Editors' pick

The Cornel West Theory


Editorial Review

CD Review: "Secret Rome"

Where is this "Second Rome" that the Cornel West Theory condemns on its latest album? Look around. The D.C. hip-hop sextet is talking about its home town, both as a "chocolate city" that is trending vanilla and as the capital of what the song "Knights of the East and West" calls an "empire of spiritual malnutrition."

The group isn't merely named for Cornel West, the Afrocentric author and Princeton professor. He is credited as a writer on half of these 21 tracks, some of which feature recordings of his remarks. With West as their guide, lead MC Tim Hicks and his colleagues cover a lot of ground. "Gentrifried Chicken" addresses such local concerns as the displacement of residents near the baseball stadium, but the CD also flashes back to the 1960s and '70s to invoke Che Guevara and the Black Panthers.

The group's most impassioned numbers are built on stuttering, swaggering loops. The incendiary "Durito's Revenge (Dirty Bombs)," for example, uses militant beats and a strangled vocal clip to drive a fantasy of violent insurrection. But much of the CD is less agitated, drawing on cool jazz, trip-hop and acid rock. The words also include West's rebuke to hip-hop misogyny and a dialogue with Hicks's 5-year-old daughter. At nearly 75 minutes, the CD sprawls a little broadly. But it rarely runs out of provocative things to say.

-- Mark Jenkins, Weekend (Jan. 2010)