S.O.N. and the struggle

November 21, 2008

Bob Quellos explains why it's a good time for political hip-hop.

THERE'S A myth perpetuated in pop culture that hip-hop no longer produces relevant social commentary. And ever since Nas rhymed the infamous hyperbole "hip-hop is dead," the never-ending debate about the genre's vitality has exponentially increased.

Hopefully, with the release of The Art of Struggle by Son of Nun and DJ Mentos we can finally put this argument to rest.

Son of Nun (S.O.N.) is a former Baltimore City high school teacher, activist/organizer, cancer survivor, sickle cell battler and one killer emcee. His latest album The Art of Struggle, is only his second release, but calling S.O.N. a burgeoning hip-hop impresario would be an insult.

As S.O.N. will let you know, he's "got this rappin' thing down/It's a synch." And it's possible that after a few listens you'll be in total agreement, as you find yourself making room for S.O.N. on your list of top five favorite emcees.

From beginning to end, The Art of Struggle is thick with revolutionary political content. Check out S.O.N. on the end of "Reality Check" as he rhymes a cappella, "I'm a dark skin Marxist marksman/Sparkin' rebellion everywhere that I'm marchin." Without a doubt, these are some lyrics that are sure to send the entire FOX News posse into a panic attack.

On the first track, "Fire Next Time," S.O.N. begins with a lesson on the history of slavery and the Haitian Revolution. And within a couple of verses, he brings us to the present day, rhyming about a soldier in Iraq who only signed up for the U.S military because of a lack of jobs in his community. And the situation has him ready to revolt. S.O.N. rhymes:

You can call Bechtel on your Nextel
Tell them that their pipeline's about to catch hell
If they think I'm gonna die for them they ain't well
I'm the fire next time
And I'm at their doorbell.

"Pastures of Plenty" puts us into the shoes of an undocumented day laborer. As hard-driving beats by DJ Mentos accompany an orchestral loop, S.O.N. reaches down for a deep vocal tone that leaves the whole track with a gritty feel:

Up and gone at dawn to find work
By the street corner auction block
Where crime lurks
The line jerks, as gringos grind time into dimes
Taking the fruit of the labor, leavin us with the rinds.

Throughout the album, DJ Mentos makes sure your head is bouncing and the crowd dancing, especially on the b-boy tracks "Right On" and "The Reason." At the same time, S.O.N. changes the mood back in forth from serious to sarcastic as he takes on the personality of an emcee who has sold out on "Reality Check" or as he discusses the death penalty in "Litebrite," asking:

Son of Nun
Son of Nun

Why Christians always gotta to wear the cross
Christ don't want a flashback of how they knocked him off
Number one victim of the death penalty
But you still killin'
Try to call that shit a remedy.

WHEN HIP-HOP meets politics, the result can be confused, cliché or just too overt, but S.O.N. never falls into any of these traps. Instead he takes a confident view that the world is made up of the haves and have-nots and crafts complex rhymes from there. Outside of the occasional hook, the message is never a one-liner.

It's a serious task, but The Art of Struggle seems to cover everything that is politically relevant--from the current state of hip-hop to gay rights. On "Speak On It," S.O.N. breaks down the politics of the U.S. military, Israel's war on Lebanon, Hurricane Katrina and the political execution of Stan "Tookie" Williams. Let's just say S.O.N. isn't your average "conscience" emcee.

And as far as "conscience" emcees, S.O.N. is hardly alone. Over the past few years, Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, EL-P and MIA are among a whole slew of artists who have been putting forward the hardest-hitting beats alongside some of the most relevant social commentary.

Recently, however, even the mainstream of hip-hop has responded to the changing political tide. The Source was once a groundbreaking hip-hop magazine, but has devolved over the years into a checkout aisle glossy that independent emcees (including S.O.N.) have made a sport of lyrically trashing.

But the latest issue of The Source (subtitled "The Politics Issue") is full of relevant political content that takes on the elections, Iraq, life after prison and the right of felons to vote. The letter from the editor even points out that "absent from the agendas of both Senators Barack Obama and John McCain are their plans for those incarcerated--and many of those most affected by the struggle of the hood."

It's seems safe to say that something is going on in that place where hip-hop and politics meet. And if you're still not convinced that hip-hop is alive and well, you should pick up the new album by Son of Nun and DJ Mentos, and just let them walk you through it.

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