I Self Devine – Low Class Amerika

4 out of 5

Label: Rhymesayers

Produced by: Benzilla, DJ Todda, I Self Devine, Jake One, King Karnov, Medium Zach, Proh Mic, Vitamin D

One of the reasons why strongly political music generally doesn’t grab me is that it’s often very of-the-moment. While such songs absolutely have their place (and there’s a need for them), I can’t help but wonder how such screeds will sound ten years later, when the reference to a particular person or place will be lost.

I Self Devine’s “Low Class Amerika” has somewhat solved this issue by recognizing that many of the class struggles that he raps about are universal ones, and long-standing ones. …And that that’s even more damning.

Working with a track-by-track bevy of fantastic producers, Self manages various approaches – aggressive, reflective, soulful – to deliver these thoughts, always sharp with his lyrics and landing on choruses which stick in the craw due to their content as much as their catchiness. The cameos here are also wholly in support of these concepts as opposed to unrelated-guest-verse cameos: there are no boast tracks on Low Class Amerika. And even at a lengthy runtime – something that plagues a lot of hip-hop albums, running out of energy or beats by a certain point – Low Class Amerika remains grabbing literally the entire way through by keeping an eye on sequencing: the album hits us hard with aggression at the start, segueing into more soulful numbers before ramping back up with some more forefronted anger, concluding on a trio of emotive, thoughtful cuts – To Be Needed, The World As It Is, and As It Can Be.

This trio also is also suggestive of the only downside to the disc: it’s exhaustingly gloomy. While I think Self’s approach, here, which doesn’t finger point but rather explains – explains what life is like, explains how helpless things can feel – is fantastic, and far-reaching, it’s also all-encompassing. It’s a lot of music without hope. It’s only on these final tracks that things firstly get a bit more personal and inward (To Be Needed) and then present, if not hope, wishes for something better – pairing The World As It Is with the idealizations in As It Can Be.

Closer Self Awareness Part 1, 2 & 3 is something of a coda, fading in and out of beats and thoughts; it’s a good way to chill out after a heavy and intense – and excellent – album, although it still features its fair share of weighty thoughts and imagery, so you’re not completely off the hook.