As elated as many of us are that we elected Barack Obama our next president, dälek is here to remind us that it ain’t all good. Opening with a minute-plus excerpt from a Reverend Wright sermon, Gutter Tactics (Ipecac, 2009) lets you know from jump that dälek isn’t caught up in the hoopla of hope. But don’t get it twisted. This record’s not a downer. It’s a get-the-fuck-up-er. Are you ready to make change for real? Are you ready for the realest, hardest Hip-hop there is? Your answer’s kind of odd for a kid who loves to nod.
Let us go on outdoing ourselves. A revolutionary man always transcends himself or otherwise he is not a revolutionary man. So we always do what we ask of ourselves or more than we know we can do. — Huey P. Newton
If you know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. — Chairman Mao Zedong
When you make an observation, you have an obligation. — M. K. Asante, Jr.
It’s not about swagger, it’s about danger. Hip-hop is about putting motherfuckers on edge. It’s about taking the devil to task. It’s about testing the truth, and revealing what’s really going down. Chuck D. famously called it the Black CNN, and, as Ras Kass put it, “Be not confused, rap’s the nigga news, each rhyme a minority report, fuck Tom Cruise.” Emcees are supposed to drop science, straight up. As KRS-One once said, “When is ceases to be rebellious, it ceases to be Hip-hop.”
Wright opens Gutter Tactics, saying,
What Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Mohammed was in fact true. America’s chickens…are coming home to roost. We took this country by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arowak, the Comanche, the Arapahoe, the Navajo. Terrorism. We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed Granada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers, and hardworking fathers. We bombed Qaddafi’s home and killed his child. Blessed are they who bash your children’s head against a rock. We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on out embassy, killed hundreds of hardworking people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day not knowing that they would never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.
Yes, dälek’s combination of noise and lyrics as harsh as ever this time around, but the sounds are also as beautiful. As always, there’s a calm in this chaos, though I can’t seem to play it loud enough. “No Question” follows Wright’s words with more political polemic. “Armed With Krylon” is the new noisy national anthem. Also as always, their venom on this record is palpable, but it seems more and more focused with every record. “The boom-bap sparks revolutions,” dälek mutters on “Who Medgar Evars Was…” adding “I don’t give a shit if you find me mildly entertaining / Look around, we got enough minstrels in training” on “A Collection of Miserable Thoughts Laced with Wit.” The notable moments and quotable morsels continue from top to bottom.
Brother Oktopus and dälek build noisy wombs that birth the verbal beasts that emcee dälek creates. Oktopus once told me that when they’re making tracks, he treats dälek’s voice as just another instrument, mixing it accordingly. Then when the songs are finished, he listens to the lyrics. He likened the latter experience to being punched in the chest. Hard.
Pull the pillow from your head. That’s how Hip-hop is supposed to feel.
Henry Miller described his first meeting beat writer and poet Kenneth Patchen, writing, “I remember distinctly my first impression of him: it was that of a powerful, sensitive being who moved on velvet pads.” My first meeting emcee dälek gave me a similar impression. Miller called Patchen, “a sort of sincere assassin,” and I would say the same of dälek. Miller continues, “I feel that it would give him supreme joy to destroy with his own hands all the tyrants and sadists of this earth together with the art, institutions and all the machinery of everyday life which sustain and glorify them. He is a fizzing human bomb ever threatening to explode in our midst… There is almost an insanity to his fury and rebellion” (Morgan, 1977, p. 33). dälek embodies these two extremes of Patchen: sensitive to a fault, deeply feeling the pain of his people, but ready to deliver retribution with no quarter and no question. Their poetry comes from the same place, a place of pure protest, pure passion.
If Negro, Necro, Nekros (Gern Blansten, 1998), From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots (Ipecac, 2002), Absence (Ipecac, 2005), and Abandoned Language (Ipecac, 2007) each promised that these guys are the leaders of the next school of Hip-hop (they did), then Gutter Tactics delivers that promise to the doorstep of the Zeitgeist. With a full decade in the game now, they’ve usurped and outlasted many of their elders and early influences (e.g., My Bloody Valentine, Public Enemy, Flying Saucer Attack, Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, et al.) and truly come into their own. dälek makes and mixes hardcore Hip-hop for the twenty-first century, and they’ve honed it to a piercing point. Where previous missives were sometimes mired in muddy moments, Gutter Tactics is crisp, crunchy, and crazy fresh from opening to omega. This is what dälek is about.
Bakari Kitwana stated the positively obvious when he said that much of Hip-hop “remains off the mainstream radar. You never know when Hip-hop is going to reinvent itself, or when something operating out on the fringe is going to emerge and become the next new thing” (quoted in Jones, 2007). Heads still may not be ready for dälek, but it’s way past time. Go get a late pass.
Gutter Tactics is an alarm clock set for one week after Obama takes office. It’s a wake-up call to the boardroom and the block. It’s a bomb set to blow the Hip-hop nation – and every nation otherwise – sky-fucking-high. As he said last time out, “If younger heads quote this, then it ain’t all hopeless.” Knuckle up. No question.
Asante, Jr., M. K. (2008). It’s Bigger Than Hip-hop. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
dälek. (2007). Abandoned Language. Los Angeles: Ipecac Records.
dälek. (2009). Gutter Tactics. Los Angeles: Ipecac Records.
Jedi Mind Tricks. (2003). “Rise of the Machines” (featuring Ras Kass), from Visions of Ghandi. New York: Babygrande.
Jones, S. (2007, June 15). “Can rap regain its crown?” USA Today.
Morgan, Richard G. (Ed.), (1977). Kenneth Patchen: A Collection of Essays. New York: AMS Press.
Newton, Huey P. (1974). Revolutionary Suicide. New York: Ballantine.
Zedong, Mao (1937). On Practice. International Publishers.
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.