And they say rap’s a young man’s game. Baltimore underground hero for more than 20 years Labtekwon remains a vital and uncompromising MC on his latest album, “(B.O.P.) The Theology of Timing: Tehuti and the Het Heru Cult.” There are endless examples of his astounding strings of multisyllabic rhymes, but for the reader’s sake, here’s one from ‘OmO’: “Bionic flavor/ Electronic volcano turned chronic into vapor/ Logical capers/ Scholar with the data/ Wallpaper of a major/ Sativa by the acre/ Meat cleavers and razors/ Freak of nature/ The deepest pages, guillotines for traitors/ I mean with the label/ Invisible lasers aimed at haters.”
While plenty of mainstream rappers get platitudes for the most basic of social statements, Labtekwon’s strident Afrocentrism is packed with real nuance and a well-read understanding of the shit he’s talking about, namely societal ills and structural racism. On ‘Time Check,’ he maintains a casual confidence while he presents a powerful thesis opposing traditional methods of civil disobedience: He points out that too many (that’s to say, any at all) allow for increased jailing and profit for the prison-industrial leviathan (not to mention it provides an excuse for cops to get overtime pay). And Labtekwon is experienced enough to make these concepts as emotionally affecting as they are intellectually stimulating. ‘Capitalism & Slavery’ finds Lab sketching out a woman character whose life is “an ocean of tears,” who uses her body as a means of surviving within unfettered American capitalism.
Even with his impressive intellectual sophistication and impeccable word choice, the most compelling aspect of Labtekwon’s art remains the deft skill with which he can tackle a host of musical genres and styles. On “(B.O.P.) The Theology of Timing: Tehuti and the Het Heru Cult,” he easily flips from a languid delivery to a rapid flow on top of a typically diverse selection of percussive funk drums, looped guitar arpeggios, and Madlib-like scorched soul loops. His preferred foundation remains tinkling free jazz, the kind that allows his voice to dip around the rhythm as smoothly yet wildly as the instruments themselves. This ability shines most vividly on ‘Proleteriat Blues,’ as Labtekwon syncopates his voice in and around a spare drum and piano keys, like a pissed-off band leader, raging at customers trying to “bring bougie back,” plus the girl that left him only a day before.
Listening straight through “(B.O.P.) The Theology of Timing: Tehuti and the Het Heru Cult’s” 70-plus minutes might be exhausting for the uninitiated. After all, this is a guy for whom “You’re a liberal pacifist/ An opportunist integrationist/ You even debated John Henry Clark from the perspective of an assimilationist” counts as a smirking rap kiss-off. However, it is this commitment to principle, a staunch unwillingness to compromise his ideas or aesthetic, that makes Labtekwon such a vital voice for the underground. All these damn kids should give it up for the old head.