Various Artists

With Literacy and Justice for All: A Benefit for the DC Area Books to Prisons Project

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With Literacy and Justice for All, subtitled "A Benefit for the DC Area Books to Prisons Project," bears resemblance and comparison to a similar project that came to fruition several years prior to its release, William Upski Wimsatt's No More Prisons, which, in addition to a full-length book, also came accompanied by a companion CD, primarily featuring underground and indie hip-hop artists. While With Literacy exists on a much more modest and less-polished scale than No More Prisons (the statistics from which it liberally quotes), its good intentions and its format take on much the same manifestation. The label Exotic Fever's focus is related to but slightly different than the target of No More Prisons, and in a way somewhat more starry-eyed, as well as idealistically less caustic and dogmatic. Instead of simply describing the problem by pinpointing the symptoms, it goes a step further by offering the notion that reading and education are the panaceas to the issue of our crowded prisons, and then attempts to illustrate the fact by having its artists, in the accompanying 36-page booklet, spotlight the personal and political effect that specific books have had on their own lives. A very worthy ideal indeed, the message nevertheless is undercut to a certain extent by its component music, which, as often as it does, frequently bears little in common with the thesis at hand. Hip-hop artists here are also replaced by primarily up-and-coming D.C. indie rock bands and artists, and the mix is not quite as consistent or impacting, though it certainly has its excellent moments. The lack of bias on the part of its artists -- aside from the subtly didactic sort that almost universally infects the young -- also has the outcome of rendering With Literacy a less persuasive and immediate argument in the end than was No More Prisons. The symptoms and consequences described, after all, are considerably more burdensome to the inner-city communities from which many of the latter's rap artists emerged than they are among privileged, college-educated, middle-class ones, from which most of the former's contributors came. Every little bit, however, helps.

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