Angry Blackmen Lay Out Their Lore as They Walk Us Through “The Legend of ABM”

The debut full-length from Chicago emcees Quentin Branch and Brian Warren is out now via Deathbomb Arc.
Track by Track

Angry Blackmen Lay Out Their Lore as They Walk Us Through The Legend of ABM

The debut full-length from Chicago emcees Quentin Branch and Brian Warren is out now via Deathbomb Arc.

Words: Mike LeSuer

Photo: Joseph Torres

January 26, 2024

After releasing a handful of singles at the tail end of the ’10s, Quentin Branch and Brian Warren teamed up for three EPs in three consecutive years under the highly descriptive moniker Angry Blackmen—a bluntness that carried over to each of those release’s titles: Talkshit!, Headshots!, and Reality!. Yet to differentiate themselves from the raging industrial hip-hop of peers like Ho99o9 and former Deathbomb Arc labelmate JPEGMAFIA, Branch and Warren have always opted for more minimalist beats, mostly courtesy of longtime collaborator Derek Allen (a.k.a. Formants). In putting the duo’s voices front and center as they trade heated verses ranging in topic from the grave sociopolitical commentary that defined the early quarantine period and more timeless shit talking, the effect was arguably more bracing than some of Peggy’s most maximalist instrumentals.

After nearly three years of silence, Angry Blackmen returned at the top of 2024 to announce their debut full-length, The Legend of ABM, which aims to build the foundation of the project’s lore. Citing “capitalism, Afro-futurism, and Black masculinity” as the record’s central themes, Branch and Warren are at their most personal on these 11 tracks as they tag team beats with lyrics that reveal the struggles they’ve endured, particularly in the time since Reality! was released—depression, alcoholism, and a traumatizing car crash included.

Yet the flip side of this dour and intimate subject matter is the fact that The Legend of ABM marks the first time Branch and Warren have teamed up with a cast of outside collaborators, which includes fellow Chicago underground staple Skech185, in-demand macabre-surrealist Fatboi Sharif, and improvisatory pop producer Abbie From Mars. It’s only fitting that Angry Blackmen’s origin story—a document of overcoming existential obstacles and celebrating the life at the other end—doesn’t see them going it alone.

With the record out today, you can stream along as you read through the track-by-track breakdown provided by both emcees below.

1. “Stanley Kubrick”
The production for this track was originally conceived by our producer Derek [Allen] at the beginning of January 2022. We decided to sit with this instrumental for a couple of months before attacking it. We knew going into this song that we wanted to flex our pen game and flows. The finished track ended up feeling very cinematic in scale, so we decided to call it “Stanley Kubrick” as a nod to the legendary director. “Killing this shit, I know you niggas is feeling this shit / Spider-Man spitting that venomous shit, Stanley Kubrick with the cinema shit.”

2. “FNA”
One of the earliest tracks we worked on for the album. “FNA,” for us, means “Free N*gga Agent.” Going into this one we wanted to focus on lyricism/songwriting. The main paint of the writing process was to create something that made us feel as free as possible. 

3. “The Legend of ABM”
We feel the title track best represents some of the core themes of the album: capitalism, Afro-futurism, and Black masculinity. We wanted this one to turn out as authentic as possible in order to convey the larger themes of the album. The female sample you hear half-way through the song is a friend of ours from Japan, Yuki Fujinami (the woman on the cover of the album). The sample translates to: “Once upon a time in this dystopic wilderness known as North America, there lived two Angry Blackmen. After a brief hiatus, our heroes Brian and Quentin have returned. Angry Blackmen are back to take the industry by storm!”

4. “GRIND”
Derek originally made this beat back in early 2021. We held onto this for a couple of years because we felt we weren’t ready to approach it at that stage in our career, and we would later revisit the track when we felt ready in mid-2022. The track is a critique of grind culture and hyper-capitalism in America. We asked ourselves, “What does it mean to chase your dreams while paying bills?” This song is essentially our version of “Rhymes Like Dimes” by the legendary rapper MF DOOM. The hook explains this best: “Working nine to five on the grind just to stay alive / Money on my mind when I rhyme just to make a dime.”

5. “Suicidal Tendencies”
Homage to “Suicidal Thoughts” by rapper The Notorious B.I.G. “Suicidal Tendencies” is one of the most personal records that Angry Blackmen has ever released. It was written from a dark place and very turbulent period in time. The song makes multiple references to the infamous 27 club, mental health, and fighting addiction (mainly alcoholism). Rap songs about mental health matter. In fact, one of the very first rap songs ever created, the 1982 hit “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, describes a world of poverty, mental health, and systemic racism.

An anthem for all who feel marginalized and angry. Angry Blackmen has always been about standing up for what’s right, and the mission has always been about giving a voice to the voiceless. “FUCKOFF” is essentially a middle finger to corporations, the prison industrial complex, and white liberalism. 

7. “Dead Men Tell No Lies” (feat. Fatboi Sharif)
The production on this track is heavily influenced by Nine Inch Nails, specifically the song “The Day the World Went Away.” The track was recorded with live instruments to capture a more intimate experience. We wanted to test our ability to rap over heavier production and speak on darker subject matter. “Dead Men Tell No Lies” features themes of death, religion, and existentialism. 

We had Fatboi Sharif in mind after being introduced to his music a while back. We reached out to him sometime in November of 2022. We were very excited to work with him. We told him, “We been juggling some themes for the album: consumerism, existentialism, capitalism, and exploitation of Black culture to white consumers in the digital age. Feel free to incorporate that into the verse anyway you see fit.” Sharif responded with: “Hell yeah. Let’s do some heavy wild shit that’s gone shock the world.”

8. “Sabotage"
“Sabotage” was written in the middle stages of creating the album. The main goal of the song was to express our different perspectives on life and current-day society. The song title is in reference to the final interview of American serial killer Aileen Wuornos. “Trapped like an animal / America the cannibal.”

9. “Amor Propio” (feat. Nordra)
A love letter to people who believe in themselves despite the odds. “Amor propio” is a Spanish term that has no direct English translation, but can be roughly translated to mean “self-esteem” or “self-love.” It refers to an individual’s sense of worth and the value they place on themselves. The song tells the story of the complex relationship between Brian and coming to terms with loving himself despite the hardships of everyday life. 

10. “Outsiders” (feat. Skech185)
“Outsiders” was one of the last tracks we worked on for the album. The song takes everything back to the basics of hip-hop, mainly focusing on beats, lyrics, flow, and clever songwriting. We feel like we’re outsiders when it comes to the greater mainstream Chicago scene. Sketch185 has been a huge staple in the underground hip-hop scene, and we’ve been a fan of Backwoodz Studioz for some time (especially billy woods). The collab made sense: We’ve been coming up and building a name for ourselves almost half a decade, and Skech185 has been doing his thing. It’s a celebration of the underground and the underdogs of Chicago hip-hop. 

11. “Magnum Opus” (feat. Abbie From Mars)
The beat was originally conceived and co-produced by Quentin in May of 2021. What started off as piano and simple synth cords became one of the most poetic and emotional tracks on the record. Our main producer for this project, Derek, took the original skeleton and built something truly special and grandiose in scale. We wanted to end the album on a high note, something bittersweet. We tackled the track knowing it would be very personal. We knew that going into this album we wanted fans to get to know us better as rappers. Here we each talk about events that shaped us as individuals. Brian reflects on his past experiences growing up as a Black man in Chicago, Quentin talks about surviving a car crash that happened in the fall of 2022 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

We felt Abbie From Mars was a perfect fit for this song. We met her in the summer of 2022 opening up for Dälek in Brooklyn. The text went something like: “Hey Abbie! I know it’s late lol was working on this album and I thought of you. Would you be down to feature if we sent a track? Thinking of like a really melodic hook, I love what you did singing-wise with your song ‘Fog It Up,’ was thinking something melodic like that.”

She was thrilled and responded: “Would be psyched and honored! Thanks for thinking of me.”