Morrow vs. Hajduch: Junkyard Empire’s Acts of Humanity Vol. 1 & 2

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Junkyard Empire: Acts of Humanity Vol. 1 & 2Junkyard Empire: Acts of Humanity Vol. 1 & 2 (Mediaroots, 7/12/11)

Junkyard Empire: “We Want”

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Morrow: Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Junkyard Empire is an emphatically political five-piece hip-hop/jazz/rock crossover ensemble, topping a groove-heavy amalgamation with scathing rhymes and spoken-word speeches.

On its newest album, Acts of Humanity Vol. 1 & 2, MC Brihanu is incensed from the get-go, using the opening verses to cite a barrage of America’s fucked-up foreign policy while referencing the School of the Americas, the backing of military juntas and death squads, and support for dictators such as Augusto Pinochet, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and Manuel Noriega.

Though a handful of other tracks take a more personal approach, the vast majority is just as biting, addressing American imperialism, capitalism, Israeli aggression, and much more. The music and delivery, for the most part, are above average, but a bit of cheesy funk/R&B seeps into the mix — including a very “Shoop”-esque “hey-eee!” on “Regla.”

Hajduch: For me, this album lives or dies on the strength of the backing tracks. Whereas “We Want” builds a nice wash of keyboards and horns, “Snake in the Grass” sounds like a wrestler’s intro music. There’s a certain peril in the live-band rap approach, which can hit (Jay-Z Unplugged) as often as it misses (um, Lil Wayne Unplugged).

Without the meticulous EQ-ing and manipulation of drum hits and breakbeats, sometimes even the heaviest drummer can come off sounding flat. With that being said, Junkyard Empire seems to have the balance mostly under control. The instrumental parts of “Kritikal” could pass for an old Jazzsteppa track. “Alright” is essentially Digable Planets worship, and everybody can (or at least should) get behind that.

Morrow: Some will make the inevitable comparisons to Rage Against the Machine, and there’s a little bit of that, albeit closer to the Street Sweeper Social Club collaboration of Boots Riley and Tom Morello. For many, the rap-rock union already is too much to handle, but it’s a much more tasteful blend than, say, Limp Bizkit. The jazzy and electronic moments really round it out, and a number of the rock parts build more like post-rock.

My favorite moments on the album are when Brihanu ties together the lengthy and complex histories behind current events and between politics and everyday life. “Manifest” is one such track, providing a select history of American imperialism and how we support it with consumerism, whether through imported coffee, diamonds, oil, sweatshop clothing, etc. “Conflict Part 1 (The History)” is another great example, as I’ve never heard a rapper try to rhyme a five-minute history of Zionism. Brihanu pulls it off with relative objectivity (and a solid flow too).

Hajduch: The fact that they’re from Minneapolis makes sense; Brihanu has a delivery that’s strongly reminiscent of the late, great Eyedea. Their politics are relatively thoughtful, if occasionally ham-fisted (the phrase “Manifest Destiny” has the word “destiny” in it, you guys — pass it on), and the live-band setting mostly delivers. College me would have flipped his shit for this album.

Morrow: Yeah, well…it’s good that I never outgrew my college self!

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