Apr 22, 2008 - 9:36 PM
Power Struggle’s Hearts and Minds is a strong album. It has dripping, soulful beats that Curtis Mayfield or Stevie Wonder would be proud of, and intelligent rapping with a delivery that demands to be heard. Emcee Nomi’s rhymes are fucking dope, too. It seems like almost every break is surprising, witty, or rhythmic. My only problem with it is that the first part of the album is so much stronger than the second. AND since two of the songs on the second part are actually remixes of songs from the first half, you might say that the album feels short, or rushed.
The first part—produced by BenZilla—has a classic, danceable sound that really makes you think of the masters of groove. It sounds like real vinyl is being used and there’s even a deft crab-scratch on the first cut. Wah-wah guitars and funky Klaviers, full, solid drum beats and horn lines integrate to make you relax and dance.
A member of the now-defunct Minnesota hip-hop outfit Oddjobs, Nomi’s rhymes have a righteous presence too. They have an honesty that is at once abrasive and endearing. Nomi is deeply passionate and speaks to real issues. Isn’t that one of the reasons we listen to hip-hop in the first place? He’s also real enough to rap: “We don’t got no money to get up in the club / so we’ll chill on the block an’ burn down a dub.”
(Whew. Thank you! I’ll be doing the same thing cross-town. Cheers.)
Nomi is also vocal about the oppression of the Pinoy as a result of the colonization of the Philippines. It's something that permeates his rhymes—“Oaktown, Sucker Free, Minni-Ap, NYC," he raps. "Ask me why I move around: tryin’ to find the Philippines inside of me.”
There’s even some rappin’ in Taglog by featured guest Saico of the Kasamas on “Komrades;” the track also features Geologic of the Blue Scholars and I Self Divine. (It's motivated me to ask my buddies what "Som Bak Sah" means.)
On “Real Love… Blues Away,” the solid grooves and passionate lyrics come together into one sexy fucking jam. From the pleading saxophone to the extra late, mournful lyrics, (“If I could take your blues away…”) there’s a striving for change and perfection that is moving and undeniable. The track is catchy, soothing and intelligent. Nice.
Produced by former Oddjobs producer Deetalx, the second part is more experimental, more instrumental and has more automation than the first half. It feels like you’re listening to a big spacey music machine. Sounds like it might have been made on Reason, a computer program that is fantastic for experimental composition, but leaves something to be lacked when it comes to a polished, finished sound.
There is such a difference between the two halves that it would be apparent even if you didn’t know that they planned it that way. But did they plan it that way, or did they hurry what could have been two un-godly amazing albums? When the remixes come around, at first the rhymes just sound redundant. But when the hook for “Deporting the Pilgrim” drops, that’s when it snaps that it’s a remix. These would be fine songs by themselves, but they pale in comparison to the originals.
It just feels like the second half should have been developed into a second album. “Fuck This City,” the first song from this second set is just as amazingly strong as the previous material. This song drives home the frustration and negativity that the artist says the second part is about. Against a throbbing, staticky bass line, Nomi raps:
“Fuck this city / everyone in it Crime, corruption, consumption / I’m sick of it A tired man heading home from a long day / beer in the bag and an addict in the hallway “A little help,” says the beggars in rags / drops his head, tilts his hat Laughs automatic when he’s ignored / Everyone’s ignored so get the fuck off the floor”
It’s powerful, trippy and new… but it doesn’t hold up for the whole album.
Overall: B+, even though some friends said I should give it a C+ because music sucks so much in general these days, and anyone in a position to review music shouldn’t drop the bar the way America’s health associations have for fat people. I think it’s a valid point, but I like the first part that much—and I like where the second half is headed. I just don’t think it got there yet.
Sam Devine is a contributor to Oh Dang! and will eat your children for a nominal fee.