Concordia student Justin Tatone talks about his new album “BANE & BLESSING”.
On Sept. 29, Justin Tatone finally released his latest album BANE & BLESSING, a collaborative effort with his friend and frequent collaborator, rapper Benedict Tan. Released after a three-year wait, the project is an ambitious opus that fuses rage-rap with a myriad of other musical genres and styles.
Tatone credits American rapper Playboi Carti’s second album, Whole Lotta Red, as the primary influence for BANE & BLESSING. It paved the way for the rage-rap wave which was popularized by artists like Yeat and Trippie Redd in 2021. The genre’s characteristic sawtooth synths, 8-bit melodies, and heavy bass are all prominent on Tatone’s new album and originally constituted the entire soundtrack.
BANE does not juxtapose rage rap with other styles and seamlessly fuses them together, resulting in unique, electrified versions of these subgenres. The foundation of Tatone’s creative collective Xion in 2022 granted him new collaborators and ideas that would break the project’s one-dimensionality, venturing into sounds like grunge and synth-wave on “BANE’S THEME,” and dance-pop on “BLEACH ON ME.” “I needed things like that [other styles] to offset the agedness of those harsh rage tones,” Tatone explained.
Tatone fully embraces the album’s low-budget production and DIY approach, with most of the record having been recorded in his bedroom. He notably boasts on “BREAK THE FABRIC OF TIME” that he is out-rapping his competition, despite using BandLab (a free music production app for mobile devices). “When you’re stripped back in terms of budget and materials you have to wear that on your sleeve,” he said.
The artist invokes XXXTENTACION and Ski Mask the Slump God as examples of this mentality, given their inclusion of heavy distortion and room tone into their music. Tatone also praises the Baltimore-based rapper JPEGMAFIA, whose overblown mixing helped Tatone embrace the imperfections of his own.
BANE & BLESSING is a persona piece where Tatone and Tan portray two titular characters. “Bane is vain, indulgent in the iconography and gluttony of hip-hop. Blessing is woke and open-minded, he is the voice of reason,” Tatone explained. His character represents the current, bravado-heavy side of hip-hop, whereas Tan embodies the genre’s woke, conscious side.
Tatone’s lyricism is also filled with ridiculous one-liners like “You’re Boots, I’m Dora” (“MASK ON!”) and “Facebook moms love me like I’m Candy Crush” (“FANS / NEVER GOING BACK”), which fulfill his attempt at taking himself less seriously. “People are going to criticize you anyway, so might as well make it a fun time,” he said. These lyrics are guaranteed laughs from the audience but also help him loosen up. This idea relates to the masks in the album’s artwork, a motif that has been used to promote BANE & BLESSING since early 2022. “It helps to have a mask: I can pick at myself and make silly comments but still feel confident.”
Jaden Warren, a design student at Concordia, served as the creative director for the album, directing the art and designing a colour palette. The final album cover is AI-generated by Tatone and received praise from Warren as it lived up to his envisioned aesthetic. The rapper sees the AI cover as an extension of the album’s technological nature. “Bane only exists in the digital realm,” he claimed. Tatone sees no issue with artistic integrity as he believes he successfully divorced himself from his work on this album, allowing himself to embrace AI as an artistic medium.
Tatone cites collaboration as key to both his and the album’s artistic evolutions: “As a creative person, you can get stuck in a silo of thinking and have tunnel vision because you’re in love with your work.” The album notably contains guest features from Xion member E.Sko, punk-rapper KPTN, and rage-rap artist KeBenjii, all of whom hail from Montreal. A guest feature from Atlanta-based rapper Zoot was also secured through a mutual friend.
Overall, BANE & BLESSING is a highly ambitious and creative experiment that pushes the raging sound to new extremes while bringing different artists, ideas, and creative approaches into the mix. “It’s heavily derivative but an original interpolation of the culture. That’s what I’m most proud of,” Tatone concluded.