I took a lot of stupid classes in college. One of them was called “Red Flags/Black Flags: The History of Marxist and Anarchist Thought.” Why I felt the need to spend a whole semester reading about the rivalry between two modes of thought which both ultimately lost out, I’m not sure. But we did read this one really interesting book. I don’t remember the author’s name, but I think he was French. Sorel. Something like that. Anyway, Sorel wrote that, in order to bring about change, oppressed groups construct “social myths” that inspire revolutionary action. Jaque “Or-Whatever-His-Name-Actually-Was” Sorel was writing about 19th Century French labor unions, but if he was around today, I think he would write about hip-hop.
Indeed, hip-hop has wholly embraced ‘myth’ as a form of societal protest. By ‘myth,’ I don’t mean a false story, but rather a legend which contains a kernel of profound truth, regardless of whether the story is literally accurate. The first, and still most common, myth embraced by hip-hop is that of the Gangster-hero; rappers like Jay-Z evoke the same archetype embraced by Italian Mafia tales to explore the moral ambiguities of the game. But rap has certainly expanded its mythical horizons beyond the Gangster-hero. Nas constantly paints himself as a hustling Christ-figure. Everyone on Def Jux is obsessed with the sci-fi Apocalypse as a parable for subversion of the status quo. Most famously, the Wu Tang Clan, for more than a decade, has been wholly enamored with the Kung Fu legend, employing its conflict as an allegory for epic urban struggle. Rappers use cultural myths to make statements about the conditions of urban living and the human condition more generally.
“Jerusalaam Come,” the first solo album by former Gamma frontman, UK grime-MC, Juice Aleem, further expands hip-hops’ embrace of myth and legend. But where the Wu uses Kung Fu and H.O.V.A. uses Scarface, Juice employs the myths of the ancients. Aleem sets his flows in a world where wandering Israelites are involved in constant tribal conflict (“The Fallen (Gen. 15.13)”), where God intervenes in human affair to strike down pagans (“Straight Out of BC”), and where the Mayans prophesize the Earth’s demise (“KunteKinTeTarDiss”). Constantly interweaving his Before-the-Common-Era imagery with modern themes, Aleem creates a chilling commentary on our current state of affairs.
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Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: October 20, 2009