“It’s been a long time coming. Too long… too long. It’s been a quarter century in the making… but it’s here now.”
Over classical strings, dancehall artist Mavado repeats the mantra that has been at the heart of this movement since it’s inception; “This system needs fi change right now!” Hip-hop artist Lowkey has been a driving force of this movement, and for him, the release of his second album, Soundtrack to the Struggle, is something of a point of reflection. The album is a huge anthology of his work, from “Long Live Palestine” to “Obama Nation”, as well as an array of never-before heard material, and it will soon cement it’s place as a hip-hop classic. Not only that, but an inspired piece of revolutionary work, drawing as much from the rapper’s own experiences as from the political atmosphere surrounding him.
This was, after all, the generation of the “War on Terror”. As a man of half-Iraqi, half-British descent, the demonisation of the other, and the government’s arrogant and misguided foreign policy, are clearly something that have affected Lowkey on a personal level. On “Terrorist”, the most popular song from the album so far, and already rushing towards two million views on YouTube, Lowkey asks:
“What’s the bigger threat to human society / BAE Systems, or home-made IEDs?”
Indeed, Lowkey has an entire track dedicated to the arms manufacturers, like BAE, that are responsible for building the weapons used in our wars, entitled “Hand On Your Gun”. There has clearly been a political maturing, if not an awakening, since Dear Listener, his last album. On “Voices of the Voiceless”, alongside US hip-hop veteran Immortal Technique, Lowkey looks towards the future:
“You might not see me in the charts, but inshallah my seed can see peace in Iraq.”
The album is not so much a piece of music, but a written journey. The twenty tracks of the album are interspersed with six pertinent skits, both shocking and relevant in their content. Jeremiah Wright’s fiery anti-imperialist rhetoric booms over the stuttering bursts of US soldiers engaged in warfare, whilst US refusnik Mike Prysner speaks of his guilt and shame of his service in the army. Tariq Ali meticulously analyses the images and realities of the Obama administration, whilst John McCain reveals his racist preconceptions through the infamous “Obama [he’s not an Arab], no, he’s a good man” comment. But Ben Affleck is a surprising inclusion, asserting that “Arab and good person are not antithetical to one another,” to a round of applause.
“Dear England”, written in response to the riots that exploded this summer, is a stand-out track on the album. Lowkey skips between styles with at a pulsating frequency, without ever missing a beat, and no-one can beat him for the ability to provide an anti-dote to a hysterical media, as he powerfully suggests that “the biggest looters are the British museum.” “A petty thief can get ransacked from his housing,” he continues, “whilst the bankers are lounging, that’s my surroundings.” As the intensity increases, Lowkey is as passionate about exposing the hypocrisy of domestic affairs as he is of imperialism; “Took land no-one in your family has heard of… who runs this country Cameron or Murdoch?” Suddenly, we have broken into double-speed, and Lowkey is taking us on a tour-de-force of capitalism’s failures; “Cut education, privatise prisons / Surprised by death when it’s organised / But mass immorality is normalised / Assumptions surrounding the looting of London / But this is a system consumed by consumption.”
As he enunciates on “Obama Nation Part 2”, alongside M1 of Dead Prez, and north London-born Black The Ripper, Lowkey will “say the words these other rappers won’t say”, and he challenges issues that many would choose to shy away from. On “Dreamers”, alongside the beautiful vocals of Mai Khalil, and over the rippling melody of Lauryn Hill’s “Zion”, Lowkey explores the topic of psychological illness, as he speaks from the perspective of people who have suffered. It is this ability to empathise that draws the listener into the emotion of Lowkey’s words, perhaps born from the loss of his brother, whose death is explored on the moving “Haunted”. Lowkey’s flow slows considerably as he explores the confusion of being a greater age than his older brother was when he passed away.
Soundtrack To The Struggle is a glimpse into Lowkey’s heart and soul. Whatever happens from now in his career and life, his voice will always be remembered for this piece of work. As he says on “Haunted”:
“When I go, just know, that I did it for the people.”
Soundtrack To The Struggle, now available for pre-order, and to be released on Sunday 16th, can be purchased here – http://bit.ly/r1x6um.
Lowkey will be having a launch party for his album on Friday 21st October, at ‘The Garage’ in Highbury. Tickets can be bought from here – http://tinyurl.com/6eoyfha.