What on the surface might seem an unlikely collaboration between acoustic hip-hop/rocker Justin Smith (formerly of the Folk-Hop Band) and serious, street tough veteran rapper Fat Rat Da Czar has resulted in a debut album under their collaborative moniker ColorBlind that addresses topics both personal and universal–including but not limited to the fact that Smith is white and Fat Rat is black. It’s all done in a spirit of unity and togetherness that doesn’t shy away from current events or issues such as racism and history, with the two artists’ styles meshing like they were made for each other.
The duo’s point is made immediately on “Undaground Railroad” as Smith takes on the persona of a runaway slave in the antebellum South. Equal parts resignation and desperation, the historical tale is accented with an intro track featuring a blunt spoken word piece from Regina Pendergrass.
Not everything is fraught with social importance, however. “Good Times” features a laid-back cameo from Ben G, trading verses with Fat Rat. “Country Roads” is the closest to Smith’s former band days, with a rock-rap sound that’s part 311, part Kid Rock; Fat Rat saves it from caricature with a fast-flowing rap.
It’s the important songs that have the most impact, however. “Live Like the Devil” takes Smith’s spiritual struggle and sets it to a gently strummed melody until Fat Rat’s low growl makes the point “Will it ever stop, I doubt it…”. The chorus sets out the battle in simple, heartbreaking terms: “I wanna live like the devil, I wanna die with the Lord / Tell me how do I manage, so torn.”
“Follow The Spin” is the obvious centerpiece here, an ode to a fallen friend with a chorus that rolls off the tongue despite its somber subject; Smith’s declaration “I need a heart of stone and a will not to give in” is a statement of purpose for this whole endeavor, it seems. “Nowhere Soon” deals the most directly with racism, an underlying theme throughout, as guest rapper Khujo Goodie declaims “It ain’t safe no more, not even in church,” a line recorded long before the Charleston shootings that reverberates with chilling intensity now. The song’s theme of closed minds needing to be opened is likewise more fraught with meaning in this post-Ferguson world where everything is viewed through an internet-fueled filter of rhetoric and partisanship, not to mention thinly disguised racism. Fat Rat has the point well in hand here as he spits out the line, “Love me or hate me, diss me or doubt me, but don’t hate if you don’t know shit about me.”
It’s the relatively sunny final track, “Stained”, which offers the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel as Fat Rat makes a case for Colorblind’s ultimate impact:
“If I can forgive myself, maybe I can reveal myself, and if that can happen maybe these lines will mean a little more than just rappin’.”
The world may be a long way from being truly colorblind, but more artistic statements like this one can’t help but push it a little farther along the way there.