“American mainstream is obsessed with black creative genius, be it music, walk, style, but at the same time puts a low priority on the black social misery which is the very context out of which that creativity flows.” – Dr. Cornel West
Since it’s inception, the corruption of Hip Hop as an art form has been total and ruthless in it’s bold-faced coercion. Thankfully parts of the underground have continued using the medium for it’s original purpose; as the voice of the people in times of universal deceit. With a message that speaks volumes, over emotive beats, Joshua Virasami and Gurpal Singh Walia have created a brilliant first album with The Context. If you’re into socially aware, politically conscious content with real heart behind it you need to hear this début, musically it’s melodious tones offer the kind of upliftment that Hi-Tek perfected on Reflection Eternal, and like the MC on that classic album, Joshua’s prose is worthy of praise from the offset. As a proponent of the Occupy movement, autodidact, social activist and writer, the man has a vast perspective on current affairs that exceeds his years.
The poetic, spoken word feel on the album’s intro immediately sets the progressive tone; with his ad-libs lending the song a relaxed air, and the final beat reminding you this is a still a straight up hip hop album as the boom and the bap breaks into DJ Defunkt’s scratches on Happiness and Peace. The moment you hear Gurpal’s sleepy vocal melodies cascade onto the track and Defunkt’s cuts calling for ‘World Peace’ and ‘Hip Hop and positivity’ you’ll know if this album is for you; personally it made me turn my car stereo up as loud as it could go and pump my hands in the air with pure joy. Supplying vivid lines that illuminate your mind and unblind the blinkered, Joshua allows no modern preoccupation to escape his page unscathed; from the impact fashion has on labour abroad, to wage slavery closer to home, he offers solutions as well as diagnosing the ills on the albums explosive opener; ‘All we seek is happiness and peace, love and prosperity could break all the deceit, instead of sleeping on our people, we awake them from the dream’.
Arise As One is one of my favourite pieces of music I’ve heard in the last few years. Again the positive vibe is in full effect, and Joshua’s thought-provoking chorus is brilliantly written, making it hard to believe this is the MC’s first album. The wordplay throughout is refreshing; especially on his ‘weed in the crack’ lines. Gurpal’s natural hi-hat patterns and varied percussive elements fill out the song’s rich texture, the wooden knock under the snare adding to the organic feel. After that musical warmth, the producer’s pads play out a more ominous tone to accommodate Narco Terrorism‘s more serious message. The sample at the start adequately conveys the self-importance that pervades within business and gives Joshua the inspiration to speak on the suits running their corrupt business within every major city, and then write from the perspective of the drug suppliers, money launderers and policy makers that allow the flow of narcotics into an area to end an incendiary verse. After an excerpt from Charles Manson offering the opposition stance to the song’s first sample, Joshua switches his lyrical standpoint once again; narrating a dealer-turned- cop that uses his police pass to continue the corruption as both verses converge into one last poignant line; ‘You only got one life, and a life of crime will leave you lifeless’.
The first verse on Troops and Coups shows a man flowing with ease and passion as this talented young writer weaves words with his poetic tilt, using metaphor and simile that would wow a creative writing class if only they had the street scrolls to decipher the slang his styles stay rooted in. Every word is a gem, every line a maxim worth remembering. There’s not many places in the UK you find socially aware lyrics this central in an album’s character, and the meaning Joshua fills his lines with is impressive considering his concise phrasing; ‘Brainwashed cuz we choose to debate, whether corporations have the right views for today, I say it’s slavery, you still say ‘who’s to say?’ I say half the world who can’t put food on their plate’. Gurpal’s ear for memorable melody and neat, uncluttered arrangement on Babylon must have made it an easy choice for the LP’s lead single. Joshua writes lines from the heart once again,shining brightly throughout with too many deep bars to mention, his words reaching their apex on the song’s chorus; ‘See if this whole world exists in a mustard seed, look inside, it’s not that you must succeed, but that self empowerment is the trusted key, to walk through the door of doubt free of lust and greed.’
The jazz piano refrains on Kavi‘s love-laced lines make for more easy listening from the pair; Joshua adapts his flow, showing even more lyrical diversity than he has already demonstrated and making all the lines that follow ‘It’s the fire in the eyes, desire and demise’ a dope listen, as he plays with words and pronunciation. July Babies is like warm sun on your face with verbal solar flares to match; taking his previously serious delivery to a lighter place more aligned with Q Tip on Marauders than M1 on Lets Get Free. Gurpal outdoes himself once again; his laidback loops so chilled they might even slide back out of your ears as your listening, and DJ Defunkt gets busy at the bottom end with some nice kick scratches that hark back to Tip’s Tribe on a Quest once again.
The relaxed mood turns solemn on Phoenix, as Joshua addresses the military occupation of the middle east and American and British global hegemony, accompanied by samples of Cornel West and Angela Davis, who lend their compassionate yet impassioned words to break up his bars. Joshua adds weight to every word, and distills his political essence on a second verse that leaves you with fire in your stomach. It’s as if he views every successive stanza as a challenge to out-do himself, and consistently wins his own wager; ‘When you boycott and divest, know you’re changing the norm, like the quakers who emancipated the slaves from the dorms, alone we are nothing, but together we dream, of a home for everyone willing better to be, in a world of mutual exchange and not indebted but free, but as the media regurgitates the factual guise, it’s harder for our ideals to actualize.’ Defunkt blesses the hook with a Jehst sample and some prime cuts on Fortunate; a song that seems apt after the last track. Each rhyme written to serve as a reminder of our unthinking entitlement in the west, that is until we break the indoctrination that imposed this mindstate upon us.
Joshua surfs the stirring beat on Think About It with steez, paraphrasing Black Star bars, offering a message of hope and offsetting the message of the last track with an appreciation for what you already have; which if nothing else is the gift of life and the ability to be breathing right now as you read this. Continuing the inter-connectivity of the last few songs is the amazingly inspiring amalgamation of Wonder and I, two tracks to elevate your mental through yet more instrumentals to soothe your soul, leaving you a few last jewels of wisdom to crown off this essential album. Joshua’s verses on Wonder are some of his best, as he focuses his lens on the positive solutions to our daily struggle after spending much of the album outlining the more negative issues within society that needed addressing. Whether you’re working at a menial job or affecting social change and claiming dole, his words will hold relevance and offer the necessary balance between light and dark that the media fails to present. I is a concentrated dose of Joshua’s insight into work, economics, and the fear that chains many of us into debt-driven toil or to illusionary status for most of our lives, but also an affirmation of the intention to live in the moment and yet another opportunity for you to bask in Gurpal’s production, the music once again leaving you energised and light as the album ends. ‘It’s aimless the way that we chase for the papers, shameless the way that we crave for the famous, forsaken the way so we remain chained, insane and enslaved, it’s deranged that we play this game, full of snakes, rat races and jakes, while the faceless names remain nameless faces.’
The level of beatmaking on The Context is nothing short of stunning for a relative newcomer in the eyes of the public; considering this highly talented producer only bought Maschine after hearing his friend rhyme with the distinct purpose of providing him with beats for this project is not only an astoundingly humble way to begin beatmaking but a testament to the true spirit of Hip Hop. His production encompasses a range of influence while retaining a clear sound that gives Joshua’s truthful, poignant lyricism a constant springboard to jump off from as the MC continues his upward journey towards the elevated mental plains his words reach for. If you’re not feeling Immortal Technique’s brash delivery, and lament the loss of Lowkey from the UK scene, Joshua Virasami is your new guiding light to help elucidate the dark corners of Babylon. He keeps his content buoyed with a positivity that feeds his creative side and makes his often serious and weighty messages an easy proposition to overstand, dropping wordplay that’s politically and musically perceptive and writing like he’ll never get the chance to speak again. The Context is the new soundtrack for people who strive for positive change in their immediate environment and seek truth within themselves, using the medium we call Hip Hop to practice love in the face of adversity, and spread awareness.