(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, July 30, 2010

CD review - Street Sweeper Social Club, The Ghetto Blaster EP

Tom Morello and Boots Riley built Street Sweeper Social Club out of a brief collaboration during a Billy Bragg tour. All three artists share a left wing, progressive political mindset, so there's fertile common ground for Morello and Riley to explore. Tom Morello is best known for his work with the rap/metal band, Rage Against the Machine, while Boots Riley is the lead vocalist for the rap act, The Coup.

It's not that much of a stretch for these two artists to get together, but they've created a strong follow up to their earlier self-titled debut. The Ghetto Blaster EP lays out a mere seven songs, including a couple of high profile covers: M.I.A.'s Paper Planes and LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out. Seven tracks, but no fluff.

The title cut, Ghetto Blaster, hits hard with a hard rock guitar riff and rocking drums. This has a Red Hot Chili Peppers' sound of hard rock/soul/funk, like Give It Away. It's a solid start, with a fast rap vocal flow on the verses:
I'm from the land of the free labor that planted the plan of the
Black and branded to scram it over to Canada
A fan of radical bandits in bandannas
Who slam in the banana clip and rat-a-tat-tatata
The frantic drive carries the tune.

This yields to the funk rap of Everythang. Riley's group The Coup released a version of this on Party Music with more of an electronic backing groove, but Morello's guitar work is stripped down to the perfect accompaniment. The real story here, though is the incredible drum work: the driving syncopation, stretched beats, and tight breaks.

The big single from The Ghetto Blaster EP is a cover of M.I.A.'s Paper Planes. The original has a bouncy ska feel over a sample of the Clash's Straight To Hell. M.I.A. contrasts a cynical, mercenary lyric with her pretty and mild delivery. SSSC takes a simpler approach: the music is edgier with a faster tempo and Riley's voice is all gangster. They've also changed the lyrics fairly extensively to shift the message of the song. Now, it's less about being a dealer and more about surviving the system: "Everyone's a winner, now we're making that fame" becomes "Dog food for dinner, the world is in flames". Comparing it to the original is what makes this version so interesting.

The New Fuck You has high intensity intro before settling into a repetitive funk rock groove straight from Living Color. The lyrics are political social commentary:
Take care is the new healthcare
Big business get welfare
The middle east is the new gold rush
We've made a new hell there

My favorite track is Scars (Hold That Pose). It also has a driving hard rock start reminiscent of Living Color, but the verse drops is down with Riley giving us an MC 900 Jesus style flow over a cool, trickle down guitar riff. The chorus kicks in with serious crunch to balance out the mellower verses. The total effect builds a tension through the course of the song. The verse lyrics are self-deprecating about being broke and cheap:
This old ripped jacket is cause I am an artist
I'll burn rubber on you if my car gets started
3rd month avoiding landlords is the hardest
It's only funny cause you don't see where the scar is
The chorus and bridge pull the humor back into social commentary.

Mama Said Knock You Out is a modern updating of the LL Cool J classic. It stays fairly true to the original, but owes a lot to Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine. It's hard rocking, with some heavy guitar from Tom Morello and a monster bass line. Fitting a modern style, the mix is a lot punchier than the original.

Finally, Promenade (Guitar Fury Mix) revisits a song from Street Sweeper Social Club's debut. The mix might be slightly different, but this is effectively the same as the radio edit version.

Rage Against the Machine has been working this beat between rap and hard rock for a long time, but Boots Riley's vocal style adds a lot more rap veritas to the mix. This differentiates Street Sweeper Social Club from Zack de la Rocha and Rage Against the Machine, while keeping the political message. Philosophically, the right drink is grapes of wrath, but today I'd suggest a coffee flavored stout (fair trade, of course) for the right mix of energy and bitterness.


  1. The actual lyrics to the section of the song "Ghetto Blaster" that you quoted are:
    "I'm from the land of the free labor that planted the plan of the
    Black and branded to scram it over to Canada
    A fan of radical bandits in bandannas
    who slam in the banana clip and rat-a-tat-tatata"

  2. Thanks for your tip on those lyrics, they make more sense to me and sounded right when I listened again.

  3. Is there anywhere to see the Lyrics online?

  4. Not yet. Once it's been out for a while, I'm sure they'll get posted, though.

  5. Ok :-)

    Well if you hear Anything I'll be checking Back to see if you've got any links. Dw if you don't But if i hear then Ill just put the link here :-0 Nice Blog btw dude

    Christian Monkey Sam

  6. I'm glad you like the blog. I do update reviews as I become aware of additional info. Thanks for the cool thoughts and feedback.

  7. You're Welcome =)

    Christian Monkey Sam