As writers, we’re always looking to be the first to let the world know how nice some diamond-in-the-rough act is. There’s a personal satisfaction in seeing hungry young artists you knew when they were pushing homemade demos finally make waves in the industry years down the road. Enter Island City Monsters and their compilation release “Facts of War”. While Island City and the other artists on the record already have a following in their home country of Canada, it’s time their neighbors to the south took notice. The Montreal-based imprint unleashes this spectacular (peep how many lyric samples I drop in this write-up) 13-track, politically-charged concept album and hold no punches. Each artist takes a turn heaving rocks at the Bush administration’s throne, the war in Iraq, and U.S. foreign policy in general. The voices may originate from a foreign land, but the topics are very American.

The album opens powerfully with “Super Tuesday”. Fat Sak lays down a thunderous instrumental and LoKey compliments it with electrifying lyrics sure to irk big wigs on Capitol Hill:

“You’ve got Kerry’s back ’cause he’s Democrat, that’s still an ass
I put a lot of stock into a mascot, no free pass
So you want the position? We need some explaining
about plans to turn on sprinklers when it’s already raining
what we need is arms loaded with sandbags for your flood
let’s turn these long walks on the beach into treks in the mud
Get off your soapbox, those suds ain’t enough
to clean up the mess we in now, we need a leader”

“When you step into the booth, take your time when you vote
That ballot, you can’t have it back once it’s casted
What you wrote kinda like you spoke, ‘power to the people’
Forced to endorse the lesser of two evils
Laura, Teresa, fuck your men right
to relieve that stress, ride ’em every night
a little sacrifice might take two minutes, maybe
He’ll sleep like a baby, be a first lady
It’s not ’cause I’m vain that I pump weights
it’s cause I’ve got brains and I can’t wait
’cause no opposing candidate can be reelected
we’re all affected when he lies
George W. Bush Junior, still D-U-I
dictatin’ under the influence, drunk with power
when he makes a decision and he passes in his hours”

Euphrates (who resembles like a higher-pitched Jadakiss) concocts “Creep Up”, a story told from the perspective of an American soldier in Iraq that wishes he would’ve “stayed at home”. Euphrates cleverly reveals the ugly reality of the American front lines’ demographic, mentioning his character’s wife’s “Wal-Mart push-up bra” (implying impoverished white males) and that fact that “three-quarters of us in here ain’t white” (black and Hispanic males). The story continues once the soldier returns home:

“I sweat the sheets off from fight scares
My wife lost at the cause of all these nightmares
It’s quite rare, but I couldn’t pull it together
I put a bullet in my brain so I wouldn’t remember”

Similar to “Creep Up”, the eerie “Heckenschutze” is told from the point of view of what is presumed to be an Allied soldier. The setting of this one is not Iraq, but rather Germany (or so you’re lead to believe). We find out at the song’s conclusion that the soldier is actually a 78-year-old WWII vet who, during a mentally deranged episode resulting from his traumatic military experience, goes on a killing rampage in his hometown. June Sixth is able to masterfully convey the vet’s distorted, propaganda-fueled mindset and desperation as he randomly sprays bullets from the town’s clock tower:

“This is for my country and the monster you created
This is for the anger, the hurt and all the hatred
This is for it’s beauty and the death that follows close
This is for my empty soul, the hollow ghost
This is for my freedom, now the score’s even
This is for my newborn child, I’ll never meet him
This is for my duty and the flag on my sleeve
and the hundreds of thousands of families in grief
This is for my honor, this is for my pride
This is for the women and children who had to die”

“Heckenschutze” is the most ambitious concept track on the album (which is saying a lot) and Sixth pulls it off magnificently. Memo delivers yet another first-person concept cut where his character is questioning his purpose and the underlying U.S. agenda. The piano and string-driven production of “Farewell” gives an emotional backdrop for a flawless, flat-out amazing offering from lyricist Bailey. Singer Belle (think Nelly Furtado) drops a soulful chorus while Bailey recites a heart-wrenching letter from a soldier to his family explaining his decision to take his own life:

“Sorry y’all, I gotta tell you in this letter
But Mom and Dad, I can’t weather this weather
This wasn’t what your baby boy was meant to be
Every night I ask the Lord to see the better of me
Now I hope he understands my choice from here on out
’cause I’ll be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
They’ll say I had no water, I wasn’t a strong man
Yeah, well FUCK ‘EM, tonight I’m takin’ my stand
to kill my innocence, to raid my soul
Takin’ back my self-respect, I’m in control
Killing machine, 26 notches that I know
There’s one left to be chalked up for all my foes
I can hear ’em calling now, I’ll be there soon
Gotta mail this letter, say ‘peace’ to my platoon
Tell ’em all with a smile, ‘I’m on the next flight’
I love you, don’t be sad, finally I’ll be alright”

The reggae-influenced “The Vibes Moment” rides a sample of Bob Marley’s “War” as Velvet Trench Vibes spit analogies between the war and struggles back on American soil:

“End up dead in a bag if you step in Iraq
they want peace but still got Confederate flags
They couldn’t hear what we’re sayin’, so now we have to sing it
Melody brings peace, so peace, I’mma bring it”

Second Thought tries to wake the apathetic from their brainwashed slumber on “Sleep”:

“Now wake up you fuckin’ disgrace, I can’t believe you
Look at you, you’re starvin’ for ideas, let me feed you
I see through the opaque shape that’s takin’ place
now deliver me from grace because I will never be replaced
But you will, go ahead and swallow the blue pill
And keep dreamin’ of that new house up on a new hill
You gotta educate yourself, now do you read me?
Start by unpluggin’ the cell, NO MORE TV!
Cause that shit’ll lock your brain in a prison
and have you thinkin’ everything is fine when it isn’t”

The intimating production from Mr. Malish on “Heroes” suffers from an unpolished rhyme delivery from Malicious, but he still manages to get his point across:

“See battlefields are now boulevards or residential areas
I bet some colored chart ain’t really what’s scarin’ ya
It’s knowin’ who’s in charge and takin’ care of ya
I wonder how United IS America?
Homeland secure? Well I’m not sure
Let’s see what happens when an adversary wants what’s yours”

“Business as Usual” is a solid collaborative effort that gives all participants an opportunity to reveal their thoughts, ending on a graphic and challenging verse:

“I watched a man get his head cut off on the Internet
We want peace but the war is not finished yet
It made me feel physically sick
hearin’ him choke on his blood tryin’ to scream for his life
while they hacked at his neck with an unsharpened knife
Just to show the people like myself out here that we had NO IDEA
To me it’s insanity, but how would I react if they bombed my family?”

In “Child of War”, Meta4ce supplies an incredible narration of the development/evolution of an Iraqi child, one whose life has been enveloped in violence. The story allows listeners to relate to this boy, one who knows only what he’s been exposed to and is fighting for what he understands to be right, just like our troops overseas.

“He can’t explain the situation, he knows it’s war
‘Cause it’s been like this for generations before
Now he’s the man with a different mentality
Now he’s gotta provide food for his family”

The uber-fresh “War” sports an evolving, sparse/sporadic beat from Grand Theft, a catchy hook, and insightful rhymes from Groundwerks and Manchilde. As icing on the cake, they recall the political one-liner for the ages: “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. On the title track, Rhythmicru presents an impressive lyrical thesis. Rather than spouting off childish verbal attacks, the emcee tactfully states his thorough case, citing several incidents of Bush’s corporate misdoing. For instance, the third verse underlines Bush’s controversially abrupt unloading of Harken Energy Corporation stock, where he was once a majority shareholder:

“But by 1990, internal advisors
warn of the company’s potential demises
Already one hundred and fifty mil in the hole
and if Saddam invades Kuwait, stock value will fall
One month later Bush decided to sell
two-thirds of the shares in Harken that he held
That’s a lot to dump at once onto the market
But good timing, he made a 200% profit
Eight hundred and fifty grand on the deal
at its top price at the Exchange, what a sale!
‘Cause eight days later Harken reports
that it’s down 25% and dropping more
Whose guilty of insider trading here?
When you look at the facts, George Bush should appear
Even though he insists he never got information
and was unaware of any kind of dire situation
No one has ever announced who made the purchase
An unidentified buyer, it’s almost perfect
He also violated S-E-C regulations
to announce a deal over one month after you make them
But Dad was President, controlled the Commission
In charge of investigating his own son’s suspicion
And you wonder why he was never punished
The case against him was dropped, over and done with”

The album closes by taking an interesting U-turn as Memo delivers “Peace”. After a relentlessly harsh critique of American politics from all twelve opening tracks, the album ends by reiterating the LP’s ultimate goal: to finally achieve peace. Though not quite up to the same quality level as the other cuts, as the saying goes, sometimes it’s the thought that counts. For listeners, the sentiment is wholly understood and greatly appreciated.

Bush-backers will undoubtedly question the album’s credibility, pointing to the artists’ Canadian roots. But let’s face it, many non-Americans have a deeper understanding of U.S. foreign policy than a majority of the American population. Besides, when international terrorism, nuclear weapons, religion, and foreign policy are involved, it’s no longer just an American issue. This is an essential, relevant record that everyone should hear, regardless of your views on the Iraqi War. While political hip-hop does not always make for great music, in this case it does. In fact, it currently holds a Top 10 position on my list for best albums of 2005 thus far. Cop this album, crank up the volume, and open up your mind.

Island City Monsters :: Facts of War
8Overall Score