BY Michael Slate
Revolutionary Worker #1057, June 4, 2000
The "Unbound Project" is a Spoken Word/Hip Hop compilation album dedicated to Mumia Abu-Jamal, "whose spirit of resistance and dedication to freedom for all oppressed people has inspired this gathering of voices and art." Released by the Realized label, this is an amazing piece of work on every level. It's an outpouring of respect and love for Mumia and anger at the system trying to kill him. It tells the story of young Black and Latino people up against the walls of this society. Its speaks to and comes from the hip hop generation.
The album rips a hole in the Matrix and gives a glimpse of truth. The beats insist that you ride them down a river of music through verbal canyons where the stories of the oppressed nationalities are told by Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi Tek), Mike Ladd, Medina Green, Ursula Rucker, MuMs, Jerry Quickley, Aceyalone, Rakaa-Iriscience (from Dilated Peoples), Blackalicious and Poor Righteous Teachers. When you come out the other side of this project you aren't the same.
Each artist makes a powerful contribution to the project, starting with Reflection Eternal hitting hard on how the prisons are filled with young Black and Latino people--"So if America is majority white/ then the prison is another country like James Baldwin/ Blacks and Latinos all in the system/ like it's a calling to fall in the trap./ That's why our blocks are infested with drugs and gats/ Fact/ Cats on Death Row cuz the way they think is illegal."
Ursula Rucker runs a finger down the inside of your spine talking about the rape of Black women by slaveowners and the defiance born in their survival. "Chained us to the ship/ treat us like a bunch of motherfucking misfits/ then say `Stop talking all that Slave shit'/ Watch we uprise, We gonna uprise/ Watch we uprise, We gonna uprise."
This defiance hits hard in "Mumia 911"--the incredible posse cut released last summer as the first single off the CD--which tells Mumia's story and straight up declares a war to free him. This track was done by the Unbound All Stars which includes Chuck D, Dead Prez, Zack de la Rocha, The Last Emperor and others.
The journey ends with a very powerful piece from Mike Ladd, "February 4th, 1999 (For all those Killed by the Cops)." Ladd was inspired to write this piece after a visit to the spot where Amadou Diallo was killed the day after the cops murdered Diallo. J Rocc of the World Famous Beat Junkies ties the album together with a rope of voices and beats in short cuts that pop up across the CD--from Richard Pryor doing his hilarious skit about a Black Man announcing to the cops that he is "reaching into his pocket to get his wallet" (a phrase that is burned into the minds of every Black person in the country today) to the Black Panthers singing Off the Pigs.
Frank Sosa, the Executive Producer of the album, says the project was born in the fight against oppression and to free Mumia. "Some friends and I were doing some organizing work for Mumia while I was involved in the music business. I had been involved in the marketing end of the music business for five years and it was getting really old--just working in that system--for me. One of the distributors I was doing work for was in my house once and asked me who Mumia Abu-Jamal was. They were curious and wanted to know about him because they had never heard about him. So I explained who Mumia was--I gave him the whole spiel. I talked with him for a whole hour about why the case is important. I told him about the trial and about everything that has developed politically around Mumia's case. By the end of the conversation the person from the distributor--who is actually the president of the distribution company--had the reaction of saying he couldn't believe that stuff like this happens in this country. He said that he didn't know that this stuff happens and he wanted to know what he could do. I said we could do a record. That was a long time ago. It remained in the idea phase for a long time and I kept bringing it up to him. Finally I got a call from him saying it was time to take this out of the idea phase."
Some of the best hip hop and Spoken Word artists in the country contributed to the project and have donated their royalties to Mumia's legal defense fund. As Sosa tells it, they were eager to do it. "We approached artists we knew were conscious people. We went to people who would really be able to bring the message home and it would come from their heart. It wasn't really a hard pitch when it came to taking this to the artists. We explained the album would be to not only raise some awareness about Mumia's case but would also shed some light on the criminal justice system. Everyone was really receptive to this.
"This is a concept album. We didn't want just a bunch of songs about Mumia because I thought it would've been too much of one angle for an entire full length album. We wanted people to meditate on the idea of freedom, whatever that means to them. It could mean anything to anybody, depending on what their perspective is and what their experience is. Since we're dealing with the hip hop community we felt that the word freedom means a lot. So we just let people go with the idea--freedom, whatever it means to you. Whether you want to express the lack of freedom, the need for freedom, what it's gonna take to achieve freedom, whatever--as long as that's the basis of the work. In retrospect I think it's a really good idea because it's such a broad topic and yet it's right to the point so that we were able to get some really powerful messages.
"Still a lot of the songs turned in were around Mumia because we all know--a lot of us studied the case and strongly feel that the precedent that will be set if Mumia is executed will strongly affect what we're trying to achieve in terms of freedom for oppressed nationalities in this country. And since Mumia was such a strong part of the process of doing this record it was just natural that a lot of people did songs about him. But I think that even if the record wasn't about Mumia, you can't avoid Mumia when you're talking about freedom in this country. And it's a very hot topic in the hip hop community. His case, if you examine it, is going to strongly affect our lives.
"We wanted the album to be a Spoken Word/Hip Hop album. I have always wanted to do something that would do justice to Spoken Word in a musical form. Most of the majors are scared to mess with it because it's such an experimental form. I feel that for a message based album like the "Unbound Project" you've got to have Spoken Word in there. A lot of the younger generation can hear the rap and tune into the rap, but I found that with older people sometimes, it's a language and a sensibility that they can't relate to. I feel Spoken Word is something that is a bit more universal--both the younger generations and the older generations can really listen and really hear exactly what's going on. So I wanted a few pieces like that."
From its front cover--a riot geared cop during the 1992 L.A. Rebellion--to its back cover--L.A. cops standing before La Revolución es La Solución! slashed across a concrete wall during the rebellion--this CD carries its message strong. Inside, a 30-page booklet features an essay on the way this system is systematically caging up the young, especially Black and Latino people. When you lift the CD out of the case you are hit hard with words from Mumia: "The choice, as every choice, is yours; To fight for freedom or be fettered, to struggle for liberty or be satisfied with slavery, to side with life or death. Spread the word of life far and wide. Talk to your friends, read, and open your eyes--even to doorways of perception you feared to look into yesterday. Hold your heart open to the truth."
This speaks volumes about what Sosa hopes to do with this CD. "There are a lot of things we hope to accomplish with this album but the primary thing is to raise awareness about the criminal justice system and immediately raise awareness about Mumia Abu-Jamal's situation. From all my years of marketing records I've come to find out that a lot of these underground hip hop records are created in the communities that are affected by the things we're trying to raise awareness about. But the people in the suburbs and kids who have access to money and can afford to buy records have a lot of influence outside of the circles that we have influence in. And they buy most of these records. But I believe that most of them don't have access to the alternative information that's out there.
"So I hope that this is going to be like a sneak attack to get to those people. I want them to just be surprised, like the guy from the distributor who couldn't believe that stuff like this happens in this country. I hope that will happen on a broader scale. I hope that kids will pick this up in the suburbs and want to become active in their communities so the problem is respected on a broader level than just among the people affected by it. I don't think that a lot of the kids who listen to hip hop have access to this kind of information and a lot of the records they buy, unfortunately, don't do enough to tackle these problems. So this is straight to the point so that people who listen to it will want to go out and make a difference."
The "Unbound Project" drops on May 30th.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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