In my mind, it’s like there’s a sliding scale of importance that ranges from beats to rhymes, and I go back and forth over which is more essential. Actually, scratch that, there are multiple sliding scales I fuss over, and a great many of them concern an album’s vocals. The most prominent of these is between “what’s being said” and “how it’s being said,” which breaks down into a battle between content and delivery. And while it’s obviously impossible to choose one or the other outright or to have one entirely at the expense of the other, I always wonder whether I’m scoring someone either too high or too low by focusing on one or the other of these attributes too much.
I bring all this up because Sun R.A. has a lot of things going for him but one crucial component missing. He is a gifted writer who can ink a solid sixteen with meaning and analytical value to it. He is a highly politicized rapper who manages to convey his ideological leanings in an approachable fashion, without seeming overly highbrow or unnecessarily esoteric. And for the most part, you can’t find fault with either the way he crafts his lyrics or the music over which he raps them. The only problem, then, is his mediocre at best delivery, which keeps “Prisoners of War” from being the kind of powerhouse album that peers like Paris and Immortal Technique have been delivering for years.
Perhaps it’s unfair to begin this review by calling him out for what he can’t do, because there are plenty of things that are done quite well here, the first being the lack of any kind of wack introductory track. Sun R.A. (which stands for Sun Rise Against) opens up with “The Jump,” a full-fledged song that introduces the MC as well as any lame skit or half-assed adlib track ever could as he advises, “If you bought my album just to shake your ass then you should take it back / I’m makin’ raps as part of the struggle, I ain’t fakin’ jacks, I’m makin’ facts available.” The beat switches up halfway through, from a laidback West Coast vibe to a harder, more in-your-face East Coast swing, and both hit the mark. The next track, “Break the Chain,” isn’t so lucky, as its mesh of blurpy synths and hesitant drums sounds bland at best. It doesn’t drag down Sun’s rhymes, but it does hamper his already uncertain delivery with its awkward rhythmic pattern.
This is the tale of most of the album, with a track or two hitting all the right notes followed by another that misses the mark and breaks up all the momentum. He gets a good sequence going with the Easy Mo Bee-inspired “Make A Move,” the piano-laced “Dollar Bill,” the cynical 9-to-5 critique “Get A Job,” and the dusty lounge-fest “Grow,” but “Hang Over” kills the forward motion with a rambling beat that never seems to reach its destination. As a non-drinker, I give props to Sun R.A. for making a song about NOT consuming alcohol (“With that rum in my system like a gun to my liver / Pour that shit in the sink, son I’m done with the liquor”), but I wish he would have chosen a stronger beat over which to deliver his message.
After the similarly lackluster “Time Is Now,” Sun comes up with another strong series of songs as the album near its end, the stand-out being the short and to-the-point “Guerrilla Warfare,” which name-checks revolutionaries worldwide after this concise yet clear mission statement:
“Guerrilla war, hand to hand, leave ’em fearin’ the fist
Uppercut to the jaw of imperialists
They wary of this movement and it’s serious, this
My theory is this: Karl Marx and Che Guevara
Combined and applied in these days of terror”
Unfortunately, he follows this with “Stop,” which bears a decent beat whose only flaw is being in 6/8 timing. Venturing outside the 4/4 box is a tricky proposition for even the best of rappers, but for Sun R.A. it proves too much and exposes the frailties of his flow for all to see (or hear). It wouldn’t be too big a deal if it were buried amidst some other, better tracks, but as the album’s final song it leaves the listener with a less than stellar impression when walking away from “Prisoners of War.”
There has been a lot of talk around RapReviews lately about our scoring system and whether or not we’re too generous in our assessments. And while I sympathize with those who may find us too forgiving in some of our critiques, I would remind everyone that there’s more to the review than its final score. There’s a reason we go on (forever and ever) about each album’s many details, and that’s to give you a better understanding of which things a particular artist both does and does not do well. In reality, there are an infinite number of categories in which you could rate a piece of music, and we attempt to touch on as many of them as we can in our write-ups. But for numerical purposes, I only have two to offer you. Take them with a grain of salt.