In the wake of many racially charged occurrences in America, hip-hop (along with many other things) has been more vocal about overcoming racial barriers. The music has been used as a means to display pride and rich culture that’s impossible to hide. That being said, nothing is more topical than the album “Free Lunch”. Free Lunch expresses hunger, self-love, and a passion to fight injustice with the will of a warrior king. Benjamin Starr reveals his self, his passion, his mic skill, his pride, his culture, and his versatility in this project.
As indicated by the album, cover, Free Lunch is a montage of Afrocentrism. “Movies” is an elegantly-stated listing of people and incidents related to police brutality, civil rights, and black art. “Play me the truth, and let me groove with it”. Furthermore, Starr’s voice is just as potent and impacting as the activists that he borrows quotes from. He viciously rips oppressors with bars like “burn the confederate flags ‘til they feel me” and “I came explicitly to challenge history”. In the “Within, Him” spoken word interlude, his stanzas paint the picture of the history behind America’s brainwashed (or whitewashed) antiblackness; and mentions rich history and culture that instills pride in spite of that. Starr consistently and boldly delivers defiance towards prejudices and stereotypes throughout this album. This along with his everpresent reverence for his roots and culture gels the album together.
Free Lunch is as much about Starr himself as it is anything else, though. He expresses his faith on “Seventh” along with other songs throughout the album. In “Seventh” as well as “Tuxedos” he details his struggles to succeed and become greater. “Wonderful Love” is a celebration of a love through both hard and good times. Starr gives listeners himself going through many downs, but still withholds the personality of a man standing tall. Such gives him a charisma, and makes you feel close to him beyond being a “rap activist” in a manner of speaking.
Beyond being an activist and a person, Free Lunch shows Benjamin Starr to be an artist: a poet and technician, as well as one with a keen ear for instrumentals. In the aforementioned song, “Wonderful Love”, Starr’s bluntly stated chorus is “woman, you’re wonderful”. With the following sax notes jumping for joy, he plants the seed of profound admiration for this woman. “Grace” is reminiscent of a fashion of holy hip-hop tracks. The thumping bass, horns, and opera choir gives it the epic sound of going to war. That coupled with his aggressive delivery and cadence lights a fire in one’s soul. Of all the songs in the album, “Grace” displays his hunger the most (fitting, as the chorus uses eating a meal as a metaphor) his technical skills are off the charts in this joint (e.g. “Black angels in my chambers of commerce, concerts in my converse, rallying the converse(?), Yes God’s great…” Rapping in a 4-4, he spits two internals is the first quarter of a bar [angels, chambers], uses “commerce” as an end rhyme, then rhymes it twice more before the bar ends. Afterwards he continues the rhyme, and transitions mid-bar).
Starr’s lyrical prowess thrives in its variety as much as anything else. As stated before, he shows art in expression with his spoken word pieces, but he also displays a battle-rap reminiscent wit, impressive wordplay, and cinematic storytelling. The evidence is laid bare throughout the album, from the tales in “Mirrors” to the clothing-related wordplay in “Tuxedos”.
Starr’s quote on this album sums it up perfectly. It represents not only an evolved hip-hop artist, but an evolved black man. The versatility in sounds, subjects, and skill that this album shows along with the personality and passion make it a modern masterpiece. Free Lunch is an enjoyable and compelling album from front to back and it has a strong sense of purpose. Any fan of hip-hop should love this album.
Coldest Tracks: “Tuxedos”, “Grace”, “Seventh”, “Black Owned”, “Love, For You”
Eh Songs: “2 Faces”