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Critics' Choice
RISE UP: "LIGHT" IN THE DARKNESS
6/5/19

By Michelle Santosuosso

There is no question we’re in the depths of the most divisive era in our modern history—fueled by a digital dynamic of detachment, as we extract our worldviews by customizing what information we’ll even allow ourselves to be exposed to. And it is a particularly heightened climate of oppression for people of color, who face new tides of systemic racism that is being exposed literally on the daily, by a powerful weapon of truth: the cel-phone camera.

With an increasingly pervasive climate of discrimination and xenophobia, the filming of racist behavior is a justified means of public shaming—and perhaps the only tool available to penetrate the comfortable bubble of white privilege. But just as technology can provide a platform for good or evil, another instrument can be used as a force for education, tolerance and unity: Music.

Enter remixer and mixtape producer J.Period, a Brooklyn-based DJ with a long history of five-star collaboration among the hip=hop and R&B elite, with The RISE UP Project—a soundtrack for social change, which dropped on all DSPs on 5/24 via Truelements/Dubset Media.

Featuring Grammy-winning artists Andra Day, Black Thought (The Roots), Aloe Blacc, Joss Stone, Posdnuos, Dead Prez, Rhymefest and Maimouna Youssef and produced by J.Period along with Young Guru, DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Khalil, The RISE UP album is a work of remarkable complexity, with ten songs that ruminate on riveting realness.

“The irony of a nation/claiming to be the United States yet never in a state of unification,” raps De La Soul’s Posdnuos on the opening track, “If we want to Rise Up then put the lies up, know the truth and show you need to size up yourself before you judge, in order to unify—someone’s gotta budge.”

The Rhymefest & Xzibit Blue Code banger “Miranda” is rooted in a chilling chorus from the latter whose distinctive growl warns, “You have a right to remain silent/So I suggest yo’ass stay silent/Cause it can and will be held against you/Can you afford somebody to defend you? You can have a jury of your peers/We still gonna give yo’ ass 20 years.” 

The lead single is “See The Light,” featuring Grammy winner Andra Day and hip-hop freedom fighters Dead Prez, whose searing raps on the track include lines like, “Kent State late ’60s, fueled by hate, this is no Malcom versus Martin debate, who can relate?”

Even the interludes on this album are powerful enough to give one pause. On “Mr. Officer,” Eric Robertson offers a short history lesson on how Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke broke through for social change with their respective songs, before singing, over a sad, jazzy melody, “Mr. Officer can you spare some change, change the way that you look at me strange. Change the way that you’ve been taking names and then placing the blame on me.”

The lead single is “See The Light,” featuring Grammy winner Andra Day and hip-hop freedom fighters Dead Prez, whose searing raps include lines like, “Kent State late ’60s, fueled by hate, this is no Malcom versus Martin debate, who can relate?”

But it’s Aloe Blacc who delivers a masterpiece of political pop perfection with “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” which is tethered to unflinching verses about brutal interactions with law enforcement, set to an irresistibly catchy melody embedded with autotune in the hook that will have you shook as you’re singing along, once you absorb the message.

Throughout our most difficult times, music has captured the zeitgeist of a complicated age and mirrored it back, melodically, as a teachable moment—whether that lesson came in the form of Joan Baez’ civil rights rallying cry “We Shall Overcome” in 1963, N.W.A’s defiant takedown “Fuck Tha Police” in 1988 or Kendrick Lamar’s hopeful anthem “Alright” in 2015. Music is a powerful weapon to communicate experiences with visceral emotion, but artists can only lay the groundwork for a conversation.  A song can sustain us through a struggle, but only action saves us from the same.