This is the third album from SF Bay Area hip hop group Power Struggle. The group originally started out as a project with rapper Nomi and producer Deetalx, both part of Minneapolis hip hop group Oddjobs. They released their first album, “Arson at the Petting Factory,” four years ago on punk label New Disorder. 2008’s “Hearts and Minds” was self-released, and saw producer BenZilla accompanying Deetalx. Now Power Struggle is signed to Long Beach, CA label Beatrock, and producers Mister REY and Fatgums have replaced Deetalx.
Nomi’s lyrics are mostly concerned with fighting injustice and the challenges facing immigrants in this country. It’s what I’ve come to expect from Beatrock Music; hip hop activism coming from a Philippino-American perspective. Nomi lays out his history on “Mr. Sagittarius…A Proletarian Path To Englightenment,” which discusses his journey from Minnesota to New York to the Philippines to San Francisco, and from a rapper concerned with partying and bullshit to someone looking to make a positive change in the world:
“Moved to BK in 2001
Three days before Al Queda blocked out the sun
Three months later and still out of work
Moving product for Jamaicans kept it under my shirt
Oddjobs crew signed to an indpendent label
So I took off 48 states with a mic and turntable
Did a lot of drugs, sex, and hip hop
Life felt like a circus under the big top”
He took a trip to visit the Philippines, and had his eyes opened. He saw the way the poor people there were living, and realized how fortunate he was that his family was able to emigrate to the U.S. He returned from that trip changed, “like Malcom from Mecca,” and started focusing his energy on activism and making music that reflected his beliefs.
Activist hip hop is a tricky prospect. Too often the result is either solid politics but lousy music, or good music with dodgy politics. Nomi deserves praise for getting the balance right, presenting a righteous message without being preachy, and making it sound good. It’s not that he’s the best rapper: his delivery can be monotone, he has a tendency to cram syllables into a verse to make a point, or chop a sentence up to make a rhyme. He’s good, but he’s not awe-inspiring. This works to his advantage, though, because he sounds real and down-to-earth, a normal dude who has something to say. He’s not self-righteously ranting on his soapbox, he’s sharing his struggles with the injustices in the world, telling the listener what he thinks rather than what they should think.
Fatgums and Mister REY split production duties, both providing soulful, sample-based beats. There is an uplifting musicality to the music which gives the record a more hopeful feel, reflecting the hopefulness in the lyrics. Nomi may be well aware with what’s wrong with the world, but he’s optimistic for the future.
The strongest track on the album is arguably “Artofficialfreedom,” which is second to last. Mister REY lays down a mid-tempo beat with swelling organs, and Nomi gives it his all:
“Started breaking down
The system in which we live
How U.S. foreign policy made us immigrants
Taking it way back to when whites came on ships
Broke our backs took our land using whips, guns, and crosses
Now my folks want whips, guns, and crosses
Now my folks want to act like bosses
It’s all bullshit
This is the world of the people not the pulpit
I’m not a preacher
I’m a teacher
I work with kids on the street that are eager
To advance but they can’t
Cuz they ain’t got nothing in their hands
And it hurts when I see one of my kids
On the block in the spot serving what it is
Keeping watch for the cops who are racist
They hate all of us
You can see it in their motherfucking faces”
He sums it up in the chorus, saying “this is us, this is it.”
“Remittances” is another solid release from Beatrock Music, and more proof that California knows what time it is. Power Struggle is an excellent combination of thoughtful rhymes and uplifting beats, twelve songs that will get your head nodding and your brain working.