Despite Prodigy’s assertion on Mobb Deep’s “Allustrious” that his music was, “Heavy Metal for the black people,” the relationship between Rock, Hip Hop and the Black community has always been somewhat tenuous. While acts like M.O.P. and Onyx captured the energy of electric, guitar-driven Rock, they never sang. Conversely, Rock groups predominately or exclusively featuring Black members such as Living Colour, Fishbone and Bad Brains have seen commercial and critical acclaim without being completely embraced (or sometimes even acknowledged) by the Black community and the larger Hip Hop audience. With history seemingly weighing against their odds of success, Murs, Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer and writer/producer/ego trip co-founder Sacha Jenkins offer themselves as The White Mandingos.
As the sordid racial history of Rock, its relationship with Hip Hop and the title, “White Mandingos” would lead you to believe, this is an album loaded with racial imagery and commentary. Those familiar with Murs songs such as “D.S.W.G. (Dark Skinned White Girls),” or “And This Is For…” know this is familiar territory for the West Coast vet. As the de facto lead vocalist, he doesn’t disappoint. Much like the nameless protagonist in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Murs’ semi-autobiographical rhymes reflect the emotions of someone who at times feels ostracized by both Black and White society.
“I get blackballed when Black rappers come around / Too Black for the motherfuckin’ underground / The White fans barely tolerate my Black ass / If I embrace them, I catch a backlash / From the Black fans / It’s so crazy, yo / I sold out if I’m on the Black radio,” he rhymes on “Black N White.”
The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me is a purposely jarring listen, and while Murs doesn’t sing, his deliberate cadence is a perfect fit over the increased tempo provided by electric guitars, bass guitars and live drums. Jenifer’s Punk roots are manifested from the outset, but listeners willing to look for them can also detect Bad Brains’ signature Ska riffs. And just for fun, there’s a remake of Minor Threat’s “Guilty Of Being White” thrown into the mix. Punk Rock was in part birthed from the concept of bucking the establishment and bare bones performance. In that regard, the sonics reflect a sort of intentional dissonance. In turn, Murs responds with subject matter that’s a bit brasher than his other solo projects.
Given Jenkins’ contributions to ego trip’s Big Book Of Racism, “Race-O-Rama” and “The (White) Rapper Show,” it’s fairly safe to assume he shares some of the credit for deft way this album balances tongue in cheek statements about sexuality and race (“News flash, White girls have ass too / And for some of you sisters that’s bad news…”) with acutely accurate commentary (“No disrespect to Iggy, but she Patty Hearst / That’s word to God, that’s word to Murs / We watching WorldStar and YouTube / Spendin’ more on tennis shoes than we do on food / Shit is realer than a Pimp C interview…”).
In a perfect world, listeners wouldn’t scratch their collective heads trying to figure out if this is a Rap or Rock project. But in such a world, Murs probably wouldn’t have much to rhyme about. The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me is a sonic torch-passing moment from vintage Public Enemy in terms of its subject matter. Murs, Jenkins and Jenifer bring a wealth of knowledge, both musical and otherwise, to the project. Unlike vanity Rock projects (i.e. Lil Wayne’s Rebirth) this functions as both a quality Rap or Rock offering. The Punk Rock backdrop allows the trio to break convention, while being independent theoretically shields them from having to kowtow to a label in hopes of reaching the coveted 18-24 demographic. Ultimately it’s an educating, challenging and informative listen that provides addional hope for the likes of ¡Mayday! BlackRoc and others in Hip Hop with Rock sensibilities.
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