Halfway through the first track of Flobots sophomore effort, Fight With Tools, it was a little unclear of the direction the record was taking. Flobots, a six-man hip-hop group from Denver, had managed to stay under the radar up until now. So rightfully, it was a little shocking when the intro track, “There’s A War Going On For Your Mind”, started off with a viola groove backed only by spoken word. How often is it that you hear a hip hop track backed only by a viola? With preconceptions set aside, it would soon become evident that this track would set a pattern for the rest of the album, as Fight With Tools manages to consistently defy convention and return hip-hop to the socio-political music that it has always strived to be.
Political messages come in abundance on this record. Whether the call for revolution on “Same Thing”, a track with a funky bass line tinged by a perfectly placed trumpet, Stand Up, with a desperate viola sure to give you goose bumps, or the dark, brooding sound of “Anna Braden”, Flobots MCs Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit manage to pursue a political agenda with a deft wit and lyrical finesse often unseen. Almost as impressive, is the fact that they promote their political ideology without resorting to proselytizing; their messages, however sharp and critical they are, always come across as uplifting.
We’ve seen planes in the windows of buildings crumbled in
We’ve seen flames send the chills through London
And we’ve sent planes to kill them and some of them were children
But still we crumbling the building
Underfunded but we still don’t understand
Under God but we kill like the son of Sam
But if you feel like I feel like about the son of man
We will overcome
The record also has a lyrical complexity that most acts don’t. “Anna Braden” and “Handlebars” are so thought provoking that you’re bound to question yourself after you hear them.
The instrumentation on the album doesn’t take a back seat to the powerful lyrics, but rather, complements them, giving the album a full, warm sound with a wide selection of great beats. The viola, guitar, bass, and trumpet playing are all top of the line, and demonstrate the group’s potential as a fan-stealing live act, akin to The Roots. And like The Roots, the Flobots have a certain musical dexterity that leaves you guessing as to the next sound you’re going to hear; on “Combat”, they seem like they could break into a Sly and The Family Stone track at any second, while “Never Had It” starts off with some acoustic picking that’s a bit reminiscent of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie. Every member of the group shows their prowess somewhere on the album, demonstrating that variety and drama are a Flobots strong-point.
Overall, this album is a great return to conscientious lyrics, something that definitely has its value in a time with so much political turmoil. With great instrumentation performed by a real band( !!!), this is an album that every hip hop fan, no wait, music fan, should pick up. – Michael Rodriguez
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