Album Review :: Super Duty Tough Work :: Paradigm Shift

by Mykhailo Vil’yamson

No stranger to dropping weighty truth via their projects, Super Duty Tough Work is back with their much-anticipated second record, Paradigm Shift, and it delivers a heavy reality-dosing ten tracks of hip hop content. Formed in 2014 by emcee Brendan Grey, this from-the-floor rap outfit released their first LP back in 2019 (that was longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in 2020). However, while there is continuity from Studies in Grey in leitmotif, there has also been a deliberate tightening and nuanced sonic scope. This not only includes scaling back the use of horns on Paradigm Shift – which was quite prominent on older SDTW recordings – but also slowing things down substantially tempo-wise. In fact, only two songs on this release could be described as more upbeat, namely “New Sight” and “Dirty Hands.” This opting for more of a chill vibe was conceivably strategic, though, since it functions to compel the listener to pause and consider more fully the voice of the artist. And Super Duty has some important things to communicate.

Riffing off of Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy,” Super Duty Tough Work’s most hard-hitting and quote-worthy song has to be “Guillotine Dreams,” which addresses a good number of deeply relevant issues related to colonialism and capitalism (among other problematic “-isms”). The music video is also top drawer, as are the other highly captivating and polished visuals created for the songs “First Strike,” “New Sight,” and “Quiet Strength.” Throughout the album, there are many thought-provoking samples included from people like Audre Lorde and Gil Scott-Heron, a clip from the 1973 film “The Spook Who Sat By the Door,” and several references to local people and events (that serve well to draw people into a bigger conversation about all things justice-related). From the opening set-up of “Mission Statement” to the to-be-continuedness that’s communicated by “Far Away,” Paradigm Shift is worth many start-to-finish listens. The vinyl static that SDTW has integrated into various tracks is also a nice aesthetic of the collection.

One last feature of Super Duty’s latest project that merits pointing out is Grey’s honesty and maturity reflected in his lyrics about topics like maintaining a grounded perspective as it pertains to the music business, mental health, and movements that have value. It’s about unwaveringly following one’s heart, using good ideas and self-reflection as ammunition to spark positive change, and being willing to burn down old structures that merely benefit the rich few. And while SDTW may see themselves as “underrated” and “understated,”hopefully, songs from Paradigm Shift will increasingly populate online playlists, and it will provide many with a vision and soundtrack for survival in this busted-up world.

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