Rapper Will Brooks still determined to speak up as world burns
Endangered Philosophies, the most recent album from New Jersey hip-hop trio Dalek, doesn't drop until early September, yet perennially forward-looking rapper Will Brooks (aka MC Dalek) already has his eyes focused squarely on the next move.
“As soon as we're done with an album, I'm already looking at the next thing,” said Brooks, who will perform solo at Double Happiness on Saturday, Aug. 19. “I hope to keep evolving. I don't have much time for nostalgia.”
But with the group approaching its 20th anniversary — Dalek's debut full-length, Negro Necro Nekros surfaced in 1998 — Brooks allowed for a bit of time travel in an early August phone interview, recalling his evolution from DJ (he started scratching at age 13 or 14) to hesitant, 16-year-old MC, as well as the early influences that helped shape Dalek's chaotic sound, including hazy Irish rockers My Bloody Valentine, German krautrock band Faust and Bomb Squad-produced rap group Public Enemy.
“I don't like that expression ‘we were ahead of the times,' but I guess back then there weren't too many people doing what we were doing in the world of hip-hop,” said Brooks of Dalek's music, which has influenced a new generation of noise-loving rappers, including Death Grips and Sub Pop-signees clipping. “When we started Dalek … it wasn't like we were like, ‘Yo, let's make the weirdest, most out-there music we can make.' It's never been that. It's just music that sounds and feels right to us. I know it's not mainstream, top-40 music. That's obvious. But I think it resonates with a lot of different people.”
“Echoes of,” which kicks off Endangered Philosophies, calls to mind Dalek's volume-loving roots, building on a chopped-up, corroded guitar sample provided by Toronto noise-trio METZ, scabbed, disintegrating drums, and Brooks' deep, booming voice, which still hits with the force of cinder block chunks lobbed amid a street riot. Elsewhere, however, Dalek navigates new sonic terrain, with Brooks' vocals, which have traditionally been obscured in the mix, taking center stage on spacier cuts like “Few Understand,” which, somewhat ironically, ranks among the easiest-to-discern tracks in the crew's catalog.
“It's not that we wanted to obscure the messages [on earlier records]; It's more we wanted to make sure the music was powerful, and earlier on it was harder to maintain that balance, so we opted to make sure the music was bumping,” said Brooks, adding that he viewed his voice as more of an instrument in the mix on early recordings. “The last two records, the lyrics are a little more in the fore than in the past. Maybe the urgency of the times makes it that I want people to really hear what I'm saying.”
Social and political strife dominate Brooks' worldview on Endangered, which finds the rapper addressing everything from growing anti-immigrant sentiment (“The Son of Immigrants”) to the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2014 death of Eric Garner, whose final words as he died at the hands of New York City police officers (“I can't breathe”) later turned up on protest T-shirts worn by professional basketball players, including LeBron James. “Reality's warped,” Brooks raps on “Weapons,” “you can lose a breath over untaxed Newports.”
“Someone asked me if I thought music could affect political change or if it just gives you a platform to vent, and I think it's both. I don't think a song can change anything, but what music can do is … make you ask yourself questions. It puts a mirror up to society and puts a mirror up to you,” Brooks said. “Right now, again, we're going through some shit. I'd like to see more music stand up and say something. I understand when things are hard people want escapism, too. I get it. But how long can you escape when everything is fucking burning?”
While Dalek's latest feels shaped by the thick, black clouds emitted by these current political/social fires, Brooks said he's careful to keep details vague, determined to keep the group's music from feeling overly tied to a specific point in time.
“There are obviously loaded words and phrases where I'm trying to steer you a certain direction, but I really don't enjoy spoon feeding people,” Brooks said. “That's not what it's about. I want people to think.”
And, even more than that, Brooks doesn't want listeners to walk away thinking it's inevitable that everything will be reduced to ash.
“I don't want to paint it all doom and gloom,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that I have been touring for more than 20 years. I've been all over this country, and … there are beautiful people here of all types.
“That's the thing about my music I want people to understand. It's not, ‘Oh, this is the end of the world.' There is that tinge of hope in it, and it's there because I believe in people, and I believe we can do better.”