Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Khat Thaleth: Third Line: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness [Stronghold Sound, 2013]
I was gripped by the music on this daunting Arabic rap compilation even when I had no idea exactly what they were protesting about, and 37 downloaded pages of political imagery and invective sealed the deal. The beats simply loop Middle Eastern tunelets over trap figures and scratches that aren't quite funky. But having long ago acclimated to Arabic scales and grooves, I find the hooks unusual and varied, the percussion muscular and beatwise, and the rapping novel and musical--Arabic gutturals are perfect for protest hip-hop. And translated though the lyrics are, they establish that we're not just imagining all that unleashed intensity and righteous rage. From Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, a few of the rappers are also journalists or literary men, but more seem street and/or activist and not a one is remotely Islamist. In fact, many don't even bother to mention the Israeli interlopers stuck in their craw or the Yankee dollars fattening the old autocrats and new opportunists they despise--those issues are assumed. Starter tracks: Touffar's unforgiving "Min Al Awal (From the Beginning)," El Far31's unruly "Harra (The Street)," El Rass's strategic "Foosh (Float)," and--harrowing--LaTlateh's nightmarish "Boov." A-