Bay Area rapper Patriarch mines his Palestinian and activist roots to make a debut record that takes aim at ending corrupt government politics, poverty, and ghetto violence.
I flipped over the CD case to take a look at the track listings. What I encountered was an ominous glare coming from the Bay Area rapper/activist Patriarch, who was hiding behind a Palestinian flag bandit-style mask. I wondered if I was supposed to feel afraid, threatened, challenged, or all of the above.
I flipped the case back over to the front and stared back at Patriarch, who stood confidently ready for battle with a gangster deadpan, trying his best to remain calm, setting you up for his coup of a debut, Son of a Refugee.
Patriarch (aka Ibrahim Batshon), according to his website, comes from a family of activists; in 1999, he traveled back to Palestine, where he experienced firsthand the injustice suffered by his countrymen at the hands of Israeli government. Patriarch and the P-Stine Ryders are a posse who together started Revolution N.O.W. (No Other Way) Records in 2005 and subsequently used the label as a headquarters for what they call the “Movement.”
Even though Patriarch’s perspective is an unsettling and morally muddled mix of militant politics, gangster banging, and club crunking, it’s a perspective worth discovering because hip hop hasn’t really touched on his perspective. Beyond the surface, Patriarch presents an opportunity to gain awareness via his personal account on the Palestinian culture, which, sadly, not many Americans really understand or even care to try to understand. Amidst the social controversial commentary there’s a din of calls to overthrow the Bush Administration. Showing a major flaw, though, Patriarch and his P-Stine Ryders' only alternative to the current administration are trite gangster violence in “Gangsta & Politiks”, a ghetto-led mutiny in “P-Stine Ryders (Anthem)”, and another “Crunk Revolution”.
There’s no new sonic style created specifically for Son of a Refugee, but a borrowing from several of hip hop's sub genres: Bay Area hyphy, '90s West Coast gangster rap, R&B, Dirty South Crunk -- which actually might make SOR the very first multi-genre hip hop album written and produced by a Palestinian activist. At 20 tracks, the album is epically overwhelming as Patriarch gets wrapped up in his own repetitive rhetoric, losing both himself and the listener. He has so much to say, and some of it should be heard, but dumping it all on us right out of the gates is overkill.
In “Ride Through the Hood”, Patriarch is articulate and astutely describes his ghetto reality like a seasoned hip hop journalist verbally tagging what he sees to the cerebral cement canvas of your mind, while weaving in questions about what could be and forecasting a hip hop social utopia breaking out in the hood.
All moral confusion and political contradiction aside, his rap style is fluid and packed with several poignant and deftly presented social dissertations that flow in engaging, stream-of-consciousness freestyle, evoking Eminem, Chuck D, Tupac Shakur, and DMX. Son of a Refugee is, unashamedly, a stylistic and production tribute album to a portion of hip hop’s canon.
Rightfully placed at the heart of the album is “Never Leave Me Alone”, a brilliant and endearing tribute to his late grandmother. Much like his hero Tupac did in “Dear Mama”, he describes with profound emotional insight and depth how important she was and still is to him by recollecting the stories she told him about her being forced out of her homeland in 1948 during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Following the roots reminiscing of his grandma are his thoughts for the next generation. On “The Streets Got Our Kids”, he vigorously raps that “America eats its young / The streets got our kids / Before they're twenty one they're doing one or two bids / It’s the war going on not the one in Iraq / It's the war against the poor whites brown and black”. He then finishes the song with one of several Tupac name drops “…believe in Pac like I believe in Jesus / Please believe it / There’s no deceiving / Call me what you want a blood thirsty heathen / Or a brother that strictly believes in meaning…”
To achieve his activist MO, Patriarch seems confident expressing all sides of his person no matter how contrasting or conflicting they may be. One of the major flaws of the album is that it puts too much weight on the album being the start of the revolution. If the fire has already started as Patriarch says it has, then this might be an album to watch grow legs. But if Patriarch is trying to start a revolution with the albums as the sole blueprint for his manifesto then he -- despite his worthy emcee skills -- has a long hard road ahead of him.