether it comes from coed, multiracial, DIY punks, or white major label pop singers, and whether it references the headlines or not. What makes an album like Genre Reveal Party refreshing is the way it doesn’t even try to walk a line between blatant politics and unabashed pop-punk fun. Baby Got Back Talk can have their cake and eat it too–and why not? This is their party, after all.