Can You Handle Tha Truth?
To say that Tha Truth is eager is something of an understatement. The Philly MC is downright fanatical--a term this writer uses in its most positive sense. War, racism, sexism, the prison industrial complex and police brutality are all explicit targets on his most recent release, Tha People's Music. He peppers the album with speeches from Howard Zinn, Angela Davis and Cynthia McKinney.
His song titles are blunt and straightforward: "We're All Immigrants," "The Injustice System," "Military Recruiters Lie," etc., etc. Metaphors, poetic devices are completely absent here; his lyrics include sections like this one:
"Healthcare in the US is for profit
But yet they fund the projects sending rockets into space
It's not for the common good
The system's rich hoggin' goods
The rich get positions
And the system builds the prisons"
True to his namesake, this is an MC who works from the starting point of "if it's true, it's good." He even has two tracks that attempt to sum up Zinn's People's History of the United States in less than four minutes!
"Yeah... right," I hear you saying, "we've heard it before. Another didactic, preachy hip-hop artist choosing political manifestos over lyrical flare. Yawn." Normally, this writer would be right there with you. But if every artist that put their politics front and cernter was "preachy," then artists like The Coup and dead prez wouldn't have such significant followings. In fact, it was twenty years ago that a little known group from Long Island was accused of "fanaticism" in their overt, militant lyrics: Public Enemy (maybe you've heard of them).
The fact is that Tha People's Music makes for solid listening because Tha Truth is so blunt. It's clear that he isn't blunt because he doesn't know any other tactic (we've all heard those kinds of artists). He's consciously decided that he's most effective when he simply tells, well, the truth:
"There's a lot they're not teaching
A lot they're not preaching
'Cause they're preaching the allegiance
To a system that invades other countries like leeches"
That the beats on this album are varied and intricate certainly helps too. A few basic samples turn People's Music into an audio feast. Jazz and blues play prominent roles in Tha Truth's production, as do thick, bass-heavy bottoms and shimmering keyboards. He even samples an acoustic guitar riff instantly recognizable as "California Dreamin'" on "We're All Immigrants," providing a rootsy, soulful base for an assured missive for bottom-up, multinational unity.
This simple yet effective formula is what has brought Tha Truth to bring his rhymes to anti-war benefits, socialist conferences, even the Green Party's National Convention in 2008. If activists are loving his work, that's because he communicates their hopes and visions so spot-on.
One significant flaw can be pointed out about this album: its heavy orientation toward the '08 election means it's already outdated. The skeptical eye this MC raises toward Barack Obama can certainly suit budding activists well in the coming years, but tracks with titles like "The Campaign of Obama" make for a listening experience that's more disjointed than it has to be.
Ironically, this same flaw is what can make music like this so effective. The immediacy, the urgency, the ability to speak not about lofty notions but to what's going on right now, is something that is often missing from even the most radical music.
That is something that political artists would do well to rectify. The economic crisis, the rising gay rights movement, police repression, the increasing brutality in the Middle East at the hands of western powers--every day there seem to be more developments that in today's world are pushing people toward radical ideas. If they're is going to maintain any semblance of vitality and relevance, then artists and activists need to come to grips with their ability to simply speak its mind. The time for hemming and hawing is over. Now's the time to straight-up agitate. Pulling this off is its own art-form. Tha People's Music is but one example of what this might look like.
This article originally appeared at SleptOn.com .
Alexander Billet is a music journalist, writer and socialist living in Chicago. He is a columnist for SleptOn.com, and a regular contributor to ZNet and Socialist Worker. His article on censorship in hip-hop appears in the recently published "At Issue: Should Music Lyrics Be Censored For Violence And Exploitation?" from Greenhaven Press.
*To find out more about Tha Truth, and listen to his music, go to http://www.thatruthmusic.com.