During the months of protest since the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, many old heads have asked, “Where is the soundtrack for today’s protests?” The implication of the question is clearly that current rap isn’t political and anyway isn’t as good as whatever they were listening to back in the day. But Bond St. District’s “Everybody’s So Sleepy” captures the mood in which the outrage over police brutality has been compounded many times over and something akin to hope for a new movement has arisen. Everybody may have been sleepy when the record came out (including us when it came to getting around to a review, though we’ve been listening to since it was released in November), but it’s as if the last few months of protest have finally caught up with it.
The songs, by producer Paul Hutson and rapper DDm, here going by the name Unkle Lulu (“aka Killer Queen, aka This is your Father Speaking, aka Yes Bitch Come Through,” as the record’s voiceover hilariously has it), are angry, energetic, honest, horny, and alive. The always-great DDm (2014’s Best MC) soars in front of Hutson’s decidedly old-school arrangements. It’s a hip-hop record that feels like James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and the 5th Dimension, and invokes ’80s hip-hop like Public Enemy, without sounding throwback at all, as if Hutson is the dude in “La Jetée” (or the shittier “12 Monkeys”) whose intense memory of the past is the only hope for the future.
It’s a cinematic record and, like a Baltimore-ized Spike Lee movie, it opens with birds singing, an alarm, and a radio DJ’s forecast, promising a warm day, traffic on 95, and new songs by Chiffon, Dan Deacon, and Bond St. District over a chill, gurgling beat and women singing “who’s your daddy?” over and over. When DDm comes in, it’s in a playful, life-affirming sing-songy almost-gospel rap called ‘Hello Jesus.’ The song starts out sharing something with some of 2Pac’s sentimental songs—a tale of street deliverance—but about a minute and a half into it, he raps a version of the standard “I pray the Lord my soul to keep” prayer and follows the “and if I should die before I wake” line with a “take me high, high, high, high” that changes the whole tenor of the song, complicates it, and ultimately infects it with what’s to come in the next song, the power funk rap of ‘Mayweather.’ This is an insanely fun song with a wicked horn line, falsetto hollering, conga drums, and a powerful jangly guitar that could come straight from the Feelies if they’d spent the last 20 years in Mali.
The politics of the album, while not overt, are, like its overall feeling, of the moment. There’s a wistful working-class, broke-ass solidarity that comes from living in a fucked-up world. This is especially clear in the badass video for ‘Matinee,’ which shows a varied cast of Baltimore characters and includes MC Eze Jackson, with two other black men and a child in front of him, with their hands up in reference to Ferguson as DDm raps, “Did a couple stunts with a gun and a ski mask, now everywhere I go a nigger gets typecast.” That line hits at the everydayness that makes this record so strong—and such a strong, but not obvious, protest record.