‘A protracted struggle’

Origin Stories: Brendan Grey (Super Duty Tough Work)

Brendan Grey, frontman of Super Duty Tough Work

Carla Hernandez Ramirez (Supplied)

Coming off the success of debut LP Paradigm Shift, hip-hop frontman Brendan Grey reflects on his role at the intersection of music and politics.

Grey is the mastermind of Super Duty Tough Work, a seven-piece live ensemble formed in 2014. Embodying the golden age of hip-hop, their work is inspired by elements of jazz, East Coast production and drum and bass, adding a punch of wit and political insight to every tune. Their first EP, Studies in Grey, released to critical acclaim in 2020.

“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a rockstar,” Grey says.

Growing up in a musical household, he developed a diverse taste and was encouraged to pick up an instrument. He started with the drums (a practice he continues to this day) before uncovering his sharp lyrical abilities as a rapper.

He cites his parents as an early inspiration for the subject matter, especially his father’s efforts to fight climate change and his mother’s anti-racism work. “When I think about my parents’ work, their level of engagement and intellectualism, it’s something that I strive to emulate,” he says.

He remembers his mother reading him The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a bedtime story. Grey admired Malcolm X’s ability to use knowledge as self-defence, responding to racist, intellectual traps with cutting truths.

“I was always influenced by Malcolm X, more than anyone else,” he says. “That’s where I would like to be – in a place where I’m able to state my point, even while under attack.”

Grey’s political interests grew as he continued studying the American civil rights movements of the ’60s. At the Black Panther Party Museum in Oakland, he recalls meeting two former party members.

“This man Arthur (League), he was like, ‘When I joined the Panthers, I thought we were just gonna pick up a gun and do our thing for a couple years, and then it was gonna be over. I didn’t realize this wasn’t something I was gonna see in my lifetime,’” he says.

Grey admits that the struggle for social change is multifaceted. “It’s a long game. A ‘protracted struggle,’” he says. “We know what needs to be done, but we’re just trapped.”

The situation is not entirely hopeless. He remembers a story his grandfather once told him about the first Black pope. The person responsible for appointing him had to consult with his associates before doing so. Members of the group each argued that the world was not ready for it, stating that another 10 years was needed, or 25 years, or perhaps even never. But then it just happened, without delay, and the world went on.

“Change can happen in the blink of an eye,” he says. “(We must) be ready, so that when there is an opportunity for a shift, we’re able to step up and seize that moment.”

For Grey, coming together on behalf of a common goal is the key to salvaging our future. “There’s no choice but to keep moving forward.”

Published in Volume 78, Number 24 of The Uniter (April 4, 2024)

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