Various Artists

Voices from the Frontline

"Any sins that I committed, I have to answer to God," raps Anthony Alvin Hodge, the 22-year-old Marine corporal who rhymes as Amp. Out of context, Hodge's sentiment is a near cliché of tough-guy military-speak, but 19 tracks into Voices from the Frontline, a compilation of hip-hop and R&B by American soldiers serving in Iraq, Hodge's scratchy field recording can give you the chills.

We're all but numb to the Hollywood wedding of war and pop music -- put on "Paint It Black" or "Flight of the Valkyries" and try not to picture flocks of olive-green helicopters -- and Voices' greatest accomplishment is its ability to distinguish itself from another hackneyed Jarhead soundtrack, as a real statement about life in the shit. It's different from the canon of war music for an important reason: Technology has enabled this collection to be written and released by personnel who are actually on the front lines. Recorded on jerry-rigged Xboxes and handheld devices, this is a real-time war album.

Fascinating, vivid, historical
Fascinating, vivid, historical

The perspectives on document are just as distinctive. The beats backing tunes like "Girl at War" and "Ain't the Same" might not be breaking musical ground -- both have a heavily produced club aesthetic that could've been plucked from KMEL circa 2002 -- but the subjects of the rhymes (dealing with sexism as a female in the service and the psychological empowerment of enlistment, respectively) can only be legitimately addressed by these artists. This idea is underscored when a skilled MC like Prophet (Sgt. Chris Tomlinson, 300th Military Police Co.) takes on Improvised Explosive Devices, Kuwaiti pop culture, or fallen comrades. And when production does get innovative -- as on the lofting beat and vocal hook that drive "Condolence" -- Voices stands not only as a fascinating historical document but a vivid musical one, too.

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