Midwestern rappers offer boring but globally conscious jams built on sparse beats and scathing viola.
Flobots prove you can’t judge a hip-hop group by its name. With their moniker a clear play on the title of a junky 1980s cartoon and boasting a member named Jonny 5, I was certain I was in for some kind of artificial intelligence-themed nerdcore act that spit rhymes about electric sheep, restraining bolts, and binary load lifters. How surprised was I when it turned out these Flobots were nothing of the sort. Why, these people don’t rap about robots at all! I haven’t been this let down since the Mets traded Lenny Dykstra (an event, in retrospect, that shouldn’t have affected me as deeply as it did).
Nay, these Flobots spend the majority of Fight With Tools railing against the social and political ills of the world in a sparse style reminiscent of Cake, sans the quirk. Viola player MacKenzie Roberts lays down some dramatic string work, which only serves to underscore the campus-lecture atmosphere that Flobots’ serious beats and lyrics suggest. I feel like I should be wearing extremely tight pants, sipping a Jamba Juice, and holding some kind of Animal Liberation Front pamphlet while I listen to this.
Flobots’ big hit is “Handlebars”, which is three-and-a-half minutes of obnoxious boasting from a disjointed man-child who sounds like he’s trying to impress a bunch of third graders. At times, he sounds like a third grader himself: “I can tie a knot in a cherry stem / I can tell you about Leif Erikson / I know all the words to De Colores / and I’m proud to be an American”). I feel like parts of this song may have been lifted from a rap Raven Simone did back when she was just a sassy half pint on The Cosby Show. No way a full-grown man could consciously create something this irritating.
At one point in “Handlebars”, the narrator boasts that he and his friend made a comic book. Hey guy, guess what? I made a bunch of comic books with my friend Josh when we were kids. It was a series called Goggle Guy. We made about 10 different issues and actually sold some of them. Call me when you and your buddy pop out issue number two, which will hopefully happen sometime before you “end the planet in a holocaust” as you threaten toward the end of your little brag session.
In general, the “let’s mobilize and change the world” attitude that Flobots offer on Fight With Tools gets old pretty fast. This is because the Colorado rappers insist on serving their dinner fairly straight up, with no tasty garnish or dynamic subterfuge. Rage Against the Machine attained massive popularity because they laced their socio-political messages with sick, unhinged funk metal riffs that were a sheer joy for baggy-pantsed teens to mosh around to. Sure, a lot of those kids probably missed the point, but those who didn’t also enjoyed themselves and didn’t feel like they were being shamed into action.
At the end of the day, Flobots and their sophomore effort can be summed up by the album’s third track, “Same Thing”. As the chorus demonstrates, they’re just saying the same things over again, giving us the same revolutionary slogans anti-establishment forces have been shouting in the face of “The Man” for years: “We want money for healthcare and public welfare / free Mumia and Leonard Peltier!”
Yeah, and legalize weed and get our troops out of Iraq and shut down Guantanamo. Save the environment, ban handguns, give whales the right to vote, stop rising milk prices, blow up Disneyland, let Wookiees get married, and change the national anthem to the Alka-Seltzer jingle. More importantly, someone get Flobots a farfisa or some kazoos or that huge piano from Big so next time I don’t feel like some underclass library assistant is haranguing me about a load of crap that isn’t my fault at the Student Union poetry slam.