Artist: Black Market MilitiaTitle: The Black Market MilitiaRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: William E. Ketchum III
Hip-hop and politics have a love-hate relationship. While many of the originators used the music as a platform to protest against the injustices and unfortunate circumstances created or neglected by the justice system, artists today incorporate social messages in their lyrics to little fanfare. While Nas and up-and-coming Just Blaze signee Saigon prove there are exceptions to the rule, the lack of A-List association with politically-minded MCs generally leaves room for weak production, causing their music to be ignored. With their self-titled debut, The Black Market Militia (Nature Sounds)an all-star lineup that consists of Tragedy Khadafi, Wu-Tang affiliates Killah Priest, TimboKing and Hellrazah, and newcomer William Cooperpresent political rap that bangs.
This group of MCs isnt running voter registration campaigns or implementing filibusters. Killah Priests four rules for the hood on the albums opener Thug Nation, Hellrazahs call to arms on Mayday!, and hooks like Back down soldiers, we blow gats/Military thoughts, we attack like silverbacks show that they oppose the machine altogether, taking a militant approach that rivals their Black Panther predecessors. dead prez join in with Khadafi and Priest on Audobon Ballroom to induce a political rap wet dream, complete with a snippet of a speech by Malcolm X preceding the verses. These views arent random gripes though; everyone here is well-read, as Khadafi lists influential volumes in Dead Street Scrolls and Hellrazah and Killah Priest cite biblical references in Paintbrush. Even historic musician/playwright/social commentator Oscar Brown Jr. and Abiodun Oyemole of the Last Poets stop by to contribute. Black Market Militia shows that they arent alone in their mission, and they urge anyone willing to come along.
Black Market Militia also has an undeniable chemistry thats rare in group projects. The majority of the production is decidedly grim and murky, tying in with the dark lyricism that saturates the LP. There are still a few surprises though: while the eerie hums and keys of The Final Call and the foreboding violins of Black Market invoke haunted house images, the catchy drums and guitar plucks of The Struggle induce head nods, the aforementioned Dead Street Scrolls dazzles with its multi-layered complexity, and Hood Lullaby meshes Indian flutes and strings with stuttering drums. The social ramblings and spiritual teachings are well-balanced with the gangsterisms, wordplay and imagery that many listeners are accustomed to, so the album shouldnt overbear anyone willing to give it a fair listen.
The disks coherence is its only potential downfall. With all of the MCs similar voices and patented chemistry as a unit, only die-hards will successfully distinguish each of the five lyricists apart from each other, which may defeat the purpose of a supergroup to many listeners. But that doesnt seem like the purpose here. Instead of a resume builder or opportunity to outshine others, Black Market Militia resembles the Detroit Pistons with their unselfishness and role-playing to establish a quality final product; and at this rate, the political rap title is in safe hands.