By J. Parker Darling
One week ago, Rza and Parisi came out with a new song entitled, “No Refuge”. In case the title was not enough to give you a hint as to the lyrical focus of the jam, it is a criticism of the Trump immigration and refugee stance.
The song begins with ambient wind sounds. The introduction sounds as if something is stirring in an unknown and obscured space, preparing to emerge unexpectedly. The beat begins, and is meant to be minimalistic in order to emphasize the song’s lyrical content. The first verse is a raw and unabashed criticism on what is often referred to as collateral damage in the political sphere. RZA invokes the images of: “poverty-stricken children who are sincerely innocent to the bombs that dropped on their city”, and, “the women that seek education and medicine, but are spiritually oppressed by those who don’t understand the prophet’s teachings clearly”. RZA correctly points out that women and children are more often than not the worst victims of modern warfare. When for the sake of destroying one military target, schools, hospitals, and community centers are destroyed, we destroy people’s lives; even if they are lucky enough to be spared.
The second verse begins with a condensed history of the United States as a place in which the founding fathers set out to create a beacon of freedom that the entire world could believe in. RZA particularly emphasizes the historical significance of Barack Obama’s presidency, before directing his attention to Donald Trump. He describes America as a country founded by immigrants for immigrants, while focusing on the importance of religious freedom. He makes it clear that Trump’s anti-Islamic policies are counter-intuitive to the intent under which America was founded. RZA really goes in on Trump, without necessarily attacking Trump followers, “ Let’s make America great again, but not a place that’s filled with bigotry, racism and hate again. Let’s fulfill the need of all men from city streets to coal mines, but don’t forget that humanity is the goldmine”. Yes, rhyming again with again, and mines with mine is not the strongest technical aspect of the song, but RZA does a good job calling out Trump directly on his white America-centric agenda, without condemning the coal miner. It is still his America too.
The chorus laments that, “they won’t let me in”, and is really trying to center in on this idea that America, for so long, was considered a place where you could escape oppression and tyranny. Now, it is taking an almost isolationist stance towards the suffering of refugees.
The song is lyrically strong, although at times the instrumental could have used more depth. Perhaps sampling Syrian music would have done the trick. RZA is articulate and passionate in portraying America as a beacon of freedom, and tries to use the song to connect to our history. He conjures the same images of redwood forests and gulfstreams as Woody Guthrie, the famous singer songwriter who served as an inspiration for the great folk artists of the 1960’s and 70’s. By connecting this song with the images of Guthrie, RZA is tapping into the American tradition of protest music. “This Land is Your Land”, is a song about socialism, and how the country of America belongs to the people; not a select, wealthy few. RZA is reminding us that the dream of America is only a dream if it is inclusive to all individuals without bias. Otherwise that dream becomes a nightmare.
Whether or not I personally enjoy all components of this song, I am a passionate advocate for other artists who choose to follow RZA’s lead, making music to ignite the spirit of freedom and brotherhood. It is a call to empathize and love your neighbor just as much as the Syrian refugee, not allowing our prejudices to divide us beyond reconciliation.