I don't want to fill this entire review with the autobiography of Emiliano Zapata, even though he's a fascinating subject worthy of study far beyond the scope of this one album. Like many of history's most charasmatic revolutionaries, Zapata became a martyr to his own cause, and his legend grew in stature well after his passing. To boil it down to the basics so we can move on with UK Month though here's what you need to know - he was born and raised in an era of wealthy Mexican landowners who controlled all of the resources and made life miserable for the impoverished peasant class who had to eke out a living as best they could. All he desired was for the average man and woman to have their fair share of the pie, but in the process of demanding what should have already been his by birth, he came to be a leader of a revolutionary army called "Zapatistas."
One might ask why a British rap artist would identify with a Mexican firebrand, but one might as well ask why anybody born into poverty would identify with those who sought to rise above it. You can be born poor whether you're born in a so-called "third world" country (an often derogatory misnomer) or one of the wealthiest nations on this Earth. Your access to education, employment opportunities, and health care may be determined simply by the assets of the generations before you. We like to think there's no such thing as a caste system in the modern world, but class warfare creates its own caste, as the haves believe the have-nots are meant to serve them and be happy with whatever scraps fall into their laps. I'm no Marxist or Zapatista - I live in a democracy with a free marked economy and accept it warts and all for what it is - but you'd have to be blind to not recognize that 99% of the world's resources are controlled by less than 1% of the population. That inherent unbalance creates unrest in every corner of the globe.
Emcee Killa (stylized eMCee on his albums) seems to recognize this inherent unbalance, and has joined with the famed Grim Reaperz production team to address this inequality on "Zapatista." It's unlikely an album can forment the same kind of revolution that Zapata did over a century ago, but songs like "Shame" may at least provoke some critical thinking about our standing in the global economy. Even those of us who feel that we're fairly well off might just get the clue that we've really just been lulled into a comfortable complacency.
"Posers who walk in comas, the polish in drought
The big dream of the British life is nothing to shout
Hypodermics tattooed on your mother and spouse
Abused children, the laws still snuffing them out
Or where they part of the cause we knew nothing about
Government clout, got us all running around
Many tired but reminded when their suppers devoured
We're the 99% but where the f--k are we now?
Rally up on the 1% shuttin 'em down"
The tinkling ivories of the backdrop add a beautiful and menacing touch to the words, reminding one instantly of the brutal beauty of a Vinnie Paz track (particularly those produced by Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind). There's little doubt on this dark and gothic album that Emcee Killa views himself as a warrior in the fight against evil, and when he's attacking "Diablo" in song it's both a metaphor for class warfare and a literal enemy to focus on.
"That's how it goes when you're facing your demons
To beat them is one of the greatest achievements
If you don't know then you may be infected
To know is to shame what is stately protected
Phantoms injected, the manor's gone septic
Traffics gone static and the camera man's breathless
Just another day for Diablo the terrible
The city's in despair from a force that's incredible
He doesn't have heart so let's feed him a million
Slow down his speed let him see the civilians
And blend with the world now he lives round the corner
It wont take much to restore the disorder"
One might ask what could be enjoyed about an album which is so focused on the overwhelming despair in the air. Perhaps you can find it in the words of "It's So Hard" though when Emcee vows "enough is enough/and our foundation's gonna crumble to rust." He's not taking it and refusing to take a stand - he's proposing all out rebellion in a Guy Fawkes mask. He even takes his critics to task in advance of their objections, noting that they'll be called "vandalists" by those who would surpress his movement. Even though it's a grim and at times macabre album it's also one filled with hope that just maybe things could be better if everybody got pissed off about the sorry state of affairs.
The only downside of this album may be that Emcee Killa's 40 minutes are shared with a slew of guest stars. It's not that any of them aren't up to the darkness the Grim Reaperz provide (Mouse Hughes, Phoenix Da Ice Fire and Manage of Caxton Press to name a few), it's just that once one gets used to Emcee Killa's accent and delivery it's clear that he's the voice of the British underclass and the one to carry the torch for this revolution, no matter how successful it ultimately is. Of course no one album can change things, no matter how much it Rages Against the Machine, but "Zapatista" at least makes you question why the status quo is acceptable. As Emcee says himself "Be the change that you seek/make a stand once again." He's so serious that at times it could be seen as a buzzkill, but I respect his commitment to his cause and the production that went into it.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: November 24, 2015