Stream AR-15 – Stand in Solidarity (2016, 2008)
LOS ANGELES – In these uncertain political and economic times, California-based rap group AR-15 (AntiRacist 15) is a much needed antidote. On their remarkable debut record, Stand in Solidarity (2016, 2008), emcees Jeb Middlebrook aka Jus Rhyme and Trevor Wysling aka Raw Potential, offer listeners a different perspective on community organizing, politics, and racial unity.
Through a mix of danceable beats, conscious lyricism, insightful skits, and historical sound bytes, AR-15 speaks truth to power. The group, guided by fifteen anti-racist principles for social change, is committed to engaging white America on the issue of race, “Are we for racism or are we against it?” asks Jus Rhyme on the album skit “Call to Action 1.”
On tracks like “Soldiers Anthem,” Jus Rhyme and Raw Potential trade verses challenging listeners to become soldiers in the fight for racial equity. Over a driving bassline, Raw spits, “I’m a product of the each one, teach one / A soldier leaned over and banged on my ear drum / Sort of like Apprentice of the trenches…” and on “Call” the rappers encourage white people and people of color to join in a movement for racial justice through stories of personal phone calls between Jus Rhyme and Raw Potential.
On “Ohhh,” the album’s love track, the rappers use metaphors of romantic relationships to get at the intimacy and vulnerability required for movement-building. Jus raps, “Men and women get buck / Rock so hard the government felt us / Lovin so hard cuz government don’t help us.“
But don’t expect a know-it-all or preachy album. “We live an anti-racist lifestyle and this album is just a musical documentation of that,” adds Middlebrook.
With Chicago-bred producer King Karnov on the beats, even hip-hop purists will find themselves bobbing their heads to the tracks. Critically acclaimed in Scratch magazine, King Karnov is a master of chopping samples and plays a variety of instruments. His distinctively mid-west sound has piqued the ears of the best names in rap. Karnov has produced tracks for Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan members RZA, GZA, and Raekwon, Bishop Lamont, Freddie Foxxx and Rhymesayers signees, I Self Devine and Musab, to name a few. Currently, Karnov is working with Aftermath Records.
Middlebrook, based in Los Angeles, was influenced early on from witnessing a labor strike that swept his hometown of Austin, Minnesota when he was five.
“I grew up listening to rap with an eye on social conditions,” Middlebrook, who earned his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at USC in 2011, says. Translating his thoughts into action after high school, Middlebrook joined AmeriCorps and worked community service projects around the U.S. There he met Wysling and found his voice as a rapper. The two reconnected six years later and formed AR-15, and now tour with performances, forums, and workshops on anti-racism and racial justice.
Wysling, as he raps on the track “Million Allies,” is from “a town with one stoplight”, Prosser, Washington. He grew up in a single-parent household on Section 8, and saw racism keep whites from aligning with people of color for their common economic interest. Brought into political consciousness by friend, and later rap partner, Middlebrook, Wysling says he is “a product of the each one, teach one” – a strategy coined by Civil Rights organizers in the 1960s as a way of bringing people into social justice work through personal relationships.
Politically, the group draws inspiration from the Challenging White Supremacy workshop, the Center for Third World Organizing, and Showing Up for Racial Justice. In line with their social justice message, AR-15 donates 25% of their profits to grassroots organizations for racial justice led by people of color.
On his participation on VH1’s popular, “The (White) Rapper Show,” Middlebrook says: “As a rap group, we made a conscious decision to take the message of being white and anti-racist to a national stage with VH1. It was the first time on television that three million people for eight weeks got to witness a white person discussing the importance of challenging racism.”
“We have built a national fan base by connecting with local communities in meaningful ways,” says Wysling. “People are ready to get real about race and have fun at the same time. Music can be that bridge.”