Hotep, from Blunt's new project, Blue Iverson, brings a fresh set of variables into play. If the release's Discogs page is to be believed, it was recorded with a crack team of Los Angeles instrumentalists and singers (including the respected producer-songwriter Jeff Gitelman), perhaps in Stones Throw's Highland Park studio (their in-house producer, Jake Viator, is credited as engineer). Blunt seems to be more of a facilitator than a composer in the traditional sense and, as usual, he might have some sly ulterior motive. The Lauryn Hill portrait on the cover, a song title referencing Fox drama Empire ("Who Shot Lucious Lyon?"), and the music—a languid accretion of downtempo beats, sweet Rhodes and guitar—suggest that he's commenting on a particular black American music culture as much as he is earnestly participating in it.
In the record's best moments, this dual motive is audible, and unsettling. On "Soulseek," clunky synth strings in the style of The Redeemer converse awkwardly with the slick backing band. "Brown Grrl" is the record's strangest track, its synth and guitar licks roaming distant tonal zones over swelling strings. These tracks find a strange melancholy in their innocuous materials. Mostly, though, a pro studio and pro musicians turn out to be fallow ground for Blunt's subversive tactics. The likes of "Coy Boy," "Nappytex," and "Hush Money" lack the mysterious third dimension that would make them more than scrappy neo-soul pastiche.
Perhaps it's unfair to expect too much from a free online release with minimal context or promotion. But some of Blunt's best music is hidden in a diffuse galaxy of "unofficial" releases. Hotep's shortcomings can be encapsulated in one sound: the unsightly weals of distortion on the vocals in "Jenna's Interlude" and closer "Fake Loathe." Poor sound quality isn't by definition a flaw, particularly not in Dean Blunt's music. But in this case it's not a sign of things rubbing against one another productively; it just sounds like a mistake.