Gift of Gab: rapping about climate change
Album review: Gift of Gab's Escape 2 Mars
19th November, 2009
Rapping about climate change, big pharma and peak oil brings a new edge to a medium still saturated with lyrics of violence and consumerism
It's not easy to rap successfully about ecological issues. Dr Octagon may have tried a while back with the remarkable 'Trees', but his message got lost somewhere among dystopian imagery and a mysterious character named 'McGillicuddy'.
Also, he seemed to imply that elephants are extinct (not quite yet luckily!). Oakland's Gift of Gab is a far more cogent MC - in fact he is quite possibly the most content-driven exponent of Hip Hop there is.
With his second solo album he's made explicit many things that were always implied in his work before now. Key to this record is anthropogenic climate change, and the title track outlines the situation in bold.
Gab envisions Earth's rejection of humanity through temperature rise ('one long long summer') and flooding, then its recolonisation by insects and arachnids.
He goes on to say he is: 'sad to see if we don't make the change now then the path that we choose is our own till we save our planet; renovate all traffic ... maybe some escape to another planet, face mutated in the space-ship.'
Interspersed between verses are sampled statistics in a low, electronically modified voice: '...agricultural yields will decline, 20-50 per cent of animal species will face extinction...'
This central idea is touched on intermittently. But Escape 2 Mars isn't a concept album; it veers across wide territories, some more familiar (straight-up battle rhymes), some less so (in 'Electric Waterfalls' he takes on Big Pharma, peak oil and hyperconsumerism).
As a self-professed ambassador of 'conscious styles', Gab consistently offers a circumspect and reflective, socially- and spiritually-aware approach to MC-ing, first manifested clearly in the 1999 masterpiece 'Shallow Days' with his legendary group, Blackalicious.
This alone, in a medium still saturated with mindless consumerism and violence, is already admirable. But where many of his peers might be distrait and indulgent, the difficulty with the sort of subject-matter Gab selects here is the danger of sounding overly didactic.
Still, while this can be a problem, he manages to be more descriptive and evocative than instructive, and the narrative lines are always strong.
Escape 2 Mars is mixed in quality - in terms of production and tunes rather than flow. However, there's plenty for the ears to chew on despite its faults, and the reach and ambition of this record are to be praised.
Gab's delivery is still unrivalled and his approach to content stands alone. He understands that it is absolutely the artist's responsibility to engage with the issues most pressing to their age. And he recognises that, unfortunately, the elephant of climate change is still very much in the room.
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