The Sound of Resistance: Flobots and Youth on Record
We have recently seen many highbrow musicians and artists embrace, support, and call attention to important issues throughout the world. Yet, few domestic artists are willing to put their reputations on the line to stand amongst groups, such as Occupy Wall Street, the Black Lives Matter protesters, or those who oppose the War on Drugs, that have taken firmly progressive stances on controversial topics in America today. A few big names have stood out for their courage in staying true to their roots and taking to the streets to protest and incite change, including Neil Young, and Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine. Flobots, an alternative hip-hop band out of Denver, Colorado, is one of the US’ most mainstream bands to take on the responsibility to be a force for change in their local community and throughout the world, having firmly backed and participated in the aforementioned social movements that have garnered so much negative media attention. Using their musical talents and their awareness of the complexities of modern life and society to lead the charge for grassroots change in all realms, they have addressed a growing spectrum of issues important to the world today, including environmental protection and racial justice.
As performers, Flobots have spread their message to the masses through their music, and this started with their first album, Platypus, released in 2005. After releasing Fight With Tools in 2007, they re-released the album without change under Universal's label in 2008. Their fortunate alliance with Universal catapulted the Flobots into the world of mainstream music. I first heard their hit song “Handlebars,” from Fight With Tools, on the SiriusXM 41 Faction station in 2008, and I was an immediate fan. Jonny 5’s rhymes were as impressive as his tone and the narrative he crafts in the song, depicting the choices an individual can make to shape the world, and the degree with which each of us, regardless of how small, has power in our hands to do work in the world for better or worse. The use of fiddle in a hip-hop song was mystical and intriguing, contrasted by the punchy drums, crunchy guitar, and deep bass. The two MCs in the band tackle a wide range of issues throughout the album, spanning everything from segregation and Jim Crow to climate change to civilian casualties, the military-industrial complex, and the Iraq War. This album was my first introduction to the intersection between modern, popular music and radical, conscious political thought, and it has maintained its status as one of my all-time favorite albums just as much for its social progressiveness as for its timeless, experimental sound.
Fight With Tools (Album) - Flobots
Their two more recent albums, Survival Story (2010) and Circle in the Square (2012), are two more examples of the brilliance of this group of artists to craft a sound that is uniquely critical of the wrongs in the world today, shining a spotlight on injustices at home and abroad, like the military occupation of Palestine by Israel, while holding tightly onto the glimmers of hope that grow from the struggles of today into the unity and strength of tomorrow.
Survival Story (Album) - Flobots
Circle in the Square (Album) - Flobots
Yet, music is just one of the ways that the band has engaged the masses. Having realized that resistance requires action, Flobots founded Flobots.org (now Youth on Record) in 2008, and since they have been bringing music to Denver public schools as a tool to educate, uplift, and serve under-priviledged youth. What has been so spectacular about this organization has been its ability to have an impact outside of the school and recently added youth outreach center and media studio in which it operates. Reflective of its core goal of empowerment, the center teaches students not only how to produce music, literature, spoken word, graffiti, and other visual arts, but also how to market themselves to the world as capable, aware artists so that they can use their abilities to earn a living, break the cycle of poverty and crime that so often entraps these communities, and spread the merits of grassroots mobilization and engagement onward to an even greater audience. You can find more information about the organization here.
Currently taking a backseat role in the organization to focus on their own artistic pursuits, the Flobots are in the process of creating a new album for 2016 that will be released independently, and will take the notion of “power to the people” to new heights. Entitled NOENEMIES, the album will be supported entirely using crowdfunding via Kickstarter. This was a conscious choice on the part of the band; they aim to harness the “collective power” of their supporters, in music and activism, to drive the project to its final destination. Not only will NOENEMIES include a new full-length album, but it will include an entire second disk comprised of Flobots’ take on modern protest songs, and will include access to scores and sheet music to all of the pieces, some original and some reinvented from classic protest anthems. The goal of this second album is two-fold. Not only will the band be putting out a second album, but they will be fueling the fires of revolution by providing access (via sheet music and the album itslef) to songs that will be the voice of the people in times of struggle and in victory.
The music of Flobots has inspired me to open my eyes, and think critically of the world and those forces who are doing it harm. I encourage you to take a listen to any, or all, of the albums that are currently out, and the music junkie in you will not be displeased. Moreover, who knows; maybe one of the songs will be the spark that causes you to stand up, condemn injustice, and stand by the sides of your fellow humans as we trod along, trying to find peace, love, and kindness in a cruel world. If that’s the case, I think the band would say they’ve done their job.