Under the rap section of an online music store I frequent, I was recently surprised by a new sub-category titled “conscious rap.” The artists thrown into this section come in a variety of political styles. From the more overt-militant radicalisms of groups such as the Coup and Paris, to the warm and fuzzy gender politics of Common, the artists have their own representational strategies for conveying their brand of politics: some use guns, some use threesomes. For Mr. J Medeiros, Rez, and Stro the 89th Key, together known as the Procussions, politics is far from the sign-waving protest parades of Public Enemy or, say, Jadakiss. Instead, on 5 Sparrows for 2 Cents, the Procussions urge people to adopt more moral cultural values.
Although hailing from Colorado Springs, Colorado (maybe best known for being the setting for the Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman television series), the Procussions aren’t stylistically provincial. The group’s playful tru-skool polyphonic harmonies recall throwback groups such as Jurassic 5, Pharcyde and even older acts such as the Treacherous Three. Musically, this is a blend of live jazz instrumentation with soul and funk aesthetics (imagine the Roots meets Tribe Called Quest circa pre-Jay Dee production). Content-wise, however, the general political themes are vaguely reminiscent of Bill Cosby‘s recent social critiques. Known to be “Christian rap,” the members of the Procussions are far from proselytizing. Yet these religious inflections are unavoidable in their brand of social commentary.
For a group that claims to make “rebel music,” the album’s political standpoint might seem rather conservative to liberal camps that seek institutional change. On “I’ll Fly,” Medeiros opens with “You gotta break through this monotony/ material monopoly/ the modern day idolatry philosophy./ People putting faith in a lottery/ Who walks on top of the sea?/ It’s not me.” Cliché didactics and universal humanisms continue on “Little People,” “Jiminy Crickett” and “American Fado.” Touching on topics such as poverty, homelessness and sexism, the trio reduces “the system” to an ambiguous and agent-less monster where victimized people fall between the cracks because they choose the wrong values to live by, or as if their problems are a natural situation of unfair life chances.
They offer thoughtful poetics (“If you want the flower to bloom/ you gotta put it out in the rain/ When it rains, we all get wet”), but labeling these tracks as “feel-good” is accurate largely because the music isn’t unsettling. “The Storm,” featuring aggressive kicks, claps and guitar licks a la Just Blaze, epitomizes the group’s thematic banalities: “I was born in a violent storm/ in an endless fight between right and wrong.” Although the collaboration with Talib Kweli works wonderfully on “Miss January,” the Procussions’ generic anthems about positive living need to be left for the after-school specials.
The Procussions Web site (streaming audio)
Rawkus Records Web site