New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: hip-hop music

Globalfest 2019: Esoterica Rules, Again

Special thanks to Globalfest staffer Neha Gandhi, whose quick thinking, quiet diplomacy and efforts beyond the call of duty (and complicity in trying to create a teachable moment) made it possible for this review to appear

The premise of Globalfest in its early days was to connect talent buyers with booking agents representing acts from around the world. Youtube may have rendered that innovation obsolete, but every January, both crowds get together in New York to party on the company dime….and see some great music. The public comes out too. “I didn’t expect to see you here!” draws a response of “I didn’t expect to see you either!” Friends from the swing jazz or country blues scene discover a possibly secret, shared love for middle eastern music, and so forth. In 2019, more than ever, esoterica rules.

Sets are staggered in different areas of the venue throughout the night so that everybody can get a little taste of everything. As usual, last night’s show had more flavors than Dosa Hut (in case you haven’t already been seduced by the New York area’s most ambitious purveyors of sublimely delicious, crunchy Indian wraps, you are in for a treat).

Over the last couple of years, the artists on the bill have often represented a forceful backlash against anti-immigrant stridency, and last night was no exception. Both the whirlwind Palestinian rap-rock-reggae crew 47SOUL and magical Mexican chanteuse Magos Herrera – backed by string quartet Brooklyn Rider and drummer Mathias Kunzli – articulated fierce responses against wall-building.

But that issue was just a small part of each act’s many-faceted performance. 47SOUL spoke not only for the rights of Palestinians and Syrian refugees but for full-scale global unity against encroaching tyranny, through a blend of Arabic hip-hop, surreal dub reggae and keening, synthy habibi dancefloor pop. Likewise, Herrera drew on practically a century of pan-latin balladry, protest songs, classical and indie classical music, over a backdrop that was as propulsive as it was lustrous. It’s rare to see a string quartet play with as much sheer vigor as violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Michael Nicholas.

It would have been fun to have been able to catch more of the spectacularly dynamic Debashish Bhattacharya, who alternated between rapidfire raga intensity on veena, and some unexpectedly balmy, twinkling slide guitar work in a Hawaiian slack-key interlude, joined by his similarly masterful daughter Anandi on vocals along with a first-rate tabla player.

Likewise, it was tantalizing to watch from behind the drums, relying on the monitor mix, throughout most of the night’s best-attended set, by theatrical Ukrainian band Dakh Daughters. The theatrical all-female group came across as a Slavic gothic mashup of the Dresden Dolls and Rasputina. In matching white facepaint and forest-spirit dresses, they paired ominous cellos against creepy piano chromatics and spritely flute over slow, ominous beats, switching off instruments frequently. As with so many artists whose cultures have been under attack, there’s no doubt plenty of grim subtext in their phantasmagorical narratives.

Since headliner the Mighty Sparrow had cancelled, the night’s largest ensemble were oldschool Cuban salsa band Orquesta Akokán, shifting through sparsely pummeling charanga-style passages, slinky mambos at various tempos, a lickety-split tonguetwister number and a machinegunning timbale solo that might have been the most adrenalizing moment of the entire night.

Playing solo a floor above, guitarist/banjo player Amythyst Kiah held the crowd rapt with her powerful, looming contralto vocals, her tersely slashing chops on both instruments and unselfconsciously deep insights into the melting pot of Appalachian folk music. Blending brooding, judiciously fingerpicked originals with a similarly moody choice of covers, she went as far back as 18th century Scotland – via 19th century African America – and as far forward as Dolly Parton, with equally intense results.

The evening ended with an apt choice of headliner, Combo Chimbita, who kept the remaining crowd of dancers on their feet throughout a swirling tornado of psychedelic, dub-inspired tropicalia, merengue and cumbia. Frontwoman Carolina Oliveros, a force of nature with her shamanic, hurricane-force roar and wail, circled the stage as if in a trance. Behind her, guitarist Niño Lento, bassist/keyboardist Prince of Queens and drummer Dilemastronauta built smoky ambience that rose to frenetic electric torrents and then subsided, a mighty series of waves to ride out into an increasingly chilly night.

This Year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Opens With a Kung Fu Movie and a Hip-Hop Icon

This past evening’s opening concert at this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival was a score to a kung-fu movie.

It was a really good one, too. One can only imagine the kind of synchronicity involved in the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA just being back from a national tour performing (and mixing) his lush, eclectic electroacoustic soundtrack to the 1978 Shaw Brothers martial arts classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. It’s populist to the core, a vengeful tale of citizens brutalized and massacred by the shock troops of a psychotic tyrant. The villain and his minions round up innocent shopkeepers, massacre students en masse and maintain a stranglehold on civil rights. How little the world changes, huh?

Beyond the flick’s sudden and sometimes bewildering jump cuts, what’s most memorable is the training the Shaolin monks go through on their way to kung fu dharma. They strengthen their arms with a water bucket drill, swords attached to their waist and pointed upward lest they let their arms waver. Likewise, a spin-the-wheel training installation delivers the same bloody slash to anyone who isn’t twirling his spear in perfect circular motion. The hero’s teachers never fail to be awed and offer praise, but the bloodstains remain. Is this a message that sadism from the top down pervades the most remote corners of society? Or were the filmmakers simply rolling with a series of gory thrills?

At the Wu-Tang Clan’s peak, it was always a mystery how much of RZA’s signature stormy cinematic backdrops were simply clever sampling, and how much was actually live. Opening the show, his old Staten Island pals John Lugo and Tom Shannon joined him, each man methodically working a laptop full of beats and loops which ranged from thunderous to funky, to spare, sometimes disintegrating into the mist. Much as there are plenty of grim scenes in the movie, RZA’s score seized on the occasionally sardonic moments, whenever they occurred, if only to lighten the overcast atmospherics.

The most relevatory moment was when RZA left his laptop and moved to a keyboard in the midde of the stage. Nonchalant and workmanlike, he began with steady, spare piano chords and took his time building a cumulo-nimbus backdrop, switching to a series of symphonic string synthesizer patches. Anyone who assumed back in the 90s that RZA was simply patchworking snippets from old soul and funk recordings might be dead wrong. Moving from behind the studio curtain, RZA affirmed his status as a major cinematic composer and a more than competent keyboardist.

There was a special guest, too: Raekwon motored in from the wings to rap the final verse of the classic Wu-Tang anthem C.R.E.A.M. about midway through the movie. A previous attempt at Lincoln Center Out of Doors to stage symphonic hip-hop – with West Coast material, last year –  fell flat. With that in mind, it was even more rewarding to see a lifelong New Yorker getting credit for a mighty success on his home turf.

The next cinema-related Lincoln Center Out of Doors show is this Friday, July 27 at 7:30 PM out back in Damrosch Park with the New York premiere of Hal Willner’s Amarcord Nino Rota, a mix of jazz talent reimagining classic Fellini  film scores from the 50s and 60s. Security is very brisk and efficient as in years past, but it still couldn’t hurt to get there early if you want a seat.

Quincy Vidal Bring the Real Brooklyn to Lincoln Center

“One of my favorite bands in New York City,” Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez said succinctly, introducing Quincy Vidal’s rambunctious debut there last night . Then she let the Brooklyn hip-hop band’s lyrics speak for themselves.

“When we first got this gig, the first question I asked was, do they know who they booked?” co-leader and rapper Le’Asha Julius grinned. “Do they know the shit we talk about?” Obviously yes: this isn’t your grandfather’s Lincoln Center anymore and hasn’t been for awhile.

Backed by a tight, woozily funky four-piece band: Telecaster, multi-keys, bass and drums – Julius and her lyrical conspirator Caleb “CE” Eberhardt traded verses and spun rapidfire, intricately packed rhymes that ranged from unselfconsciously funny, tonguetwisting battle-of-the-sexes scenarios, to slit-eyed boudoir jams, to some dead-serious, spot-on social commentary.

The duo wrote their first album on Quincy Street in Fort Greene, and Julius grew up on Quincy Street in Washington, DC. The real Quincy Vidal – a college classmate – was in the house, and naturally he got a big shout. And  as much as the funny joints went over the best with the crowd – who rushed in just as the band took the stage – the most resonant material was the most relevant stuff. One of the night’s high points was also the night’s most complicated number, which Eberhardt opened with a thinly veiled reference to the Akai Gurley killing. From there, he went after the young Republican invasion of Brooklyn, hard, while pondering whether it’s possible to walk the line between making a living off these “suckers” and keeping it real.

Toward the end of the group’s hourlong set, the two went more deeply and exasperatedly into that same theme with Tired as Shit, which raises the question of how selling your soul to the white devil just to pay the rent can undermine your artistic career.

The rest of the night was less intense, but the craftsmanship of the lyrics didn’t let up. Eberhardt packs a whole lot of syllables into his rhymes – imagine Bone Thugs if they had something to say. Julius is more straight-ahead: one of her most defiantly funny numbers, she said, she wrote when she was twelve, and that one had a vintage Monie Love charm.

Their first  joint was a guy-meets-girl scenario “for the lovers in the room,” a lot funkier than your typical boudoir jam, the keyboardist having fun doing the Roger vocoder thing with his vocals. Eberhardt freestyled one of the verses of Feeling’ Like, a funny, innuendo-packed sex tune from their first full-length album Chi’ren. and Julius wouldn’t let him get away with the “tingle between your thighs” reference. They segued from there into a conscious shout-along, followed by a rapidfire party bounce number and then Homegrown, an amped-up stoner boudoir neosoul groove that got funky in a split-second.

The night’s funniest song was for the smokers, Zapp & Roger mashed up with the Lost Boyz  – “You’re only talking when you’re high,” was the refrain early on. “I should have stopped three drinks ago, should have left that shit alone,” Eberhardt added as the story gained momentum – or lost it, depending on your perspective. The duo don’t take themselves seriously at all, and their band is strong, reinforced by the gritty bluesmetal guitar solo that ended this one.

The next concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street is this Thursday, July 27 at 7:30 PM with kinetic, fearlessly populist oldtime Americana songwriter and banjoist Kaia Kater. The show is free; get there early if you’re going.

Balkan Beat Box Put Out Their Hottest Dancefloor Album Yet to Brooklyn Steel

The immediate image that comes to mind from the opening track on Balkan Beat Box’s new album Shout it Out – streaming at Spotify – is singer Tomer Yosef beckoning a vast crowd of dancers at some summer festival to join in on the chorus. “Can I get a BOOOOM?”

Dude, you can get as much boom as you want because this is a party in a box. Balkan Beat Box have always been a dance band, but this is their danciest record yet. His longtime bandmates, saxophonist Ori Kaplan and ex-Big Lazy drummer Tamir Muskat join him in paring the new songs closer to the bone than ever. The hooks are more disarmingly direct and the beats seem faster than usual, maybe because the energy is so high. For what it’s worth, it’s their least Balkan and most Jamaican-influenced album to date.

The album keeps the party rolling long after everybody presumably gives Yosef a BOOM. That number, Give It a Tone has echoes of dancefloor reggae. The next, I Trusted U, hints at Bollywood over a Bo Diddley beat that picks up with a mighty sway and a slashing, vintage Burning Spear-style horn chart. The title track is a lean, dub-influenced tune that gives Yosef another big opportunity to engage the crowd.

The woozily strutting electro-dancehall number Ching Ching is really funny, Yosef’s rhymes making fun of status-grubbers who “Wanna be a bigshot on a small screen…everybody do the same twerking,” he snarls. I’ll Watch Myself stirs a simple Balkan brass hook into a pulsing midtempo EDM beat with a little hip-hop layered overhead. From there the group segue into Just the Same, which is the album’s coolest track: a mashup of dub, dancehall and Algerian rai.

Kaplan gets his smoky baritone sax going in Hard Worker, a funny bhangra rap number. “If you want, I can also be Obama,” Yosef wants us to know. There are both fast as well as slower, shorter dub versions of Mad Dog and This Town, the former a No No No-stye noir soul strut, the latter a dancehall tune. There’s also Kum Kum, a skeletally clattering J-pop influenced groove with a girlie chorus. The one thing you can’t do with this is pump up the bass because there basically isn’t any. Bring it on!

Ensemble Mik Nawooj Reinvent Hip-Hop Classics in Harlem

“Rolling down the street, smoking indo!” soprano Anne Hepburn Smith sang, belting at gale force for maximum dramatic effect. A sold-out audience of white tourists exploded in laughter.

“Sipping on gin and juice!” Ensemble Mik Nawooj’s two MCs, Sandman and Do D.A.T. responded. There wasn’t a member of the chamber orchestra behind them who could resist a shit-eating grin. It was as if to say, we can’t believe we’re actually playing this song at all, let alone this way…heating up the coldest night of the year, Saturday night at the Apollo, no less.

In their first-ever New York concert, at the third-floor cafe space there, that Ensemble Mik Nawooj managed to deliver a show worth seeing at all was a major accomplishment. If they’d been able to hear each other onstage, if the sound mix had been even remotely decent, or if bandleader JooWan Kim hadn’t been forced to play the show and conduct the band from the floor, seated in front of the stage at an out-of-tune upright piano whose lid had been ripped off, there’s no telling how much more comfortable this mighty band would have sounded.

They take a well-loved hip-hop formula – moody, lush strings with eerily tinkling piano – to the next level. Hip-hop with a live band goes way back to acts like Rare Essence and Schoolly D, but this show had more in common with Yaasin Bey’s most lavish mashups of rap and classical music. Kim told the crowd that his new arrangements of popular rap hits, most of them from the 90s, would be radical reinventions, and he wasn’t kidding.

Smith didn’t come in until the death-obsessed second number, like Oya with the thunderbolt when things got really intense. The menacing twinkle from Kim’s fingers mingled with the washes of strings from violinist Clare Armenante and cellist Saul Richmond-Rakerd. Flutist Elizabeth Talbert and clarinetist James Pytko animated the set’s funkiest moments while bassist Eugene Theriault and drummer LJ Alexander gave the tunes more swing than any sample or drum machine ever could.

The two MCs nailed the rapidfire rap toward the end of the show’s epic opener syllable for tonguetwisting syllable. Kim directed brisk, catchy ELO-ish chamber pop interludes, starry macabre set pieces and baroque violin passages in between the rappers’ manic flow, bubbly woodwinds interspersed with the lyrics over the tight rhythm section. They mined the Wu-Tang Clan’s classic first album for several joints, starting with C.R.E.A.M. (which to be honest, they played way too fast), then Shame on a Brother and finally their own version of a classic track which they recast as EMN Ain’t Nothing to Fuck With.

They went to their native Cali and made a march out of J Dilla’s Last Donut, and after Gin and Juice, tackled a second Snoop Dogg number, Gz and Hustlaz, shifting from bouncy flute funk to an ominous cinematic minor-key outro. As the show hit a peak, Kim revealed that this live set reflected his response to and eventual bounceback from a series of deaths in his family: it’s not hard to see how hip-hop death fixations and grimness would resonate with him. Beyond that cover of Gin and Juice, the biggest hit with the audience was when the two rappers left the stage, went to the middle of the crowd and dueled without any help from the band. Then again, Vanilla Ice could have gotten a standing O out of this crowd. Here’s hoping that EMN get better sound here the next time around – or play the  main Apollo stage, where the sonics are reliably excellent.

Relevant Mexican Sounds, and the Hip-Hop Elite Salute a Chinatown Legend

Fearless Mexican-American folk-rockers Las Cafeteras have a cool free download today just in time for President’s Day. If I Was President is off their forthcoming Tastes Like LA album. “We’ve got a different kind of party in the White House tonight.” For real!

And even if rap or stoner Chinese food isn’t your thing, and you’re a New Yorker, check out Narcotechs‘ great new video for their joint Chicken Lo Mein. They filmed it at Wo Hop. If you’re OG NYC, at one time or another you’ve indulged at the legendary Mott Street spot. This was filmed in the basement space – duh – not the street-level room, which draws the tourists in for more ducats. The production draws on a Wu-tang classic from back in the day. Relive your lost youth in this one if you can remember it.

Fearless Populist Lyrical Insight From Hip-Hop Artist Decora at Lincoln Center

In his Lincoln Center debut last night, rapper Decora tackled one controversial issue after another with eloquence, and mind-expanding flow, and crushingly spot-on insight. He takes the everyday issues that we all struggle with and makes them poetic – if you need validation, Decora’s there for you. Honestly and succinctly, he tackled topics as far-reaching as the sociological roots of police brutality, the challenges of being one of five black or latino guys in a redneck white upstate town, the trials of raising a multicultural kid under Donald Trump white supremacy, and the toll racism takes on a relationship. He’s something akin to a young Nas without the gangbanger backdrop, or Guru without the brag, or a more New York State-centric Immortal Technique.

Those guys are all icons – that Decora deserves mention alongside them speaks to his fearlessness and political relevance, never mind the verbal pyrotechnics. In terms of pure lyrical skill, this guy’s technique reaches for the immortal: his genius is that he writes to keep the party going, but to keep you thinking nonstop. Lyrical insight aside, what was coolest about the show was Decora’s eight-piece live band: musical director and multi-keyboardist Neil Alexander; guitarist Dylan Doyle; six-string bassist Sam Smith; drummer Lee Falco; turntablists DJH20 and DJ Trumastr and a couple of backing vocalists.

Together they played Decora’s new album Beyond Belief all the way through, opening with an epic grey-sky ambience evoking classic 90s RZA productions, then switched to backdrops ranging from psychedelic Laurel Canyon boudoir soul, to grittily metallic funk lit up by Doyle’s tersely bluesy guitar, to New Orleans-flavored grooves carried by a tight two-piece horn section. Overhead, Decora’s rhymes ranged from rapidfire to sniper shots.

The opening number, Perfect Division, was a withering portrait of inequality, followed by the epic, disarmingly revealing Beyond My Doorstep, tracing the story of a guy facing the daily struggles of any minority in this country. Decora’s persona seems to be pretty much what he is, an unselfconsciously down-to-earth 99-percenter, eschewing gangsta cliches or prefab made-for-American-Idol shtick dumbed down for the element who would buy what they could download if they actually used their brains.

Decora riffed on fairweather friends in the cynical Changed Lanes and the perils of being a wannabe star in White Vans, but the best joint in this relentless set was What’s Up, a coldly logical assessment of the psychology that makes a white cop kill an innocent black victiim, tracing its historical roots back to Jim Crow and slavery. He followed that with another cynical, torrentially lyrical number, Confirmation.

They closed with an original hip-hop reimagining of the iconic Pete Seeger folk hit Where Have All the Flowers Gone and encored with a more urban anthem. After an hour onstage, the crowd – from the audience response, half deep Brooklyn, half upstate, many of them making the trip all the way down here on the bus – screamed for a second encore. The new album hasn’t made it to Decora’s Genius page yet, but you can bookmark it if lyrics are your thing: there’s plenty of inspiration there. Decora plays BSP Lounge, 323 Wall St. in Kingston on March 2 at 9 PM.

A Trifecta of Singles for 10/24

Rass Kass has been one of the world’s elite hip-hop lyricists since the 90s. Here’s How to Kill God – his succinctly poetic distillation of two thousand years of religion perverted by tyrants and psychotics – from the upcoming joint album Blasphemy with the Ugly Heroes‘ Apollo Brown. No one is spared: “Motherfuck Donnie & Marie!” check it out via bandcamp.

Unpaid Internship, by Onwe – say it without a French accent and you’ll get the joke – is a LMFAO phony shoegaze parody of Bushwick poser bands (bandcamp).

And since baseball is still going on – go Royals! – here’s Steve Wynn‘s Baseball Project immortalizing not the time that Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis took a hit of acid and threw a no-hitter, but the day in the spring of 1974 when he decided to hit every batter in the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup. His manager pulled him from the game five batters in, and the Bucs ended up losing, but a message had been sent loud and clear. And Ellis was out there pitching again the next time his turn came around – no suspension, no fine. How times have changed (youtube).

Fun, Ferocious Afro-Klezmer Dance Music from Atlanta

Atlanta’s 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra are one of the most original bands on the planet. Part high-voltage klezmer ensemble, part Afrobeat dance band, part circus rock, with tinges of Ethiopian music and hip-hop, their latest album Abdul the Rabbi is one of the year’s best. It’s streaming all the way through at the group’s Bandcamp page. The mighty nine-piece group draws on Jewish music from around the world as well as African and Middle Eastern sounds, many times within the same song. It’s a wild ride.

They open Yemenite Tanz with an uneasy trill from the alto sax over lingering noir guitar chords and then the band comes in, blazing and pulsing, exchanging edgy riffs, with a couple of spine-tingling, menacing alto solos followed by an even more-spine-tingling, shivery one from trumpeter Roger Ruzow. They begin a number by klezmer clarinet legend Naftule Brandwein as a brisk, triumphantly fiery minor-key anthem and then morph it into a slinky New Orleans-flavored theme with a summery alto solo. Then they give a funk-punk edge to Fiddler on the Roof and take it into Mulatu Astatke territory.

The title track has emcee Zano Ludgood rapping over Ruzow’s biting Middle Eastern changes:

My merger murders the devious previous…
Both sides have claims to insanity
They both derive from the same family
What I have is chutzpah
Most likely it’ll lead to a fatwa

But it looks hopefully toward peace in the Middle East as it winds up.

Yesh Li Gan, a traditional, Middle Eastern-flavored tune which grows from eerie and somber to a toweringly orchestral anthem on the wings of multi-reedman Jeff Crompton’s arangement, might be the best song here. Toco Hills Kiddush Club, by Ruzow, works an anthenmic, cinematic, marchlike Ethiopiques groove, like a more klezmer-fueled Either/Orchestra. Doina Blues, by Crompton sets a similarly Ethiopian-tinged melody to a spare noir guitar blues with all kinds of intriguing moments: Ruzow’s trumpet shadowing the clarinet, a terse trombone solo and absolutely sizzling ones from the baritone sax and guitars, all the way up to where they take it doublespeed and suddenly it’s a powerhouse Afrobeat groove. The album ends with the cinematic, suspenseful Der Stazi (a reference to the feared former East German gestapo, maybe?), the horns exchanging voices with a conspiratorial defiance over burning guitar, up to a wailing guitar duel out. You want adrenaline? Give this a listen. Solos aren’t credited to individual players on the Bandcamp page, but it’s a sizzling effort from Crompton, Ruzow, multi-reedman Bill Nittler, tenor saxophonist Tony Staffiero, trombonist Nick Dixon, guitarists Colin Bragg and Edin Beho, bassist Kevin Scott and drummer Noah Kess. Count this among the most fascinatingly original and intense albums of the year.

The Lyrics That Fuel the Arab Spring Now Available For the First Time in the West

As the Arab Spring contines to spread throughout the Middle East and points further west, hip-hop music continues to be a prime force and a main source of information, something to be expected as citizens create their own means of communication to bypass the censors. For listeners outside of the Arabic-speaking world who might be interested in this furiously literate, stunningly sophisticated lyrical art form, Syrian-American producer Dub Snakkr has asssembled the brand-new Khat Thaleth (Arabic for “third rail”) compilation, a brave attempt to collect some of the revolution’s greatest hits.

Just as you need to speak English to appreciate American hip-hop, you need to speak Arabic to appreciate this, especially since such a variety of regional dialects, historical and literary traditions are represented. For the Arabically-challenged, fortunately, there are extensive if rather primitive English translations of the first seven joints on the album at Stronghold Sound’s WordPress page. Be aware that the page is a PDF that also includes the original Arabic lyrics, and don’t forget that it starts at the right margin and goes left. The cd also comes with a black-and-white printout of this page which is a lot easier to read. There’s also an abbreviated seven-track version of the compilation up at Stronghold Sound’s Bandcamp page for free download.

Musically speaking, it is what it is. Just like American hip-hop, the lyrics are the focus. Aside from some eerily minimalist guitar on the ninth track, some tantalizng oud on the song after that and then an organ-based backing track that reminds of what the RZA was doing fifteen years ago, there’s not a lot going on. But the lyrics…WOW. In the Arabic world, poets are rock stars: they sell out giant stadiums, and their books sell better than most albums (the week the Bush regime invaded Iraq, the #1 book on the bestseller list there was a poetry compilation). Because Arabic poetry is a part of daily life rather than an ivory-tower pastime, and because music and poetry are pretty much inseparable throughout the Middle East, it has always had more in common with American rap than any current incarnation of a western poetic tradition. And it’s always been a spectator sport. Throughout the Middle East, there are centuries-old traditions of a sort of Arabic version of battle rhymes, which just like the oldtime African-American game of “dozens” ultimately draw on the roots of where it all began back in Africa. You could make a strong case for the argument that an Arabic version of hip-hop predated the English-language kind by thousands of years.

Add to that the bottled-up hostility of emcees from Palestine, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon finally breaking free of the chains of oppression, and this is what you get. And just like American hip-hop, it’s just as cynical as it is incendiary: none of these lyricists seems to hold out much hope for a better future. Lebanon’s Touffar excoriates revolutionary-era profiteers and what he perceives as limousine liberals: “If you want to talk about the hungry, first try hunger.” Zeinedin and Narcysist  gloomily ponder the prospect that what comes after the revolution could be even worse than the terror of the present. Palestinians Yaseen and I-Voice pile metaphor on top of metaphor and do wild linguistic gymnastics as they take aim at western-oriented kleptocracies. La Tlatleh paints a cruelly surreal portrait of death in the streets, while Iraqi Al Sayyed Darwish (the rapper, not the legendary composer), La Tlatleh and El Rass elegantly and bitterly contemplate the fate of an exile, then El Rass chronicles decades of deceit and corruption and lays it at the dictator’s feet, while warning his revolutionary comrades not to accept anything American unless it comes from Occupy Wall Street. And Syria’s El Haqq draws a grim judgment day scenario where the dictator casts himself in the role of god – and then the people turn the tables on god himself. These are just a few of the thousands of lyrical gems in this collection, offering inspiration, encouragement or simply solace in the face of what appears to be hopelessness. Often creating their art in the face of mortal danger, these artists have captured the cruel complexities of a world all too often reduced to soundbites.