If it weren't for Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle," "The Magic Clap" would the hardest banging song of the year, maybe of the decade. It was one my favorite videos of 2012 (although not even the best video from this album). And it is one of the best songs of any year. The lyrics are amazing, it's technically difficult, it challenges both lyrically and musically, and it's pretty damned fun to sing along with and dance too. Just plain perfection. And maybe one of the best ways to start off an album ever.
"Strange Arithmetic" is a great follow-up track, elevating the challenge of the album in terms of politics and critical thinking. Not to mention that it is an artistic song with a great concept. And it's another song you can easily dance to.
Just when you don't think an album can start off any better, along comes one of the most wildly creative songs ever written, "Your Parents' Cocaine." And the video is even better. Leave it to Boots Riley to combine kazoos, Anti-Flag, hardcore social commentary, and drug-using muppets. And it works so amazingly well.
After three songs, the album would already be a success, but Riley is far from done. "The Gods of Science" is one of the better rhyme schemes I saw all year, backed with superb production as every other song on the album is. Then that is followed by "My Murder, My Love," which has probably the best hook and a album filled with great hooks.
"You Are Not A Riot" shows Riley's amazing ability to balance incredibly catchy, danceable, original, unique songwriting with hardcore political commentary that doesn't hold back and pretty much always gets it right. It's a powerful combination and if radio and TV in the U.S. wasn't dominated by evil corporate interests, this was, by far, the catchiest set of songs released in 2012.
At some point, it starts to become repetitive to talk about this album, not because the album is at all repetitive, but because all of the adjectives I've used on previous songs keep applying. "Land of 7 Billion Dances" is original, danceable, political, great production, etc., etc. It's not at all like the rest of the album, sonically, and it has a more casual delivery than earlier songs, but that gives you a great break from the hardcore stuff that came before, so those are compliments.
"Violet" has some of the most beautiful music on the album and Pam the Funkstress' hook is a album highlight on an album filled with highlights. "This Year" brings in Jolie Holland as the vocalist and it helps keep the album very fresh, giving a bit of a break from Riley's voice which wasn't getting tiring at all, but that's how good the album is, it switches gears early enough and often enough that you keep being marveled at where it's going and awed at how it gets there.
"We've Got A Lot To Teach You, Cassius Green" manages to shock you with it's creativity and commentary when you didn't think the album could do that any more. And yet it does. Riley tries yet another approach to songwriting and he just knocks it out of the park in a way that you'd have a hard time thinking of anything else like it. Maybe ever.
For "Long Island Iced Tea, Neat," Riley brings in Japanther and damned if that doesn't work out perfectly, too. He continues to vary song structures as well and the production is varied enough that this is one of the few albums, of any era, that is so consistently listenable. "The Guillotine" comes in as a pretty amazing activist anthem and the album closes out on a lighter note, although still very socially conscious, with "WAVIP" which brings in even more amazing collaborators, Killer Mike and Das Racist.
Flow: 10. Riley has an amazing flow and he varies it enough on this album to keep it always interesting.
Lyrics: 10. There aren't many lyricists better than Riley and his metaphors and politically-charged rhetoric are right up my alley.
Message: 10. This album is all about politics and it's all about the right politics. Sometimes Riley is direct, sometimes he's metaphorical, but he's always on point.
Technical: 10. Hard to think of a rapper who more consistently tries to different things vocally and he always pulls them off on this album.
Production: 10. Every song is different and yet, they sound connected enough to be coherent.
Versatility: 10. This album tries to do a lot of great things and each song is significantly different than the others.
Collaborators: 10. Another area that is just plain perfect. There aren't an excessive number of contributors and every one of them is used to perfection.
History: 9. With a rapper as political as Riley, it'd be hard for the album not to be dripping with history. This one is, even if not a lot of it is explicit.
References: 8. There are quite a few, particularly if you also include the music videos, and the ones that exist are good.
Originality: 10. Albums don't get more original than this.
Total Score: 97. It's hard to imagine any album ever getting a higher score than this.