"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 clich 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.
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innovative -- as on the lofting beat and vocal hook that drive "Condolence" -- Voices stands not only as a fascinating historical document but a vivid musical one, too.
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