Finding refuge in ‘Refugee’

Patriarch is not the average rapper. Born in San Francisco and of Palestinian descent, he doesn’t look like a typical rapper. With lyrical content touching on the government, racism and homelessness, he definitely doesn’t sound like most of today’s rappers. All of this adds up to one surprisingly impressive debut titled Son of a Refugee.

The album begins with “Live by the Sword” featuring Elijah Henry. The listener is greeted by Patriarch’s gruff voice – a combination between DMX and Jim Jones – and contrasted by Elijah Henry’s smooth, angelic vocals. In four minutes Patriarch confronts politics, racism, and war. In one line saying, “Blood is thicker than water / Bring home our troops / Aren’t they done with the slaughter / Don’t we have enough martyrs?” These lyrics are framed in simplistic production that allows the listener to concentrate on the words, but still bob their head to the beat.

Patriarch isn’t all revolution and no play Son of a Refugee features club bangers as well. Track eight, “Aywah,” is a club song for the Arabic women. The production has elements of a Middle Eastern song mixed with a hip-hop beat. Noticeably absent is the mention of these women as “hoes” or “bitches.”

The real standouts on the album are the ones in which the production challenges that of the rest of the album. “Float On” featuring DeVue and San Quinn features soulful vocals and an old-school feel. The mellow production and vocals from DeVue contrast with lyrics such as, “Bush is a racist. Don’t let him fool you / In the name of democracy he just might rule you / Fight back, and he just might nuke you.” On “Crunk Revolution,” Patriarch takes the flow and beat of southern crunk music, but questions its content by making statements such as “Call Atlanta the trap / Promote drugs / Make kids believe its all love till they get locked up.” Another soulful track is “Dedication to the World,” where he preaches racial unity and correcting social problems without telling us to hold hands and sing kumbaya.

Son of a Refugee is not without its low points, though. “Don’t Mess with my Heart” featuring Get Lit takes a turn for the commercial. Complete with whining vocals from Get Lit, Patriarch has conquered the stale, ever-present thug love song.

Despite its flaws, Son of a Refugee ends on a high note with “Palestine.” Patriarch’s gruff flow is somewhat smoothed out over a sample of Patti Labelle’s classic “If Only You Knew.” Patriarch details his relationship with Palestine as if the country were a real woman, “First met you in the summer of ’89 / It was ugly, and didn’t know why / Trash burning in the streets / Graffiti on the wall / Kids dead at my feet while I see they mothers bawl.” This type of lyrical dexterity almost atones for any of the album’s previous sins.

Son of a Refugee is almost flawless, which is impressive for any rap album, let alone a debut album. With his fresh approach and politically and socially conscious flow, Patriarch is a breath of fresh air in a genre that many say is dying.