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Blood of Abraham

Eyedollartree

(Basement; US: 23 Aug 2005; UK: Available as import)

Children of Abraham, what's your story?

The hip-hop duo Blood of Abraham (BoA) preach against America’s rampant consumerism and the international right wing conspiracy that enslaves us all. Those with power get rich off the sweat of the poor. Plus, living in poverty makes people ill, and those in charge profit from the treatment of the diseased and broken masses. People need to learn what’s going on so they can overthrow the yoke of their oppressors. Gather round as BoA tell you what’s really happening.


Sound familiar? Ever since Public Enemy declared rap music black America’s CNN back in the early ‘80s, hip-hop artists have been delivering the radical news that capitalist society crushes one’s individuality and keeps one down. That doesn’t make the message less accurate, just less than original. MCs Benyad and Mazik dispense the intelligence with verbal virtuosity. They rhythmically speak over some heavy beats and inspired soundtracks taken from old records and radio broadcasts. The two rock the house when the flow gets going, which is about half the disc. The other half lacks excitement as they say the same old stuff in the same old ways one has heard before.


It should be noted that Benyad and Mazik are Jewish, not black. BoA belong to that genre known as “Hebe hop”, along with the biggest machers in the house, the Beastie Boys, and others like Aesop Rock, Remedy, Members of the Tribe, and MC Paul Barman. These artists take pride in their ethnic identity by making self-referential remarks, but otherwise do not share any particular traits or worldview. BoA share more in common with their Los Angeles brethren like Eazy E (with whom they used to record), and will.i.am (from the Black Eyed Peas), Divine Styler, and Kool Keith (the last three make guest appearances on this disk). The name Blood of Abraham coyly reflects this. Not only are Jews the direct descendents of Abraham, strictly speaking, so are Christians and Moslems.


BoA’s main message is “Paranoia is Awareness”. The MCs make the most sense when they urge people to pay attention to what’s going on, rather than list the political, social, and economic ills that surround us. The latter can lead to some funny lines, from the simple (i.e., “The government should hand out free shampoo with their conditioning”) to the more intricate ( i.e., “America bites the young / Takes a swallow / Then it shits / On everyone it can / Filipinos, blacks or Cuban”) but the lyrics do not get too complex. The duo’s analysis never seems very dense. “You can lead a man to knowledge / But you can’t make him think”, is their motto. BoA only takes the listener so far. “In America today / Something something is not right”, they rap. The repetition of the word “something” illustrates both their creativity and their limits. It’s catchy, but doesn’t really say much.


The two have unearthed some great found material and incorporated it into their creations. They use what sounds like a church retreat’s campground singalong, complete with insect noises, that begins with and repeats the line “God’s gonna set this world on fire” into their story song “Hurricane”. They end “Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove” with a discussion of Madonna’s spiritual concerns that fades into a Benny Goodman-like clarinet solo atop an old movie monologue on the joys of department store shopping. Their dissing of Madonna’s spiritualism as just another consumer pleasure works because of the BoA’s creative response to her choice.


The datedness of some of BoA’s allusions suggests that some of the songs, or at least some segments of the raps, must have been sitting around for a long time. “This ain’t Cheers / I’m not the Norm” they say in one song. “I’m walking like Sean Penn” (think of the film Dead Man Walking) they state in another. The two mention a host of dated pop culture references from the workout tape Buns of Steel to the television show Star Trek to the board game Trivial Pursuit. While the wordplay can be clever—the Cheers one is funny—it does detract from the timeliness of the recording.


The disc ends with a strange pulp science fiction story, “Omegaton”, about an apocalyptic future where women are the only accepted currency. Kool Keith and Divine Styler contribute to this tale of sex and corruption, but the plot doesn’t really go anywhere. “Omegaton” depicts an Earth where water is more valuable than gold and people will do anything to get it. The analogy to today’s global ills, whether it’s that people will do anything for money or oil or whatever, remains self-evident. BoA find their job is only to interpret the world, not to change it.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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