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On Point - A Review of Head-Roc's Negrophobia

By: 
Sensimellia Gardner
Date Published: 
November 01, 2005

In the year since Washington, DC's hardest working MC, Head-Roc, dropped his solo debut project, The Return of Black Broadway, the "Broadway" got whiter. U Street's most prominent apartment building, The Ellington, is way out of the financial league of the city's majority blacks who are reeling from a reported 10-14 percent unemployment rate. A tanning salon now sits on the once famed black corridor and the organized new residents have successfully banned live hip-hop performance from all clubs in the neighborhood. All that's left of the Black Broadway are a hodge-podge of informational walking tour street signs saying that it used to be there. What's behind all of this? According to Head-Roc, it's Negrophobia and if you were born anytime after the 15th century, then you've got it!

Twelve tracks and to the point, Head-Roc's sophomore project was released on Juneteenth at perhaps the least visited place in Washington DC, the African-American Civil War Memorial Museum, smack dab in the middle of the Black Broadway.

The beats are minimalist-mostly bass, drums and a tickle of keys-providing just enough bop to shelter the listener from a down pour of lyrics decrying key elements in the establishment of Negrophobia. Columbus' murderous imperial expedition and the tragedy of trans-Atlantic slavery; the resulting decimation of the black family, and creation of a greed-filled, racist police society; its replication throughout the rest of the world and its concentration in a DC which needs to be made "free"-all form the lyrical core of the disk.

With such heavy subject matter it's almost surprising the album remains something you can rock to, but producers DJ Eurok on the funky movie-track sounding "Tarzan" (with guest vocals by Noyeek the Grizzly Bear) and DC's own R&B hottie K'alyn and Dwayne Lee (of 3LG) on "Speak to Us" ensure that Head-Roc's revolution will be at the party. Lee showing off his blazin' guitar rifts on "Bernard Hopkins" further cements the bridge Head-Roc's punk youth followers used to cross over into the world of DC hip-hop. On "Speak to Us" Lee's fingers are so sweet you might miss Head-Roc's stinging lyrics:

    "...can you believe that? we living in a age where working at McDonald's is an advertised career path/ the fuk is up with that?/commercials showing niggas joyous as a mufuh/stuffing fast food bags.../demonstration of black and white cooperation/according to some corporations.../when we wanted integration, they gave us segregation/which they couldn't get away with, so in frustration/they changed the game say we were insane /to blame the grip of past reigns for our present days strains.../the civil rights amendments is really just a figment/of that mission of guilt by the righteously indignant..."

Tight lyrics

The smooth bounce of "Chris Columbus" explains that the album came about "...all because [Head-Roc] took up a book and looked and was shook by the shit these crooks done took." The almost dirge-ish keys leading the marching band drumming behind "Middle Passage" is a tear-jerker for anyone who can for a moment join this African on a journey into the unknown terror of the experience through song; interrupted by a narrative clip, which at over a minute long takes away from the cadence and climax of the succeeding verse. If you need a let up from the emotion of the black experience in the Americas, skip "Black Babies":

    "...My black people ain't moved since Martin died.../When he was assassinated by the Central 'I' /A black Agency didn't mobilize, except to vandalize.../Brothers killing brothers for the sake of homicide/Committing 'suicide' -when it should be homicide.../We need to get the black family unified.../To put a ball through a hoop they pay a black man a million dollars/'Cause they'd rather see that than to witness a million scholars..."

There are surprises on this album for everyone living in or outside the District. "Bob Marley Lives in Amsterdam" throws rocks at the commercialization and watering down of Marley's image from Pan-Africanist to a weed-smoking icon used to advertise tools which today contribute to the destruction of Africans universally. "Free Palestine" (featuring Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman) is ably supported by a fabulous tremor of bass, whispers and chants, followed by the untitled instrumental track #6 with a clever combination of beats, oud and the Arabesque tabla drum.

In just over 40 minutes Negrophobia, engineered by Head-Roc and his manager Jarobi White (of A Tribe Called Quest), manages to impart history lesson, cop-watch tactics (courtesy of The Funkinest Journalist, Jared Ball of FreeMixRadio and Organized C.O.U.P.), and re-establishes hip-hop as the music to which we can once again party for our right to fight a most debilitating component in the American nightmare: Negrophobia.

Ten years after Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet", the arrival of Negrophobia is refreshing, hot, timely and on point-so, go get it!