Politics and Music have always had something of a convoluted relationship and for every artist out there wearing their political heart on their sleeve there are ten more making songs about partying – not that the two are mutually exclusive. There’s near constant debate in the media over the politics of the music industry, be it Taylor Swift pulling her album from Spotify or Thom Yorke releasing his latest album on Megaupload, but many artists doing something explicitly political with their work continue to fall on deaf ears. As generation after generation falls into a state of disenfranchisement with the political order it’s only natural some of this resentment is going to filter into the music they make.
Since the death of Punk, no genre has encapsulated the relationship between politics and music as well as Hip Hop, from the cutting social commentary of Nas to the Communist revolutionary beats of Dead Prez, rap has provided an outlet to the disenfranchised voices of (mostly) black America since its inception. The last ten years or so has seen the political fall somewhat out of fashion within the more mainstream circles of Hip-Hop, however with artists such as Ratking and Run The Jewels receiving huge critical acclaim the genre may be well on its way back to its more political roots.
Run The Jewels released their second album Run The Jewels 2 to unbelievable hype a few weeks back, and for good reason. The groups two members, ATL legend Killer Mike and New York pioneer EL-P, are both highly respected as artists’ in their own right but together are unstoppable. RTJ2 is an angry, high octane, millions bars a minute behemoth of an album, filled from cover to cover with fierce social commentary and brutal attacks on the establishment and its figureheads.
Take the Zach De La Rocha, of Rage Against the Machine fame, featuring ‘Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)’ which see’s Killer Mike compare his bars to the Anarchist’s Cookbook and closes with the line ‘The only thing that close quicker than our caskets be the factories’. Run The Jewels aren’t afraid of causing a stir with their work, Killer Mike has always been outspoken about police brutality and government corruption while El-P’s latest solo effort jittered with paranoid rhymes about “drones over Brooklyn” and violent revolution. Even the production on this album sounds political, EL-P crafts broken, aggressive beats out of warped synths and distorted drums, perfectly complimenting the no holds bars braggadocio and anti-establishment tone.
Run The Jewels aren’t the only artists stateside making interesting, explicitly political music. Ratking’s distinct brand of New York Hip-Hop is reliant on their surly, tongue in cheek take on life as a wayward yout’. Their debut album featured samples of police officers harassing them on the street and the groups’ defacto leader Wiki is open about their political stance. Standout track ‘Snow Beach’ is an exploration of gentrification in the groups native New York, tackling everything from the privilege of NYU students to the blight of ‘tourists [that] came, try to escape, admire the place, visit the empire state’ mocking the disparity between the version of New York that exists in the public consciousness and the realities of ‘stoops and fire-escapes’.
Back on this side of the Atlantic, Sleaford Mods are quietly grafting their way into the public eye, championed by Vice’s musical offshoot Noisey. Hailing from Nottingham, this bordering middle-aged pair reflect on the somewhat grim realities of working class existence in austerity era England over driving post punk instrumentals. ‘Jobseeker’ is a hilarious, if depressing, ode to life on the dole ‘it’s anyone’s guess how I got here, anyone’s guess how I’ll go’ laments the songs semi-fictional protagonist ‘Mr Williamson’ before telling the Job Centre lady ‘you’ve got a till full of twenties staring at you all day I’m only gonna fucking bank it, i’ve got drugs to take’.
The Mods’ come from a long line of cynical, regionally accented national anti-heros, owing as much to John Cooper Clarke as they do to Ian Drury, yet their talent to capture the drudgery of modern life is unrivalled. Their work is unashamedly honest and unrefined; Williamson’s vocal style is half spoken word, half rap and full of swearing. Take ‘Tied Up in Nottz’ (with a zed you cunt) a gobby look back over nights out and ‘the lonely life that is touring’ complete with ideology defining line ‘I’ve got an arseful of good tunes mate, but it’s all so fucking borrringgg’.