Usually when you think of Hip-hop, you aren’t picturing live instrumentation, trumpets, violas, cellos, back-up vocals or a group of people who resemble the Flobots. Appearances definitely don’t constitute what makes up the whole story, not even the half of it. With the Flobots’ first studio album, Fight With Tools, the group release a socio-political machine of a project that took a stance against social and governmental norms in an attempt to change the way we perceive everything that is going on around us. Their attempt ended up being one of the most powerful musical representations of the times and their ideas are so much larger than the sum of the songs.I am a huge proponent of musical education and this album stands among the elite in that sense. It has the ability to educate an entire populous on a different way of looking at our systems, one classroom at a time. The album opens with a beautiful yet simplistic viola and drum, over which the vocals are picking apart the big business, corporate, advertising and other media variants. It is completely footed in spoken word poetry and contains all of the heart and drive without the rhythm. The next track has an incredible viola again accompanied by a melodic guitar riff and discusses the Mayday riots that take place in the U.S. every year.
They set the tone from the very beginning that they are taking a stance and that stance is often against American culture and ideals. The song ‘Same Thing’ has the best rhythm and flow on the album up to this point. It is also their most straightforward attack on government greed and points out their adeptness at doing things regardless of what the American people want. It’s an upbeat track that is just incredibly easy to get behind. Sticking largely to their formula of drums, bass kicks and heavy viola strings, the next song ‘Stand Up’, creates some of the vivid imagery that will stick in your mind long after the sound drowns out from within your speakers. You as the listener are asked to picture people in much worse situations than yourself and then asks you to contribute to make these problems better, rather than just idly complaining about them.
The instrumentals the Flobots create to lay their unflinching lyrical thoughts over are equally as impactful as the words themselves. I personally feel that creating their beats organically from a band allows for a much more passionate sound. Guitars strum harder, drums kick snappier and the viola is played with such intent that is feels like a weapon aimed the government by the end of the album. The combination of a having a rock-band/orchestral-like group build and poetic lyricism is just as intriguing to the ears as it looks on paper. The Flobots have blended genres under the guise of hip-hop to the point of creating their own and it has brought forward the ears of people who otherwise have written-off hip-hop altogether.
Props must be given to the Flobots for getting as much attention with their song ‘Handlebars’ as they did. An album that’s premise is essentially the takeover of a radio station to broadcast a message all over the world — and that is exactly what they did, basically. The song simple rhyme scheme and catchiness are hiding a message that you really can’t find anywhere else on the radio. The first verse can be looked at as a rapper talking about all of these trivial tasks and life experiences he is content with. It is dichotomized by the second verses look at a politician whose greed and constant need to do and receive more eventually drive him to a point of dangerous ambition and power hunger. Years later, Kanye agreed that no one man should have that much power to himself.
Fight With Tools has a revolving theme, much like the real-world counterpart of politics. Once you start to think things are changing, whether the beats or subject matter they soon revert back closely to what they resembled before, just like politics. I don’t know if this mirrored effect was intentional by the group but it both lent to and detracted from the experience. Eventually you want to say they are beating a dead-horse by constantly challenging the system and government but they manage to keep it fresh enough to warrant your attention for just long enough. The project is made well enough to challenge the thinking of people in any age group or demographic. If it changed the way my 14-year old, politically oblivious self looked at the world, there’s no telling the profound effect it has had and will continue to have on other people. It totally helps that it sounds so damn good too.