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Sweatshop Union

Water Street

(Look; US: 14 Oct 2008; UK: 20 Oct 2008)

This album is miraculous for many reasons. For a start, Battle Axe Records—through whom the Sweatshop Union collective released their first three albums—dominated western Canadian hip-hop of the early naughties. The label was a spawn of Mad Child and Prevail (a.k.a. Swollen Members) who scored a handful of minor hits with the help of Moka Only. Sadly, time has charted the interest in the duo’s chest beating bombast on a distinctly downward curve, while Battle Axe has tanked worse than the stock market, now running two years since its last release and counting. Sadly, by association, several decent acts have been dragged through the mud with it (Gawd help you, Character Traits). The mere fact that Sweatshop Union was able to come out the other side with another label willing to rep their rhymes from their new Bay Area home base is a miracle in itself, let alone their adamantly principled demeanor.

Named after a heritage heavy area in downtown Vancouver where free-ranting crackheads rub shoulders with Gucci clad trend slaves, Water Street boldly carries the brutal truth of its namesake. It’s 23 tracks (no skits) that in true Sweatshop Union style preach basic human understanding and fairness in the face of society wide wealth worship. In a rap marketplace built on inequity, greed, and amazing stupidity, continuing to lyrically assault the shortcomings of such abusive social conditioning in continued semi-obscurity is rare form and evidence of some serious backbone. Lines like “I make money / money don’t make me” are guaranteed to get you beat down at the next G-Unit stockholders meeting.

Multiply those lyrics by the fact the record’s tasty boom-bap beats, mostly produced by union cardholders, could make KRS-One boogie down productively and you’ve got a true miracle in your hands. Sweatshop Union isn’t getting bitter; they’re getting better. Rob The Viking and Moka Only both continue to lend their support, as well as the underrated Mat The Alien, but this is no longer a BC thing. These are the words of the street, not those trying only to milk it for profit, and they will shine in the indie hip-hop Mecca. Water Street has landed in San Francisco.


Author of blurbs, curator of playlists, and booker of shows, Alan Ranta has been plugging away at that music writing and programming thing since 2004. His brutally honest critical opinion has appeared in such publications as Exclaim!, CBC Music, PopMatters and Tiny Mix Tapes, and has been enlisted to help judge the Polaris Music Prize, Pazz & Jop, and Juno Awards. Based in East Van, he graduated with a BFA in music from Simon Fraser University in 2012. He's also a social media plague, cat whisperer, socio-political haranguer, Canucks fan, and one of the last remaining cowboys.

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