Chris Thomas

21st Century Blues...From da 'Hood

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Critics of rap music have always pointed to the lyrical sex and violence that is an integral part of the genre when asserting their intellectual (and cultural) superiority. Similar charges have also been aimed at the blues, starting as early as the '20s and going through the late '70s. It's not too far a stretch of the imagination to say that the blues and rap have a lot in common. Both use the language of the street as an expressive tool and both are part of the same African-American oral tradition -- from field hollers and prison work songs to street parties and gangsta rap, it's all just the blues, ya'll. That's the message that Chris Thomas (aka Chris Thomas King) preaches with 21st Century Blues...From da 'Hood, possibly one of the most innovative and overlooked albums of the '90s. There aren't too many artists mixing blues and hip-hop styles, and it's probably safe to say that Chris Thomas was at least ten years ahead of his time with 21st Century Blues...From da 'Hood. Not surprisingly, this blues/rap hybrid works better on an artistic level than many of the rap-metal bands who rocked the late '90s. Thomas is not the most natural of microphone fiends, but what his songs lack in lyrical flow they make up for with thought-provoking lyrics and overall enthusiasm. "21CB," from which the album takes its name, is a fierce condemnation of society, an exclamation that while the plantation might have changed, African-Americans are still enslaved by poverty and racial intolerance. "KKKrossroads" tackles institutional racism, while "Kickin' True Blue" pays honor to blues and R&B giants while engaging in a bit of old-school microphone braggadocio. Thomas reinvents the blues for a new millennium with "Blues From da 'Hood" and "Homesick Blues," both songs rooted in the Robert Johnson/Son House lyrical tradition but delivered with a funky, hip-hop groove. A hidden track at the end of the album showcases Thomas in full Chicago blues mold, the song a brassy rave-up that would sound perfectly at home on Maxwell Street. Throughout 21st Century Blues...From da 'Hood, Thomas punctuates the machine-gun staccato of his rhymes with stellar six-string work, his fluid tone and energetic riffing strongly influenced by Jimi Hendrix and Albert King. Chris Thomas mixes Delta and Chicago blues styles with jazzy overtones and a street-bred hip-hop attitude to create an entirely new genre and a fine vehicle for expression. An incredible listening experience, 21st Century Blues...From da 'Hood is raw, energetic, and hits your ears every bit as powerfully as any gangsta rapper or hard rock band.

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