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Various Artists 

Hard Truth Soldiers Vol. 1

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Bay Area political rap icon Paris has always seemed like a one-man movement, a solo crusader waging sonic jihads against heads of state or insisting the "G" in G-Funk stands for guerilla, not gangsta. But on his latest compilation, Hard Truth Soldiers Vol. 1, he enlists an elite strike force of like-minded artists to his cause. It's perhaps no surprise that his recruits include West Coast conscious rappers like T-K.A.S.H., Kam, and the Coup, or that he's ventured into bicoastal sectors via collaborations with dead prez, KRS-One, and Public Enemy. However, it's definitely eyebrow-raising, if not outright revolutionary, to scan the track listing and find established artists not generally known for message music: WC, Mack 10, B-Real, Mobb Deep, Everlast, Bad Azz, Tray Deee, J-Ro — even NWA's MC Ren. Conscious Daughters, Mystic, and newcomer Ms. Monet balance what might otherwise be a testosterone-fest, while just-drafted soldiers Uno, Blitz, and Truth Universal hold their own with all the seasoned veterans. With all this rabble-rousing going on, Paris mostly plays the back, appearing on just three tracks while producing the majority of the album. The results are encouraging; Hard Truth mostly succeeds in its ambitious attempt to raise the awareness level of turf rap without sacrificing street credibility or swerve-ability. Not every track shines, but the album's many highlights (including the S.T.O.P. Movement's all-star posse cuts "Down Wit Us" and "Dear Mr. President," T-K.A.S.H.'s "Made in America," and Kam's "Can't Break Me") suggest that political rap is again on the rise, as Dubya's approval ratings plummet and inner-city conditions continue to worsen.

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