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Unchained Melody

VARIOUS ARTISTSThe Unbound Project Volume 1 (Realized)

”The Unbound Project is a gathering of voices inspired by issues surrounding the U.S. Criminal Justice System. Its purpose is to entertain while raising questions and inspiring dialogue . . .“

High on the list of most passionate political issues in the heavily activist national underground hip-hop movement is the Youth Crime Initiative and the criminalization of youth exacerbated by curfew laws for under-18s in 160 cities, some of them so staggeringly draconian that it‘s virtually illegal in some places simply to be young. The three-strikes felony law, the single-strike housing-projects-eviction law, the elimination of juvenile courts so that children can now be tried as adults in violent-crime cases, and indiscriminate police ”probable cause“ profiling according to race (mostly black and brown), gender (male), age (young) and dress (contemporary hip-hop) add up to stifling paranoia and social unrest, especially when any rogue cop can arbitrarily identify any kid as a gang member or gang associate, or characterize any crime as ”gang-related.“

No one can deny that something’s seriously wrong when 65,000 teens and younger (according to Justice Policy Institute figures) have been locked up annually in adult prisons since the introduction of the Youth Crime Initiative. With 21 new prisons in 20 years and 45,000 new inmates a year, California has the third-largest prison population in the world. Since 1995, more money has been spent on prisons than universities, and the Justice Policy Institute also reports that California state-prison expenditure increased 30 percent from 1987 to 1995, while funding for higher education dropped 18 percent. Since 1990, California has laid off 10,000 professors and hired 10,000 new prison guards.

These statistics are quoted by Michael Slate in an elaborate manifestoessay included in the packaging of The Unbound Project Volume 1 CD, a 16-track set whose main lyrical theme addresses all of the above issues and more. As for the music, it‘s a pity that, after all the cajoling that went into rounding up so many stellar guests for the Unbound All-Stars, including Divine Styler, Zack de la Rocha, Afu-Ra, Last Emperor, Dead Prez and Chuck D, the track ”Mumia 911“ isn’t memorable enough for wider airplay as a single. Yet, while other tracks are limited to Underground 101 two-note loops, there are several standout joints that make the disc absolutely worthwhile. Especially notable is Jerry Quickley‘s ”Strata,“ where he teams with Breakestra co-leader Miles Tackett’s bass cello for one of the dopest tracks (and there‘s even an attempt at melody). Then there’s Saul Williams‘ remarkable ”Dance of the Dead,“ an indescribably weird, surreal shuffle with tons of reverb-slap, one step away from galloping full-tilt into drum-’n‘-bass terrain. The icing that makes The Unbound Project a must-have, though, is ”Soon,“ by the sole female, Ursula Rucker, who recites a doleful poem over an eerie piano motif.


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