Born from abject poverty of the people and the blatant excesses of the aristocracy, The French Revolution began in the streets. Women marched to Versailles with baguettes hard as rocks and men with torches and pitchforks, demanding that King Louis XVI and his bride, Marie Antoinette, come see the desolate state of Paris themselves — and to also test out a new invention, the guillotine. What began as an exercise in humanitarian justice quickly turned into a period of mass executions and the greatest political and cultural upheaval in the 19th century.
And in very, very loose terms, the same sort of bloodshed and cultural redefining applies to hip hop, right? Especially if a certain letter is read literally. Regardless, French producer Alterbeats runs with this metaphor on his debut album The French Revolution, an 18-track salvo of paranoia-tipped rhymes and eclectic, conspiracy-toned production. It doesn’t hit as hard as a bunch of Frenchmen changing the political landscape of a continent, but its still a pretty dope album.
That feeling mainly comes from the substantial roster of able rappers that Alterbeats chose for the project. His style of production stands far from the Southern clickety-clackety bass cannon beats that require heavy flow acrobatics a la Busta Rhymes. His beats play out methodically, constructed by instrument samples with occasional interruptions by clean vocal scratching or electric bass lines. It’s a style that gets rappers to focus more on their lyrics while still bringing that hard aggression.
The MCs that truly understand that chemistry come correct, and turn those otherwise good tracks into really great gems. “Alter Ego” immediately stands out with veteran Sadat X weaving French locales and his grandfather’s WII service into his rhymes over a blaring horn, and fellow guests AG and Lion of Bordeaux keep the tone going. Another stand-out track, “Revolution On My Brain,” has Reef the Lost Cause touching base on American corruption and subliminal racism over rolling percussion and rising strings. In fact, the only song that really sucks, “The Nod,” fails to fulfill because of how off-topic the rappers are. One guy rhymes about giving himself a blowjob. I have no idea why.
One dud out of 18 seems pretty OK according to math. Even if the French Revolution themes never take real root or follow some sort of historical progression, what Alterbeats was able to get together on this album still amounts to a worthy effort. The French Revolution was never televised, but the album carries more than enough of its soothsaying and tight-fisted energy to cause any uprisings.