Constant Flow raps about the despondency of the world. Rap is, of course, political by nature, but few modern heavyweights will deem themselves a political or “conscious.” Carrying that moniker sets up rigid guidelines for their music. When a conscious rapper inevitably says something that reveals the hypocrisy that lies behind their self-righteousness, they look foolish. Listeners expect social commentary along with irreverence. They don’t want an artists to take themselves too seriously. Take Lupe Fiasco, for example, who became convinced of his own intellectual superiority. Constant Flow, however, has opinions on the world-at-large that come from a place of endurance and experience.
Growing up in an Italian neighborhood in Jersey City, the Puerto Rican rapper took to battle rapping to deal with the personal loss and isolation he faced. His evident soldier mentality appears in every verse. His energy never wanes, his bars are sharp and his voice has conviction. The classic hip-hop narrative of survival appears on Ascension, his latest effort, yet Constant Flow doesn’t indulge in celebration. He’s grateful, but the specter of his past and the turmoil of world affairs loom too palpably for him to lay around surveying his accomplishments.
“This is dedicated to the children that kill their child molesters,” Flow declares on the exuberant title track. He calls on the listener to respond to personal and global tragedies. In the song, he notes the close people he lost growing up, including his father, a best friend and a cousin who was found with a needle in her arm. Yet through despair and death, Flow persevered, accepting the realities of life.
In the fervent, orchestral “Anatomy of a Revolutionary,” he asks us to march with him to the future. Why him? Well, he fancies himself a revolutionary Voltron composed of other guardians of justice and change, like Jesus, William Wallace, Che, Victor Jara, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Owens. Flow wants to use the knowledge and actions of said revolutionaries for inspiration in our own mission for societal betterment.
Revolution persists in “Danger Zone.” Flow would like us to “find the revolution within,” a trite statement that might appear on a political pamphlet, “but,” he informs us, “the mind of a child is where it begins.” While the sentiment edges close to the platitude “the children are our future,” Flow posits they can survive. He recounts an instance of a future lost where a friend inherited her father’s drug addiction, causing her to suffer the same drug-addled fate. It’s an extreme reminder of not only the toxicity of familial bond, but more importantly the cruelty of fate that can hinder a person’s ability to enact change in the future. He also shouts out our evil consumer culture, the growing military industrial complex, and citizen-on-citizen violence as areas to rebel against.
Death drapes the entire album, even on the paradoxically titled “Celebrate Life,” which tells the tale of the narrator’s girlfriend suffering from stomach cancer and dying near their wedding day. “Moment of Peace,” featuring his Viper Records label boss, Immortal Technique, delves into the recent attacks in Gaza. “Sunshine” doesn’t lighten things up much either.
Luckily, Constant Flow’s constant, impressively nimble flow makes the pace spry enough so as not to render the listening experience completely cheerless. The production balances between dramatic and dynamic, efficiently supporting his energized lyrical delivery whether its mutedly muffled guitar on “Extra,” hectic drums on “Winter Blood,” or the haunting choir punctuating the Immortal Technique-assisted “Devil’s Maze.”
If Flow can manage to avoid digging himself into so deep a hole of political diatribes and tales of woe that you never want to leave the house again, he’ll continue to make captivating music. Ascension comes close to utter misery and goes a little heavy on the political-figure name-dropping, but Constant Flow tactile skill set prevents the affair from becoming a chore.
3.5 out of 5
You can purchase Ascension here.