It wasn’t something that normally happened on the BBC. On the afternoon of Saturday, June 19, 2020, Radio 6 Music DJ Gilles Peterson decided to scrap his planned playlist for an hour to air a new album in its entirety. That morning, quasi-anonymous, retro-futurist soul collective SAULT had surprise-dropped their third album, Untitled (Black Is), to mark Juneteenth, the annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. The record also served as a swift reaction to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis just over three weeks earlier.

“I received it in the morning,” Peterson recalled to this writer. “Literally, I listened to it once, made sure there weren’t any [swear] words. Then I played the whole record [on the air] from beginning to end. I thought, ‘not only is it a great response record, but it’s also full of great songs.’”

A rare statement from SAULT accompanying the release appeared online the same day: “We present our first Untitled album to mark a moment in time where we as Black People, and people of Black Origin, are fighting for our lives. RIP George Floyd and all those who have suffered from police brutality and systemic racism. Change is happening ... We are focused.”

The 20-track album was certainly focused, high on sonic ambition (ranging from stark soul to Afrobeat to haunted dub) and extremely pointed in its messaging. Self-explanatory track titles included “Stop Dem,” “Don’t Shoot Guns Down,” and “Why We Cry Why We Die,” while the standout lines of “Wildfires’' were delivered with calm detachment by SAULT’s chief singer, Cleo Sol, over an eerie, reverberating groove. “Take off your badge,” she coolly intoned. “We all know it was murder.”

SAULT’s music is all the more alluring due to the mysteries that surround the group. Their name, for one, is reputedly an unexplained acronym (the “U” apparently standing for “Universal”). For the release of their first two albums, 2019′s 5 and 7, there was no information forthcoming other than a production credit for Inflo, aka Dean Josiah Cover, who it soon transpired was the mastermind behind the band.

The media-shy, London-based Inflo had travelled a circuitous route to reach this point. Discovered in 2013 via SoundCloud by the perhaps unlikely figure of Luke Pritchard, singer with English indie band the Kooks, when he was searching for a hip-hop producer to oversee their beats-heavy fourth album, 2014′s Listen, he was later likened by Pritchard to a “young Quincy Jones.” From here, Inflo’s projects began to quickly stack up: Michael Kiwanuka’s sonically groundbreaking 2016 album, Love & Hate (co-produced, like its 2019 successor, Kiwanuka, with Danger Mouse); Jungle’s neo-disco long-player For Ever; North London rapper Little Simz’s hip-hop-and-funk-melding GREY Area.

But it was with the emergence of SAULT that Inflo began to make a big impression in his own right, as both a musician and writer as well as producer. Their debut single, “We Are The Sun,” released in 2019 on their Forever Living Originals label, mixed shuffling ‘80s funk with the wide-eyed positivity of Rotary Connection, showcasing one of the many styles that would feature on SAULT’s 5 debut, along with the Fela Kuti/Talking Heads groove of “Don’t Waste My Time”, “Funky Drummer”-ish soul yearner “Let Me Go,” and the beautiful, slow-burning neo-soul of “Masterpiece.”

Details about the other participants were sketchy, but anonymity being of course difficult to maintain in the digital age, certain facts began to surface. Along with Inflo, both 5 and its successor 7 featured South London vocalist Cleopatra Nikolic, aka Cleo Sol, and Chicago rapper Melissa “Kid Sister” Young. By the time Untitled (Black Is) was released in 2020, the cast had expanded to include North London youth worker Laurette Josiah, in an empowering monologue on “This Generation,” and an audibly unrecognisable Michael Kiwanuka, adopting the Ugandan tones of his parents to shout out to African nations amid the spiralling Afrobeat of “Bow.”

The more the interest in SAULT grew, the less keen they were to explain their music and methodology, routinely turning down interview requests. “He fits into that area of not wanting to do media,” Gilles Peterson said of Inflo. Nathan Burke of Forever Living Originals explained something of the producer’s modus operandi when accepting Inflo’s Ivor Novello Award in 2017 for his co-writing of Kiwanuka’s “Black Man in a White World.” “He’s an amazing people person. Once he builds a rapport with any artist … cause he’s very creative himself…he understands how to tap into people of that kind of nature.”