Illzilla’s political hip hop a flower in the wasteland

Review: Wasteland
Illzilla, Out now through Shock
From its inception in the late 1970s, hip hop has had strong roots in the politics of rebellion. Hip hop acts from Public Enemy and N.W.A. to Talib Kwali, Dead Prez and The Herd have given profound expression to the resistance of successive generations.
The debut album, Wasteland, by Melbourne based outfit Illzilla, comes from the best tradition of political hip hop. Since 2004, Illzilla have been playing fresh live hip hop to the backdrop of the Zillanova Rhythm Combination (ZRC) featuring the likes of Mista Savona, Tommy Gunn, Julian Goyma and Bobzilla. The ZRC combine reggae, old school funk, blues and soul with the raps of lead vocals MC Mantra. In his lyrics MC Mantra takes up issues of war, climate change, work and alienation. Throughout, there is a strong understanding of the role of class in our society.
“The Water Song” looks at climate change and challenges the idea that it is up to the individual to fix the problem.The first verse gives the perspective of a young, aspiring, upwardly mobile, bourgeois pig who basically sees the damage being done to the Earth but who benefits and predictably doesn’t care:
I suppose I could start catchin’ trams to work, but fuck it, I just bought this brand new merc.
The second verse puts us in the shoes of a timber mill worker.  To the sounds of a sparse, industrial beat with a machine-like kick drum and a quiet, looming guitar line we learn that he also sees the imminent catastrophe of climate change. But he’s caught because he also has an immediate need to look after himself and his family.
For the timber mill worker his job isn’t a choice he makes about saving the environment it’s about whether he eats or not. In an uneasy tone the timber mill worker expresses his frustration:
I don’t save water or pay charities,
I can barely support my family on this salary,
This world is gonna die but who am I to save it,
I don’t owe this place no favours.
Implicit in “The Water Song” is a critique of individual choice as a means to fight climate change.  The idea that people can simply choose not to work in environmentally damaging industries is wrong. To see abstaining from a particular industry as a political act is also mistaken.
It is not individual acts of moralistic, lifestyle choice that can have any serious impact on ending unsustainable industry. It is mass pressure, strikes and demonstrations where people come together with one collective voice and demand a real transition to sustainable industry.
“As We Slept” is an anti-imperialist song that takes the voice of an Iraqi person stuck in the brutal reality of the US occupation of his country. This song rejects the idea that the Iraq war was ever a war of liberation. The listener gets a sense of the daily chaos, lack of food, fear, danger and violence inflicted by the US occupation. The idea that US troops in Iraq have anything to do with helping the Iraqi people is treated with contempt.
These demons talk of extremism,
When they invaded a land,
Of an honest man,
Bringing a clan of thieves with them,
Now contained at point blank range,
Watching my children’s faces twist in pain,
I shudder with rage.
Complimented by dark organ sounds, tasty, drone bass and a huge beat, “As We Slept”, also looks at the double standards used to justify the occupation.  The voice of the Iraqi can’t understand how the West fails to see the horror that is inflicted upon Iraqi people everyday in order to ‘liberate’ its people. Somehow it is okay to terrorise the people in Iraq, but not the people in the West.
With Barack “Yes We Can” Obama set to keep a substantial “residual force” of between 35,000 and 50,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and Australian forces continuing to play ‘support’ roles for the occupation, we need to maintain a vigilant opposition.
“Break Loose” is a sober account of capitalism’s oppressive madness:
The rules of the game have claimed us,
Made us slaves to tame us, invented new ways to maim us,
Directed a new cage to contain us,
As television distract, entertain us, yes
Politicians attack, separate us,
Propositions are wack, they wont save us,
They duck,
When shit goes down they blame us.
But it is also an anthem that recognises the need for mass, collective resistance to this madness. There is a strong militant, revolutionary current on this song—and through the entire album. For MC Mantra, taking these issues on means bringing the system down altogether.
Illzilla’s Wasteland contains some of the most engaging and politically astute lyrics around.  There’s more reality and insight in this album than you’ll find in 6 months reading the Sydney Morning Herald.
Matt Meagher


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