SWEATSHOP UNION with BLACK EYED PEAS at the Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Tuesday (May 4), 9 pm doors. $35. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Is North Vancouver rap collective Sweatshop Union a front for an underground network of anti-capitalist guerrilla rebels hell-bent on complete global anarchy? Nah. They're just seven dudes who all agree that work sucks. That belief - plus the requisite love of music - holds the crew consisting of groups Dirty Circus, Creative Minds, Innocent Bystanders and soloist Kyprios together and keeps its members motivated to rock mikes for a living.
Union member Dusty Melodica, on the phone as he heads out of Vancouver in the group's tour minivan with the rest of the 'shop, tells me that realistically he'd probably still be washing dishes if it weren't for the group.
Fortunately, being buddies with Swollen Members and getting signed to Battleaxe saved him from gettin' his Palmolive on 24/7 and brought him an infinite flow of cash, Mercedes Benzes, supermodel blow jobs and diamond Cartier wristwatches, right? Not quite.
"People just assume cuz they see us on TV that we're paying our bills and whatnot," he says. "But we don't have any money. We don't have shit. Every one of these tours, we come back not knowing whether or not we're going to pay our rent."
You still get the sense that being in a rap group is a thousand times better than doing any kind of unrewarding bullshit for 40 hours a week.
Mos Eisley, one of the group's other MC/producers, spelled out the Union's underlying political view for me from his crib in Van City some weeks earlier: "The whole world, as a global picture, is a sweatshop."
The ideology is voiced frequently in the lyrics on the raptivistic track US off their bangin' second LP proper, Natural Progression. The album is more dope than a night out with Courtney Love, full of sonorous samples mixed with actual cellos, guitars and chanting children over tight drums, all of which form the bed for catchy hooks and government-agitatin' flows.
But it's not all political commentary. In fact, it's mostly not. Some people need to realize this before criticizing the Union for not being the Naomi Kleins of rhymes.
Says Melodica, "People hear our name or hear a song where we make a political point and assume that every song we're gonna write has to be about that, and if it's not then we're selling out or falling short. People definitely have expectations of us. But they just gotta understand that we're gonna write a song about what we wanna write about."
And who could handle a whole album of political manifestos? Sweatshop Union love hiphop and have a lot of fun with it. They know they have to enjoy it now, because rapping might not be a long-term option.
Mos says it best. "We've all decided that this rap shit ain't gonna take care of us when we're 50 years old.
"There's no pension plan for rappers."