The Black Market Militia

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 Cooper—present political rap that bangs.

This group of MCs isn’t running voter registration campaigns or implementing filibusters. Killah Priest’s “four rules for the hood” on the album’s opener “Thug Nation,” Hellrazah’s 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 aren’t 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 aren’t alone in their mission, and they urge anyone willing to come along.

Black Market Militia also has an undeniable chemistry that’s 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 shouldn’t overbear anyone willing to give it a fair listen.

The disk’s 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 doesn’t 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.