Mr. J. Medeiros
Of Gods and Girls
xplicitly political art (including much conscious rap) fails when it resorts to vague platitudes instead of addressing specific situations. Mr. J. Medeiros, first with his hip-hop group the Procussions and now on his own, has always recognized this trap and avoided it by relating stories and problems with a remarkable attention to detail. On Of Gods and Girls, his first solo album, Medeiros continues this approach when talking about cultural concerns, and digs into personal issues with the same specificity as well. Mixing concern with tempered optimism, Medeiros has put out another disc of important messages, and still kept it easy on the ears.
Medeiros nails it with the disc's (and maybe the year's) most powerful song. "Constance" traces the relationship between the prostitution, rape, and filming of a 13-year-old girl in the Philippines and the Internet porn viewing of a Western man. The song develops its emotional content as well as its logical argument via the details—the man spending less on the girl than on his cab ride, the changing vacancy sign, the monetary goal of $6000—and Medeiros knows how to cut with a couplet: "It's not illegal to use raping as a cash crop / As long as it says she's 18 on your laptop." The use of the pronoun you suggests the central problem of human trafficking: the demand (which supply will always meet).
"Constance" develops themes from the Procussions' "Little People," "For the Camera," and "American Fado," marking the pinnacle of a seemingly obvious (yet easily ignored) line of feminism in Medeiros's work. If he's turning into an activist (the song has led to the Constance Campaign ), he's still just as concerned with the issues people struggle with, particularly loneliness. "Strangers" details the breaking apart of a couple that never really got together ("You don't love me, you're just used to me"). Medeiros's narrator wavers between anger, cowardice, and regret. He manages to recognize the harm of a short-sighted relationship, even while feeling hurt at ending it. The complex narrative stops short of assigning blame, but manages to take responsibility just the same. Medeiros allows for both catharsis and empathy because he acknowledges the shortcomings of both characters.
The disc's weak points, not surprisingly, are its skits. Medeiros, who developed Of Gods and Girls while broke, gives too much time to answering machine messages and phone conversations that relate his financial problems besetting him during the time. It's unfortunate, but the tale of the starving artist isn't a new story, and there's nothing especially significant to that backstory in this case. Rather than reinforcing some sort of authenticity, the skits argue too much for it. What makes Medeiros's rhymes matter isn't where they came from, but what they say, and he'd have a better record by recognizing that and letting his performances stand on their own.
Fortunately, these skits comprise a small percentage of the disc, and when the music's going, it's solid. Medeiros doesn't break any ground with his production (although DJ Vajra's scratching sounds exciting whether it's an old style or not). He continues the Procussions' move away from a jazzy Tribe feel and toward a harder sound, now drawing a more direct lineage from earlier Rawkus records to this contemporary one. It would be nice if the music was more arresting, so that there'd be more force behind the overall presentation, but the basic production allows the intricate, intelligent lyrics to remain the focus of the performances, which is probably just as Medeiros would want it.