Mr. Ruckman intrigues me. For one, he is an Australian rapper, Sydney based, and to our primarily American readership, do you guys really know many Australian rappers? For two, he appears to be a staunch atheist whose lyrics explore themes of humanism, evolution, tenuous morality and religion. Nothing wrong with either one; Australia and atheism are simply not topics that leap to mind when I think of hip-hop and rap.
The music isn't what I first think of either. Jazz samples and old-school beats flow heavily throughout The Born-Again Humanist. Considering the subject matter, it works; the samples are very dramatic and serious, which makes the lyrics weigh more heavily into the music. Not all the songs go hard, but none of them go softer, either.
It seems the two main draws here are the singles "Adam and Eve" and "Mammoth," both which strongly demonstrate Ruckman's ideals. The former opens with a funky organ ascension before rolling into a soulful number about a woeful, crazy bitch. The narrative is a bit uneven but Mr. Ruckman's sense of humor infused with own lessons from his experiences still produce some good lyrics that culminate in asking if "we should blame not our actions but our genes." "Mammoth" is far more aggressive, with a tricky drumbeat rat-a-tatting over sublime synthesizers and piano and a stoic Rush-inspired guitar samples. Mr. Ruckman's delivery is spitfire fast, as he plows through verses dealing in aggressive philosophy.
The album gets progressively less light, and the darkness rises in the funeral-dreary "Dark Poet," with heated words like, "why attack religion / it does some amazing acts / like mandating mass genocide / and a hate for blacks." I'm less interested in Mr. Ruckman's ideas than how he presents them, and ironic verse like this is both uncomfortable and comical to hear. Rather than sounding uneven, the balance between anger and humor matches the volatile topics that pissed Mr. Ruckman off in the first place.
Music nerds will be most interested in "Crucify," culled from the songbook of lost folk darling Rodriguez (you know the one), featured in the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.” The song samples "Crucify Your Mind" while crucifying the idea of religious salvation. It's the best song on the album, hands-down, filed under the need-to-be-heard rather than the description category. Plus it made me want to give Rodriguez another shot, so that's that.
Some of the better hip-hop I've heard recently, especially the cult-worthy "Crucify." Mr. Ruckman's ideas can come across as more fanciful than fearsome, but smartly handled controversial subject matter with expansive, expressive musical ideas make it well-wroth checking out.
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