Most of the time, rap is fun and games. Rare is the track that bangs and conveys a social message without being preachy or didactic. Late period Talib is enough to make you dismiss political and “conscious” rap outright. But then occasionally you hear a song that reminds you of rap’s power to stop you in your tracks. The Georgia Anne Muldrow-produced, “Coal” is one of those songs. A narrative about how Curly Castro didn’t grow up “Cosby,” a reminisce on the dark side of being the life of the party at every Bar Mitzvah. “Coal” is not fuel, but what the fuel eventually formed. The story of growing up as the gifted black kid surrounded by whites and the casual racism that often occurs. For Castro, “Coal is the gift you Don’t want…the underlying black that fueled the fire that forged this country. Coal represents the thing you despise, but secretly desire as well. Coal is the Black friend you don’t introduce to your parents, for they ‘wouldn’t understand’. Coal is my Element. Coal is Me.”
The back-story is one of a kid who grew up in a segregated community, literally on the other side of the tracks. Castro remembers “Blame the Black kid” being the mantra in the ’80’s.” The weirdness of being in class with white kids who had never seen a black face. The confusion of black friends telling him to stop hanging out with honkies. Has-Lo joins in to further blur the lines, reminiscing on painful days when he wished he had a name like “Jeremy” instead of Anwar. The insult of being told that he sounded “white.” File these two next to Open Mike Eagle, Homeboy Sandman, and Shabazz Palaces as the most trenchant rappers looking at race in 2013. This is the sort of thing you wish Wale had kept doing after “The Kramer.” These are true stories that few are telling well. “Coal” is what burns slow.
Track below the jump. Fidel drops next week on Man Bites Dog Records.