Artist: BBU

Album: bell hooks

“Too many conscious rappers can’t face the facts/ that drug dealers happen to make better raps”. BBU’s bell hooks — made by a band whose website explains their name as “short for Bin Ladin Blowin’ Up or Black, Brown and Ugly, depending on the day” — is a catchy, proudly defiant bbu_bell_hooksalbum that (1) has no desire to appeal to condescending white liberals whose main ghetto experience comes from schoolteaching, e.g. me, and (2) is nonetheless well-positioned to do so. It is, for one thing, what rappers mean by “conscious”: the kind of album where even There’s Something About Mary, which is 1/3 an angry and self-disgusted complaint about being taken as a sucker by a girlfriend, is 2/3 a sympathetic portrait of the young woman’s life challenges, her attempts to meet them, and the police abuse and urban dysfunction that end up destroying her life. It’s varied but essentially old-school hip-hop, like Dead Prez, or the bratty kid nephews of Public Enemy. Every song has a groove, a couple of instrumental hooks, probably re-purposed from elsewhere, and plays them steadily, with adjustments for dynamics, throughout the song. Lots of whooshing noises; BBU like those. No one sings (except Kurt Cobain on a sample of Nirvana’s Polly), but it’s excellent music to foreground the words. Jason Perez, Richard Wallace, and Michael Milam each have musical speaking voices that play off each other well — sometimes as banter, sometimes with the teamwork of a sabotage plan coming together.

They surely think they’re more fun than “conscious rappers” like Common or the Roots, and I’ll agree; bell hooks is as catchy and danceable a hip-hip record as I’ve heard. Beau Sia is as loose and playful as a series of jumprope chants, aware of its own ridiculousness from the hook (“Brother tryin’ to figure out what’s your major” “What’s my major?!?!”) on down. I could disapprove of “This right here? Open letter/ from Jason Perez, one nerd-ass nigger/ Let’s fuck first, read a book together/ after that, change the world forever”, but I adore it. It’s so transparent, including in his obvious belief that every part of it makes a fine step-by-step plan (and why not, really?). Same with rhyming “Don’t forget your past” with an Afrocentric compliment on “your ass”. The Wrong Song is an all-out assault on American politics and Clear Channel pop culture both, but it’s giddy with the joy of its pitter-pat drums and Spanish chorus call-and-response. Please, No Pictures is a minimalist assemblage of soft percussion, groaning synth, and beepy synth melody, and a serious attack on racial profiling (by cops, by Fox News in its story inventions, by 19th-century slaveowners). But aided by guest stars Heems and Kool A.D. from Das Racist and a goofy spoken sample of the title, it plays as amused — even when “at shows making fun of white folks”, even when threatening to “go Nat Turner”.

bbu_band_pictureNot everything here feels amused. “My city is like a zoo/ these crackers keep us in cages, get crazy when we get loose”, from the ominous 26th and Cali — Stevie Wonder-ish piano and sax riffs overshadowed by unison vocals and fierce whooshing beats — picks up, full-frown, on the daily life concerns that spawn so much hip-hop. The Hood, six minutes of funk guitar, soul horns, fierce toy instruments, and the singers’ firmest voices, insists “We were all born into circumstances pre-existing/ some with the silver spoon, others straight into the tomb/ Some will make it, but most will be consumed/ by this fast food, test-tube, pill-popping [something]”. We’re born into the language we speak, too, which makes our accents an idiotic thing to judge us on. But people do, and BBU reply while shaking their head in disgust. “And they wonder why I talk like I do? Maan – just look at *you*”.

“Not a racist, no, not a terrorist/ just want white America to go see a therapist”. I’d be pissed at a record that talked at any other ethnic group that way, and I wouldn’t enjoy BBU hunting me down in person to be mean, but this is a-ok. A few decades of banks and the government refusing to loan to any neighborhood with one *white* person in it; a few dozen new state laws passed by black legislators to make it hard for whites to vote; a couple policemen of any race patting me down because I’m white, and then I’ll be sensitive for my race. In this world, BBU are making excellent music and giving it away for free. They’re young and rash; on Kurt de la Rocha they put a lot of gusto into “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me/ You don’t like me, you wanna sell me”, and at my age I roll my eyes and say “Well, duh”. But I’m wrong, and they’re right; how the hell did it become okay that that’s normal? It’s not an *eloquent* line, but they apologize for that. And give us the record for free. Voluntarily, as free men. It beats the method by which my shoes were made, I’m quite sure of that. I like them for it, whether they want me to or not.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2012 page!

Technical note:

If you’re game for buying things via our Amazon links (and it makes us happy when you do) – well, we’d be jerks trying to get you to spend money there on a free record. But if you’d enjoy BBU, we bet you’d enjoy the Dead Prez album we’re linking in its place. Or did you know that Amazon sells jewelry? Maybe you should go from the Dead Prez link to stocking up on wedding rings. You never know when you’ll need some!