A manifesto regarding the crimes of the government against its people and of the people against themselves, Percy Carey's (aka MF Grimm) 60-song epic American Hunger is a hard-hitting, provocative record that contains none of the skits or other filler commonly associated with hip-hop. Instead, every track is a well-constructed and thoughtful piece, with clean, melodic beats and heavy drums, that furthers the overall message while still functioning as its own entity. Not a concept album in a strict sense, American Hunger explores the themes of political and social injustice and the struggles of life as a black man; broad enough to give Grimm and his immense lyrical skills space for in-depth reflection and criticism while keeping him focused and directed. Though his delivery is generally slow and uniform, a fact he acknowledges ("flow so simple.../thoughts so radical"), he's bitingly witty, castigating anyone and everyone -- including himself -- for their misdoings. Each disc begins with the song "American Hunger" (in "Breakfast," "Lunch," and "The Last Supper" variations, to correspond with the title of each disc), a kind of metaphor for the contradiction between the drive of the American Dream and the way the government holds back many of its citizens from attaining it, and moves on from there. The president is the main target of these attacks, but Grimm (or Jet Jaguar, as he often calls himself when with his Monsta Island Czars crew, who show up as guests frequently) holds equal disdain for all politicians. "George Bush to me is the straight-up devil/John Kerry's down with him, he ain't no better," he declares, and over the blues-induced beats of "I'd Rather Be Wrong" he spits "I guess I'm just like Colin Powell/Lack of real power..." and "Condoleeza Rice, how you sleep at night" angrily, while on the darker "Street General" he describes his feelings about censorship ("Choking while the government proceeds to hang me/burned neck from strangling, laugh while dangling"). It's a no-holds-barred approach, and it's effective: the passion and pain he experiences is visceral.
Grimm is equally harsh in his assessment of American society and his own personal life. In fact, one of the MC's greatest gifts is his ability to look beyond his own immediate pain and suffering and place it within the context of society, both contemporarily and historically. "Excuse us for our arrogance," he practically sobs out on the rawly emotional "Lift Me Up (Snakes and Ladders)" -- more spoken word than rap -- in which he questions if his generation's problems and violent tendencies are the cause of their greater, more intensified manifestation today. It's a powerful piece, and backed by a melancholy saxophone and jazzy cymbals, one of the most arresting of all three discs. Women, of course, are also addressed, but there's something sinister to his odes of devotion. "It's No Secret" begins sweetly enough ("It's no secret that you're beautiful") but turns into an ominous, stalker ballad ("It's no secret that we're soul mates.../Corpses to the death when picking a companion"). It's as if he's still fighting within himself, so even though he may say that "now the only bird I flip is a Charlie Parker sample," he'll also admit to wanting to kill his enemies, and that physical aggression has always been a part of his life. This doesn't come across as contradictory, however; rather it's the honest conveyance of the internal and external conflicts that have defined him and his Janus-faced life -- wealth and poverty, violence and negotiation, hate and love -- and Grimm invites us in to watch as he tries to understand it all, a bold and exposing move. American Hunger's not a light, happy affair for the faint-of-heart. It's an album rooted deep in duality and hypocrisy, and in it, Carey has created one of the most thought-provoking and intelligent records -- in any genre -- of the new century, a spectacular achievement in honesty, strength, and rhyme.