Review Summary: Fight With Tools is a "rare fish swimming in the sea of mediocrity that is present day Hip-Hop."
If you’ve been even slightly interested in the current rap scene sometime within the last few years, you’ve heard Nas’ famous words: “Hip hop is dead”. But even before the controversial rapper titled his eighth album “Hip Hop is Dead”, most of the rap world who hadn’t been brainwashed by the glamtastic bull that was the Soulja Boy and anything 50 Cent put out knew that Hip-Hop was on the decline, and that nothing anyone could put out would ever truly be “Illmatic” in any sense of the word. And they were right.
We all know that the easiest way to make money in the Hip-Hop industry is to auto-tune some lines about the woman you boned last night over a Scott Storch beat, or to have a horrendous voice and make the next electric slide, but in my humble opinion, that’s not the key to widespread respect amongst the music community. Ask anyone you know if they have respect for Soulja Boy, and they’ll probably respond “no”, but say that they really want to kiss him through the phone. As far as I’m concerned, very little music in the mainstream has any artistic merit, and is simply popular because it’s catchy. There’s no respect in a lack of artistic music, and therefore to gain respect you have to go back to the roots of the system. In this case, it’s Hip-Hop, not mainstream rap. How do you stand out"
Enter Flobots. The Denver septet took Indie, splashed in elements of jazz, and laid down some raps, and called it music. The re-release of their 2007 album “Fight With Tools” brought about a change to the scene. Instead of catchy beats, they got a drummer, a bassist, and a guitarist. Oh, and did I mention they got a violist and trumpet player" They combined their backdrop indie rock and their political knowledge to produce a fresh take on hip-hop with lyrics much deeper than how many bricks they sold to Fif.
Though their name only became recognizable outside of Denver radio stations after the commercial success of “Handlebars”, the egocentric satire of modern day world leaders, “Fight With Tools” is a well-balanced album with much to offer. From start to finish, the album is a unit, and the two vocalists, Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit, have such synergy (as exemplified by their beautiful flow in “The Rhythm Method (Move!)”) that it’s difficult to criticize the rapping.
In terms of the content, there are quite a few stand-outs. No song on the album can truly be called a “filler” song, although there are songs that aren’t exactly up to spit when compared to the rest of the album. It all starts out with spoken word over a soft viola and war-drum like beat claiming that “there is a war going on for your mind”. Being cut off by a fuzzy radio connection, the intro flows flawlessly into the first true gem of the album: “Mayday!!!”. In what I would call the proggiest rap song in the history of hip-hop, “Mayday!!!” changes everything up at least four times; but it’s done so well that it’s tough to notice that everything is changing. With broken guitar over excellent viola and the trumpet sounding beautifully every so often, “Mayday!!!” is the best song to open the album with.
“Fight With Tools” starts where “Stand Up” leaves off, and with relatively laid back rapping over a beautiful bass line, is a definite download from the album. The very next song, “Handlebars”, opens and closes with the words “I can ride my bike with no handlebars”, and then goes through a three verse progression of all the things “I” can do. Beginning in a childish gloat of “Look at me, look at me /I can take apart the remote control… /I can tie a knot in a cherry stem”, over soft plucking of the viola, the song progresses into the powerful “I can end the planet in a holocaust” over the heaviest rock sound the band achieves on the album.
“Anne Braden” seems to be the problem song of the album. Personally, I’ve always liked the song, but as I listen to it more and more, I’ve come to agree (to an extent) with the opinion of the masses: that this song is the worst on the album. The flow on the song is often lacking, and it’s far too laid back to keep up with the rest of the album. The message that 5 tries to convey is too difficult to do properly on the song through the lyrics, and it doesn’t come off too well.
The album ends with “Rise”, the second single off the album, and for good reason. “Rise” tries to get mainstream and modern rock, and furthermore ends with a two minute chant of “Together we rise”. In the end though, “Rise” is nothing in comparison to some of the other songs on the album (See: every other song not named “Anne Braden”).
Overall, the album is a good effort by Flobots to change the hip-hop scene, and their fresh sound is welcomed, although at times their politically-savvy lyricism seems forced and is detrimental to the overall flow of the album (”Anne Braden”). Nevertheless, the album earns a solid 4/5, and is a rare fish swimming in the sea of mediocrity that is present day Hip-Hop.