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A review of Jasiri X’s Black Liberation Theology

Jasiri X
Black Liberation Theology
(1Hood Media)

Of all the spoken-word samples that introduce tracks on Jasiri X’s Black Liberation Theology, the one I’ve been replaying the most is both familiar and revelatory. It opens the record’s third track, “The Greatest [My God],” and fires off a segment of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s monologue which was only boiled down to soundbite fodder during the 2008 election cycle: “God bless America. No, no, no. God damn America — it’s in the Bible.” But like most context-free quips, it gains significance when you hear what comes before it, which in this case is Rev. Wright’s methodical trip through our country’s history of systemic racism.

On his latest album, Jasiri unapologetically reclaims the belief system which some right-wingers (wrongly) thought would be a TKO to Barack Obama’s campaign. Black Liberation Theology is an urgent, laser-focused account of blackness in present-day America. Some artistic reactions to high-profile police killings of black citizens have come through a mournful lens, but Jasiri flips the script, converting sorrow into searing rage. His rapping and the production that supports it are even more purposeful and refined than on his previous effort, Ascension

The album’s structure follows a formula: Nearly every track wraps up around the three-minute mark, and every song opens with a sampled spoken-word excerpt. Occasionally, the blueprint doesn’t give Jasiri enough room to explore, but it more frequently provides thrilling results. On early highlight, “Black Liberation Theology Part 1,” Jasiri and David Banner surround chants of “shoot back, strike back, fight back” with some of the record’s finest verse-work. It’s tempting to wonder why Jasiri crowds so many other voices into an already lean album, but there’s nothing clumsy about the choice. By closing the album with a posse cut, which shares its name and members with his activist organization, 1Hood, Jasiri’s observing that when waging against unjust forces, you can’t afford to go it alone.