The backstory of Sudanese Christian rapper Emmanuel Jal reads like an Oscar-worthy screenplay and serves an integral role in the themes and flow of WARchild. After losing his mother at a young age, Jal was forced into becoming a child soldier in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Ethiopia, eventually smuggled into Kenya and ultimately displaced by the Sudanese civil war. Despite the tribulations, Jal managed to form various musical collectives, produced a chart-topping single in Kenya with “Gua,” and became the voice of the suffering voiceless throughout Africa.
With as much militancy as forefathers Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy, Jal tackles just about every political and social issue directly affecting Africa and even some with a more international scope, rapping over world music beats âˆšâ€ la M.I.A. and Kala but in a less trendy and aggressive way. Perhaps one of the closest male counterparts to the Spin cover girl, Jal similarly makes world music marketable by clashing diverse genres: gospel, urban rap, and African folklore. This art imitates Jal’s life as WARchild plays out like his audio autobiography.
In no way does Jal hold back, his unreserved lyrics calling it as he sees it, for instance proclaiming the world’s loss of respect for the United States in “Ninth Ward.” Dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, he raps, “America the great became America the clown/While Americans drown.”
While Jal’s lyrics are undoubtedly powerful, his cheesy choruses and cheap titles jeopardize entire songs by basically summarizing them, especially “Skirt Too Short” and “No Bling,” where he claims he needs “no hoes, no bitches, no bling” to “sell a lot of records like Sting.” Yet where songs like “50 Cent,” an ode to The Man’s exploitation of the superstar MC, miss, the rhythmical folklore of “Baaki Wara” and the hard-hitting lyrics of “Vagina,” focusing on the rape of Africa’s natural resources by the oil and mining industries, make WARchild one of the most real releases of late.