In the five years since the release of his searing debut Blood and Fire, Baltimore-based MC Son of Nun has gone from playing small fundraisers and local open mic nights to sharing stages with the likes of Wayne Kramer, The Coup and Tom Morello. His profile has developed over a time of increasing hunger for political music acts; artists who don’t just entertain, but say something profound about the world around them.
On his long-awaited followup The Art of Struggle, released August 6th, he manages to do both extremely well. A committed socialist and revolutionary, SON admits that the album is "a reflection of the time that I’ve spent working with different movements. The Art of Struggle is a political album that encompasses my perspective on a lot of different issues: from immigrant rights to the death penalty to the way that children are impacted most by issues like debt on the African continent… and also pride for the rebels that are in my heritage…"
This is far from being "just another political album," though. It is layered, intricate, often subtle, defiant and a lot of fun to listen to. SON’s skills as a rapper and lyricist are substantial, and unlike many artists willing to sloganeer into a mic and call it "political," SON simply allows his firebrand radicalism to infect every rhyme, note and beat.
That’s evident on songs like "My City," where he seamlessly weaves together the stories of an inner-city kid pressured into joining the army and the Iraqi insurgent he’s sent to kill. Lines like "my high-school never had many computers / but they always had plenty military recruiters" are the kind of "oh, snap" moments that fill this album, where SON isn’t so much speaking truth to those in power as schooling power itself.
DJ Mentos’ beats add real power to these moments. Whereas Blood and Fire‘s beats showcased SON’s own affinity for drum ‘n’ bass, The Art of Struggle employs Spanish guitar, string sections, even woodwind samples for a more organic sound, adding a visceral intensity to SON’s already stellar story-telling and wordplay.
Tracks like "Speak On It" are driven by thick, menacing undertones. As the lyrics draw parallels between struggles taking place half a world from each other–from
It’s here that Son of Nun’s skills as both an activist and lyricist collide. While describing his process for writing "Speak On It," he asked says he asked himself, "how can I open up these issues and in some way try and put them up against each other in one piece… and try and do it in a way so you can’t get around the way that this same administration, this same system, is responsible for all of them?"
At its core, this is a track with a simple message: where there is oppression, there will be resistance. And really, this could also be said about the album itself. "The Fire Next Time" is the pinnacle of this theme, taking a confident, almost threatening beat and putting it under SON’s recounting of Black resistance through history, ending with the possibility of soldiers in Iraq today.
"You can call Bectel on your Nextel
And tell ‘em that their pipeline’s about to catch hell
If they think I’m gonna die for them they ain’t well
I’m the fire next time and I’m at their doorbell!"
These are much more than images and stories; they’re invitations to rebellion. During the song’s hook, SON encourages the listener to join in with a call and response: "when I say ‘fire,’ y’all say ‘next time’ / We the fire… We the fire…"
If the listener can stop themselves from actually shouting back, I recommend they check their pulse.
This sums up The Art of Struggle: the idea that a fundamentally different planet isn’t only possible, but necessary, and that instead of waiting for some Moses to create it out of thin air, it’s ordinary people who have the only power to create it. Radical? Of course. But at a time like ours, when a growing people are searching for some alternative to the status quo, it’s also very much needed.
*To check out tracks from ‘The Art of Struggle,’ or to order a copy, go to www.sonofnun.net.
Alexander Billet is a music journalist and socialist living in