What About Us?

Bay Area politics are certainly different from those of the rest of California -- and the rest of the country. So it's really not that surprising that while the rest of the hip-hop nation has largely remained silent on the current political climate, the Bay Area has become a hotbed of socially conscious raptivists who've chosen hip-hop as the medium for their message. And in these times when Jessica Lynch herself goes on Dateline to refute inaccuracies in her made-for-TV movie, we need all the mainstream alternatives we can get.

If you've listened to KPFA's edutainment-themed drive-time show "Hard Knock Radio" at all in the last three years, you're probably aware of many of the artists on What About Us?, the first release on Hard Knock Records, a label run by a former intern at the show. Rico Pabon (Prophets of Rage), Zion-I, Blackalicious, Lunar Heights, Michael Franti & Spearhead -- they're all here. It's a pleasant revelation, though, to hear so many sympathetic artists listeners may not be so familiar with, such as LA's Abstract Tribe Unique, Portland's Cool Nutz, and SF-based Japanese MC ShingO2.

The tracks are all solid from an underground hip-hop standpoint, and while there's definitely a political theme (i.e., reminding folks about the war at home), the nice part is that many of these dope lyricists relate in real terms how political, economic, and social issues affect our everyday lives. Frontline's "I'm Still Livin'," for instance, speaks of "Bullet holes in my neighbors' kitchen/Praying for wisdom," echoing the famous couplet "Broken glass everywhere/People pissing on the stairs/You know they just don't care." If it's accurate, as Davey-D reiterates on the album's intro, that "the first casualty of war is truth," at least not all hip-hoppers are MIA.


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