General Steele / Smif-N-Wessun

Amerikkka's Nightmare, Pt. 2: Children of War

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Affiliates of the larger Bootclamp Click collective, not to mention their firearm-inspired moniker, Smif-N-Wessun, have always had the military theme on their side. But, one-half of the Brooklyn duo, Steele, ups the ante on this solo LP, Amerikkka's Nightmare Pt. 2: Children of War, moving into deeper conceptual waters and stylistic experimentation. Lacking the usual cartoonish gangsta posturing, Children of War is a moodier meditation on contemporary America in its many conflicts with Steele's lyrics focused on social justice (or a lack thereof), government corruption, economic oppression, mass media smoke screens, and the varying places that war occupies in the national imagination. Sonically, the record is divided evenly among clear lines with two unknown beatsmiths doing the production honors. Che Triumph obviously favors a rapcore approach, contributing seven hard rock-driven tracks built on heavy electric guitar lines and pounding drum kits, while 7ven HD excels at composing weighty military themed beatscapes out of rolling drum lines, foot-stomp percussion, and brooding piano loops. There are plenty of thought-provoking moments, from Dead Prez's apt guest spot on the extraordinary "Cry Freedom" to the bleak musings of "Tomorrow's Children" and "I Had a Vision" which utilizes spoken word samples from H. Rap Brown and James Baldwin. Elsewhere, Che Triumph borrows liberally from Neil Young and Edwin Starr on the surprising classic rock-themed outing "Child of War." He pulls a similar studio trick a few tracks later working the raucous "Home of the Brave (Jimmy's Song)" out of Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock performance. The album's high point comes as Steele cuts through empty political talking points and mass media spin on the compelling but embittered "State of the Union Address." Far more than a simple one-gimmick record, Children of War represents an unexpected departure for Steele; it's a different kind of gangsta rap where thug life nihilism, popular culture, conspiracy theories, and hard-edged cynicism come together. Patrick Henry, Malcolm X, George Jackson, Oliver Stone, Alex Jones, Public Enemy, and Tupac Shakur; they're all in there.

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