Rap music has been made with gangstas and prisoners but now it comes from the frontline in Iraq, specifically the black GIs of the 4th25, who recorded Live In Iraq right in the war zone. The sentiments are mixed and confused. Rock 'n' Rap Confidential reports.




 

There are connections between many of the songs on the compilation Does Anybody Know I'm' Here?: Vietnam Through The Eyes Of Black America 1962-1972 (Kent) and the songs on the rap album Live From Iraq (4th25.com) made by black GIs in Baghdad.

"Soldier's Goodbye" by William Bell, himself a Vietnam era draftee, finds its echo in "The Deployment," as does "Please Wait For Me My Darling" by The Masters of Soul in Live from Iraq's "Dirty." "Am I Ever Gonna See My Baby Again?" by the Sweet Inspirations is a stateside version of "Live"'s title track ("This is one mortar round from/Bein' over no continues"). But the Temptations' rendition of "War" ("What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing!") has no equivalent on Live From Iraq.

The soldiers of 4th25 (Fourth Quarter) use their considerable skills to defend the invasion of Iraq. They glory in the killing ("Regardless of sex or age/I will retire them/In 24 hours this place/Will be fine again"), complain that their superiors will not allow them to kill enough Iraqis, and stand up for soldiers accused of atrocities ("Questioning how we get down/Stand 'em up we lay 'em down"). These shocking lyrics are driven home by state of the art production values, even though the CD was recorded smack dab in the middle of a war zone. The sound is dense and dramatic, with just drum machines and keyboards producing powerful sounds ranging from sweet orchestration to hard rock.

Yet these soldiers do have second thoughts ("Future unknown and damn I really hate it") and they understand the position they've been put in by a power structure they're not part of - "Built on murder/our country's expanded" or "Got out here like slaves/Fresh off the ship." They even have doubts about the militaristic sentiments they express so fervently, rapping "I know my thoughts are not fair… it's too late here to be worried about whether or not this is right." On "Matter of Time," 4th25 put the ball back in the court of an American public they accuse of ignoring them: "So if you think that I'm wrong/Get me outta here."


Big Neal

 

But all doubts evaporate as the album moves along and hearts harden ("And though it once killed me to kill/I'd gladly do it again"). Big Neal sums up the 4th25 attitude on their web site: "Fuck every American who doesn't understand how soldiers, war, and death have made their lives easier to take for granted." How can infantry soldiers in the line of fire support the war in Iraq, a war rapidly becoming as unpopular at home as the one in Vietnam which generated the anti-war music of Does Anyone Know I'm Here?

The answer only begins with the life or death situation these soldiers have been forced into, where they feel they must kill or be killed. With the end of the draft, our army has become increasingly separate from society and a culture of us versus them on all fronts has taken hold in the military. Above all, Big Neal's outlook is confirmed by American history, in which we only get our butter because of our guns. That's been true from the extermination of the Native Americans up through the booming war-fueled economy of the Vietnam era.

But now every dollar that is spent on the guns of Iraq is directly subtracted from the butter of education, health care, and housing here in the U.S. (see costofwar.com). With each passing day, there's even less for the guys in 4th25 to come home to.

But getting home alive comes first and many people are hearing the cry of "Get me outta here." For instance, Elvis Costello has revised the lyrics to "Scarlet Tide," his 2004 Oscar-nominated song for Cold Mountain, adding the words: "I thought I heard a black bell toll up in the highest dome/Admit you're wrong/And bring the boys back home." Costello debuted the new version on Today and then made it part of his summer tour set list.

"There was a considerable roar of approval in Boston," he told Billboard 's Jim Bessman, "but I was even more encouraged to receive a similar response in Pittsburgh, which I always regarded as a more working class town." Costello says his inspiration for the lyric changes came from Freda Payne's 1971 classic, "Bring the Boys Home." - Rock & Rap Confidential




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