BBU Blowin' Up
Fear of a Clear Channel Planet, the debut digital mixtape from Chicago rap trio BBU, is an act of cultural terrorism in the best possible sense. What else could you expect from a group who named themselves Bin Laden Blowin' Up? Even the "safe" version of their name, Black Brown and Ugly, screams that the three members--Illekt, Epic and Jasson Perez--are not ones to be fucked with. Check out, for example, these rhymes from "Somebody Watchin' Me" (which yes, samples the Michael Jackson joint... and seamlessly to boot):
"See I'm a product of slavery
The '80s made me, so I'm shady
And you could say I get it from Daley
Cold flow, a nigga got hard in the '80s
Got a Lil Bush in me saying 'fuck you, pay me!'"
If these lyrics seem to walk a thin tightrope between fierce street cred and political radicalism, then BBU have proven their point. Mixed by DJ RTC and released by RubyHornet.com, FOCCP is pure Chicago. Not Mayor Daley's Chicago, not the Chicago of the Mag Mile, but the Chicago where hard militancy and 808's run side by side. "I think that one of the biggest things for us was pushing the idea that we have to bring those worlds together," says Perez, "the conscious and the club, because they've been so separated."
Ever since "Chi Don't Dance" created a buzz in the underground, heads have been nodding at what these cats have to say. Their timing couldn't be better. Most of today's "conscious hip-hop" seems to have lost its teeth. Most high-profile artists--including some of the subgenre's pioneers--deliberately distance themselves from the term. A far better term might be "militant hip-hop." Class-conscious, outwardly directed, and angry as hell. And BBU most definitely fit the bill.
Beat-wise, BBU's juked-out sounds are a tightly wound cacophony of buzzes, clicks and booms. Very little relaxation is to be found here. In its place is a tension--sometimes menacing, often righteous, always fun. It is of course well recognized that Chicago gave rise to house music and its offshoots, but what isn't as well known is how many other genres it has influenced.
Says Epic, "injecting politics into juke is hard as hell! I can write a verse right now, you can put on any J Dilla beat and I can rap to it... But when you have these fast beats in juke, you have to carry a certain amount of energy." What's refreshing is how well this gritty, relentless energy dovetails with such brash lyrics.
Still, BBU's stated mission of bringing a message to the seemingly apolitical world of club-life might seem a stretch if not downright impossible. After all, when was the last time you saw the red flag draped from the front of a techno party (irony notwithstanding)? The answer to that might lie in how the Epic, Ill and Jasson approach the club in the first place--not as flashy, walking names plastered on a flier to bring the herds in, but as members of the actual herd.
Club tracks like "Who da Fuck is You" and "Black n' Plastic" paint a much more contradictory picture. Fun, yes, but also full of pricey drinks, long lines and apathy. One gets the sense that they could definitely have a good time in this scene, but it would probably be a bit more enjoyable if it got a few spoonfuls of "Sucker MCs" treatment:
"For all the GQ magazine coke fiend cover girls
And all the other girls who wanna look like other girls
Tell me, tell me do you really love yourself?
And when you do this are you thinking of yourself?
She say 'love me, love me, go 'head and deceive me
Pretend that you need me
'Cuz ain't nobody love me better, I hope this love will last forever
I love you like I love my sweater!'"
And then, there's the fact that what BBU actually have to say is bound to jive with more than a few heads, even in the club. This is when the group is at their best--taking all the pent up frustration and rage at life's worst excesses and directing it toward the powers that be. "I Do This For My Culture," "Jukin' On Landmines," "This is Chi-Town." Great lines like "power to the people in the motherland" and images of dancing in Palestine with Assata Shakur ride right next to the bravado and hype. It makes for a damned good mix:
"Here we, here we go with my silly little flow
But when I wanna rob Goldman Sachs' CEO!
Make that fucker know what it means to be broke
See that fucker's face when his condo gets foreclosed
See some paint pictures, I film Marxist porn
'Cuz if I didn't, I'd wish I wasn't born"
For the past few years, many have wondered what hip-hop's "next big thing" is. Most sounds have had their day. But if anything can be drawn from this stellar mix, then it's that the future doesn't lie in the false divide between "conscious" and "mainstream." It's a lot simpler than that. Maybe, for the new generation, the future lies at the bottom--and its potential to rise up.
Alexander Billet, a music journalist and activist living in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies (http://rebelfrequencies.blogspot.com), and is a columnist for the Society of Cinema and Arts. His articles have appeared in Socialist Worker, Z Magazine, New Politics, CounterPunch.com, Dissident Voice and PopMatters.com
Contact him, or subscribe to his mailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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