Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not black. And have Jewish ancestry. So when I say that Hasan Salaam’s “Children of God,” a heavily Islamic rap record littered with prayer clips, sermons, and preaching black power and unity, is one of the best Hip Hop albums I’ve heard in the last five years, you know the judgment did not come easily. This is not a record targeted to a white audience, and it is unapologetically political. But it is also level-headed, without a hint of racism, proof that MLK was right: One can have racial pride without racial bias; one can talk of oppression without advocating violence toward the oppressor; one can speak the truth with pain and rage, but without hatred.
Salaam has been around since 2004, hailing from Jersey and telling street tales without glorifying gangbanging. He’s also a teacher of chess and creative writing in his home-state’s public school system, working with inmates and troubled youth, organizing community boycotts–showing that he is true to the game, practicing what he preaches. “Children of God” is his second record, and it’s the first of two albums he will release this year, both independent.
“Angel Dust,” featuring Lord Jamar, is the first song on the record with a hook, and it’s a powerful anti-drug club rap, telling a street story as well as Nas or GFK, Lord Jamar shows versatility on the hook and Mr. Salaam shows incredible skill by rapping about sex and drugs without being vulgar, crude, or even using a single curse word. Another catchy tune is “The Uprock,” featuring one of my personal favorite underground rappers, Masta Ace. Ace never goes wrong, with a thesaurus-like command of the language and a flow that’s musical without losing the hip hop cadence. Is every single song a masterpiece? No. But what album can claim a perfect tracklist these days? “The Reign” is a little schizophrenic, moving too fast to be inspirational, and Mr. Salam’s deep, dark flow is better suited for slower beats. But these missteps are still interesting, as we get to hear him stretch a little, and the few lighter tracks provide much needed breaks between the thought-provoking intensity of this record.
“Even with the seed of life, some still seek the pipe,” Mr. Salaam says on the title track. This line is just one of many he tosses off in succession. There are so many times I had to hit pause and rewind, just to catch up. Truly, this album should be played in schools as an example of how popular music can do its thing without being ignorant, and how hip hop is not nearly dead. This is a spiritual album with practical, real-life stories—an example of the way Religion is supposed to work in human life: It’s not idealistic, but it is full of ideas. Go buy it now.
BONUS UNDERGROUND RAPPER:
If you haven’t heard Yela by now, you need to.