I own this five-CD set entitled “Good Morning Vietnam.” Compiling 75 songs from a limited range of record labels, it is far from representative, but it does give a musical, maybe even a cultural retrospective on the ten year span from 1963 to 1973. Only few songs on it actually deal with the Vietnam war, among them Joe Tex’ “I Believe I’m Gonna Make It” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Vietnam.” Unlike Vietnam, the name Iraq has not yet become synonymous with a war, or an era in national history even. As of yet, 9/11 is more likely to be remembered as the defining term for what preoccupied American society at the beginning of the 21st century. While Iraq will surely be more than a footnote to the country’s counterattack on whatever it perceives to be a threat, there’s no predicting what ‘Iraq’ will ultimately stand for. A successful experiment in nation-building? A national and international tragedy with countless casualties? I don’t know if there will ever be a demand for a similar sampler with Iraq in its title. It’s also hard to phantom which songs would be seen fit to appear on it. Chances are, it would feature a considerable amount of hip-hop songs, but I wouldn’t expect either one of the two all-star tracks (“Dear Mr. President” and “Down With Us”) from Fredwreck Nassar’s Stop The Oppressive Politics Movement to make the cut, seeing as how they’ve largely been ignored by even the hip-hop public, brilliant though they were.
What will be inevitable, however, will be for the world to learn what really happened in Iraq, as well as on the home front in the United States. The kind of learning process to which in the case of Vietnam Hollywood has contributed considerably with many movies, among them the one that inspired the aforementioned compilation, Barry Levinson’s _Good Morning Vietnam_ with Robin Williams. At this time, the public perception of the war in Iraq is still in its documentary phase, unfortunately too often skewed by the commentator’s own bias. One such documentary, and one that apparently is less biased than others, is Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein’s _Gunner Palace_, which lets us ride shotgun with the soldiers of the 2/3 Field Artillery Division (known as the Gunners), who in 2003 were billeted at Al Azimiyah Palace, once weekend residence of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. Remember the deserted palace they showed us shortly after the invasion? That’s probably what Al Azimiyah looked like. An opulent habitat owned by a clan ruling a nation by terror and nepotism. And remember the US soldier complaining to Rumsfeld about having to armor Humvees with scrap metal? He might as well be one of the men portrayed in _Gunner Palace_.
Earlier this year, the makers of _Gunner Palace_ successfully appealed to the Motion Picture Association of America to change the initial rating from R to PG-13 after arguing that the film spoke directly to the young men and women trying to understand the sacrifice thousands of their peers are making, some of them maybe even dealing with the decision to join the armed forces themselves. When it hit theaters, _Gunner Palace_ could only dream of having the box office impact of a Michael Moore movie, which may be the reason RapReviews.com was sent the DVD in the first place, to promote it to the audience it was partly made for. To drive the point home, we also received a promotional mix-CD, a joint effort of DJ Lt. Dan and Chops. The former lends his name and mixing skills to the project, while the latter contributes beats, previously released songs he has produced and exclusive remixes. In the process, the Philly producer/rapper also manages to promote himself a bit, boasting over the sleek bounce of his remix of “Drop it Like it’s Hot”: “If you need a remix, holla at whoever the fuck you want… But if you need your shit reinvigorated, reconfigurated, reanimated, reorchestrated, retwisted, reupholstered – scream at ya boy.”
That said, the “Gunner Palace” promo CD isn’t exactly the ultimate collection of rap tracks on the subject of war. Agreed, there’s “War” off Chops’ solo album “Virtuosity,” and the military-minded “Special Forces” he did with the Cali Agents and Bahamadia (from the latter’s “BB Queen” EP). Baby Blak reports from battlefield hood on “Tears,” while Raekwon drops “street ammo” on “What’s Fuckin Wit Us” (both also from “Virtuosity“). Lloyd Banks’ “Warrior” is surprisingly less relevant, Chops uninspired remix rendering the rapper’s performance even more negligent. With a little bit of good will, the opening “Y’all Want War” with Royal Flush and ODB could serve as a commentary on violent feuds in general. But neither the Chops remixes of “Encore” (Eminem) and “Going Back to Cali” (The Notorious BIG), nor the Lt. Dan blends of “Victory” (Puff Daddy) and “Still Ballin” (2Pac) make for substantial input, as expertedly as they’re woven into the texture. DJ Lt. Dan and Chops miss the opportunity to drop classic cuts à la Eric B & Rakim’s “Casualties of War” or “When We Ride” by 2Pac and his Outlaw Immortalz, anything by MOP, or even something contemporary from the notoriously belligerent Dip Set. Or how about a track from Capone-N-Noreaga’s Desert Storm-inspired “The War Report,” where LeFrak City becomes Iraq, and Queensbridge Kuwait?
Conceptually, this mixtape’s saving grace lies in the fact that it’s an audio documentary/drama in itself, interspersed with freestyle raps, spoken word performances, comedic bits, or just plain commentary extracted from the feature presentation. They offer you a glimpse of what you can expect from _Gunner Palace_, a report on America’s sons and daughters wearing the latest high-tech combat gear but still being utterly unprepared for the enormous task of enforcing and maintaining peace in a country whose (admittedly lethal) peace they disturbed themselves. During the early stages of the invasion of Iraq, a local TV station showed how army vehicles from Humvees to Abrams tanks feature internal sound systems that can be plugged with an external device, making it possible to collectively listen to music on individual headphones. I was and still am appalled at the idea that fighting in a tank can have the appeal of playing a video game, a particularly sad case of life imitating entertainment. Think about it, you might actually kill someone while your favorite CD is playing. Outrageous. And that’s coming from someone who has used rap to motivate himself many times during military service. But that someone wasn’t engaged in combat (for which I thank my country and my creator) when he put on some Spice 1 or some Coup. There’s a difference. In _Apocalypse Now_, probably the ultimate Vietnam film, Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone had yet to provide their characters with an appopriate soundtrack (which ranged from The Doors’ “The End” to Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”). In 2005, soldiers may just have their individual soundtrack to war stored in their iPods. Forgive me if I don’t really wanna know how much hip-hop they listen to.