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First Spin: Labtekwon’s ‘HARDCORE: Labtekwon and the Righteous Indignation/Rootzilla vs Masta Akbar’


Labtekwon has released more than 30 albums since 1993. His debut EP, Ghetto Gospel, is the type of rare, regional rap 12-inch that commands outrageously high prices on eBay: From a golden, bygone era, and expertly delivered, yet tinged with the more specific sounds of his Baltimore hometown, and pretty much impossible to find. To certain circles, Lab’s a #randomrap superstar. To those even more in the know, however, he’s one of the most ambitious and underrated rappers of all time. A few years ago, when Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” swooped down and the then-buzzing rapper shouted out Baltimore in the song, it seemed hard to imagine that his time spent in Baltimore as a traveling samurai rapper picking up styles, didn’t involve meeting Lab or at least, encountering his music and using a little bit of it.

HARDCORE, Lab’s latest, begins with this statement of purpose: “The purpose is to achieve two objectives. The first objective is to inform the listener regarding the ideologies and philosophies that have shaped the lives of mankind from 0 AD-2020 AD. The second objective of this album is to cause rappers to shut the fuck up.” And there you have it, his KRS-One-informed goals explicitly laid bare: to inform and educate, but also viciously smack down wack MCs. For its 80-plus minutes, HARDCORE… picks up pieces of jazz-rap, grinding metalhead noise, oft-sampled soul, and more. The highlight though, is a three-part, 30-minute-in-total graduate thesis-level pontification on the history of exploitation that works as both a thing to unpack thanks to its rapid-fire delivery of facts, and as an ambitious art-rap experiment that stretches “conscious rap” to its limits. HARDCORE: Labtekwon and the Righteous Indignation/Rootzilla vs Masta Akbar is available on September 15, but you can stream it below right now, exclusively at SPIN. Below the stream, make sure you read Labtekwon’s essay about the album.

Earlier this week, Labtekwon and I went back and forth via e-mail about his new album, and I realized that he had pretty much penned a guide to his hip-hop universe. Below is his essay about the creation of HARDCORE…:

Throughout my career, I have adhered to the model of thematic albums in a series format. I learned that from Parliament-Funkadelic’s albums starting with the Mothership Connection and ending with Trombipulation. Basically, I do albums that are really installments in anthologies. Kind of like a comic book series. My first series of albums was called “Labteknology” and it had 10 volumes from 0-9 between 1994 and 2001. The Labteknology series was my journey toward defining my personal school of emceeing and refining my voice as an artist. The “Labteknology” series is my period of experimentation and exploration, where I tried things and figured out what I liked to do most as an artist.

The second series was my “Post Millennial” series, that was a four-album series spanning from the 2003 release of The Hustlaz Guide to the Universe: Post Apocalyptic Version, 2004’s The Ghetto Dai Lai Lama: Hood Mystic, 2006’s Population Control: Wrath of the Black Eniggma and concluding with the 2008 release Di Na Ko Degg: Soul Power. The “Post Millennial Series” was a crossroads for me and it was a point of deep introspection. The albums in that series take on a very personal tone more than those in the previous “Labteknology” series. The “Post Millennial Series” was my first real work that had a serious “emo” tone and culminated in the 2008 album Di Na Ko Degg: Soul Power.

My current series of albums is the “State of the Art” Series. This series focuses on providing cultural monuments to what I consider the art of emceeing in the early-to-mid 21st century. What I seek to do with this series is to show a greater evolution on the potential of the art of emceeing, while advancing the art from different perspectives of style, so every album is stylistically different. This series of albums begins with 2010’s NEXT: Baltimore Basquiat and the Future Shock. The title summarizes the essence of the album in less than 10 words. My perspective as an emcee from the inner city of Baltimore doing a tribute to Jean Michel Basquiat, Bad Brains, and Amiri Baraka, with styles that were pushing people out of their “comfort zones” for rap music.

The current release is HARDCORE: Labtekwon and the Righteous Indignation/Rootzilla vs Masta Akbar. The title summarizes the album in less than ten words: Hardcore reflects that this album is for those that are “hardcore” listeners and supporters of hip-hop culture; “Righteous Indignation” is a description of my disdain for the exploitation of not only hip-hop culture, but the exploitation of humanity by the elite that manipulate the minds of the masses with misinformation and lies. The “Rootzilla vs Masta Akbar” aspect of the album represents the dichotomy between the album’s two perspectives: “Rootzilla” represents the battle emcee that wants to destroy all wack rappers and pseudo-emcees through the art of battle rhyme styles. While “Masta Akbar” represents the scholarly, intellectual and higher conscious aspects of the rest of the album, such as the “The Trilogy of Truth”; the three songs about religion (“The Truth About Christianity”), race (“The Truth About Race”), and money (“The Economy of Tricknology”). So, the current album title is a an “abstract” of sorts to describe the nature of the album. The conclusion to the current series will be released in 2013: Evolutionary: The Omar Akbar Album, which we can discuss at a later time.

In closing, I want to say that rap music is entering into its bebop/avant-garde phase and most of the stuff we hear in popular rap is a reflection of the previous “swing” era. Rather than explain, I challenge folks to research that metaphor. But in the art of emceeing, I seek to be what Bird, Monk, Dizzy, and Sun Ra were to jazz…without the heroin…lol.-peace, lab.