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Music Review: Flobots – Fight With Tools

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Hip-hop can be one of the bravest and most compelling forms of musical expression. Denver’s 6-member Flobots exemplify that statement and then some with their melodious assault. By setting their targets squarely on the most important issues of our day and firing off scorching blasts of musical excellence that tread through jazz, rock, and hip-hop territory with textbook exactitude, this collective is one of the hottest in the game.

Their debut is Fight With Tools, one of 2008’s most hard-nosed records.

Packing heat with MCs Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit, the Flobots collective rolls with zealous instrumentation that knocks the usual hip-hop trend of abundant samples and disco beats. Instead, this is rap backed by guitar, bass, drums…and a fucking viola. A trumpet and a cello also show up to flesh out the most dangerous group on the planet.

This is progressive rap for the people, embodying a lyrical spirit out of the voices of rebellion and dissent. Flobots personify progressive politics and advocate open-mindedness and careful thought. Those tired of the hollow bling and cavernous egotism of much of modern “hip-hop” would do well to turn their attention towards Fight With Tools. This is the real shit.

With “Mayday!!!” the group takes off over a tight guitar backdrop from Andy Guerrero. When the beat breaks off and Mackenzie Roberts’ viola takes hold, however, the musical reaches magical heights. The addition of Joe Fertone’s trumpet provokes a sense of eeriness beneath the rhymes.

Having formed in 2005 within the aftermath of the previous year’s election fury, Flobots were born to provoke and to politicize. Their penchant for activism created social events out of the band’s live shows and they became legendary fixtures on the Denver scene, using connections with non-profit groups and musical organizations to reach a broader audience with their message. They teamed up with other musicians, regardless of genre, to feed the fires of social justice.

Those fires are blazing and may well roar right through your stereo if you don’t watch your ass.

Tracks like the jazz-themed “Same Thing” poke holes in the “same old thing” promoted by the American political process and its insistent slogans. And they sum up their stance on the track, too: “We say yes to grassroots organizations, no to neoliberal globalization, bring the troops back to the USA, and shut down Guantanamo Bay.”

“Anne Braden” is a gauzy track that uses stunning backing vocals from Roberts to tell the poignant story of the civil rights movement hero. And the single, “Handlebars,” has an irresistible hook and verses that Jonny 5 tested out on his mom’s answering machine.

Fight With Tools is one of the boldest hip-hop albums of the year. It is fearless, beautiful, and commanding. Fans of musical diversity will love the jazz and rock influences, while true hip-hop heads will revel in the rhyme proficiency of Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit.

For a change of pace that is decidedly and purposefully not “cool,” cop this album. This is the real shit.

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About Jordan Richardson

  • ButterYourMuffin

    I wasn’t too thrilled with “Handlebars”, mostly because it was horrendously overplayed on the radio, but going back to it now I realize it’s a solid track. My favorite from the album has got to be “Rise”, a fantastic anthem-like song in support of change. But what really got me about these guys is the amount of non-partisan support they lent to this years’ Rock the Vote campaign. I was really impressed to see Johnny 5’s video on the importance of voting makes me happy to know that they aren’t just blowing smoke up our asses when they talk about the issues in their music. Check out the video if you’re interested — it’s well done.