“From the birth to the hearse/what’s your worth and your purpose?” If Non-Phixion’s The Future Is Now” established them as a symbol of hardcore hip-hop and violent anarchy, their writing on the wall drawn in blood and spinal fluid, Sabac’s debut places much greater emphasis on political matters and a conscious approach, albeit a rigorously revolutionary and well-armed one. This befits a man who designs workshops for public high schools and works with inner city kids, and whilst he lacks Ill Bill’s abrasive immediacy and punchlines, his obvious passion and undeniable mic skills go a long way to making an unrelentingly serious and angry album attractive and impressive. Here is music that should remind any hip-hop fan why being “real” really matters.
Necro produces the entire LP, his simple but hard-hitting drums outlining fluid tracks that include live piano, congas, Fender jazz bass, guitar, and the sweet backing vocals of Cenophia Mitchell and Antwon Lamar Robinson. These more subtle and organic beats fit Sabac’s back-to-the-roots approach perfectly, and the three spoken word “Revelation” tracks featuring Black Panther member Jamal Joseph fit in seamlessly when they would have stood out like a sore thumb amongst Non-Phixion material. This is not to say that Sabac has distanced himself from his fam in any way; everyone on Uncle Howie drops at least one verse, as does Jedi Mind Tricks’ Vinny Paz. Everyone comes tight, with the face-off between Sabac & Necro differing beliefs on “Positive & Negative” being particularly intriguing, offsetting Sabac’s optimism and quest for unity with his label owner’s selfish attitude of raging nihilism.
Other highlights include Sabac’s remake of a certain Bob Marley revolutionary anthem on “Protest Music”, where he switches between the slower chorus (“Gats up! Guns up! We gon’ never give up the fight!”) and much higher speed verses; the intense, complex lyricism of “The Scientist”, where he imagines himself into the shoes of a fundamentalist, supremacist white Christian creating the AIDS virus; and the gorgeous closer “I have A Dream”, where he and Dash Mihok flow beautiful over Necro’s cascading pianos and horns- a more urgent “P.A.I.N.T.” that fades away into a sample of the legendary words of the title.
Whilst Sabac has neither the voice nor the charisma of, say, Immortal Technique, he drops so many gems of righteous wisdom here that his refusal to focus on himself over the issues he’s discussing that you feel all the more compelled to join him, even if the album feels slightly impersonal on occasion. Forget Lil Jon for a while and support someone who’s doing and saying the right things, for the only right reason: because he believes in it. With so much meaningless, aimless music out there, hip-hop must, in his words, either “stand for something, or fall for anything”. Choose.
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