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Street Sweeper Social Club: S/T (Album Review)

Not since Public Enemy teamed with Anthrax nearly 20 years ago has hip-hop been this heavy.

It’s Street Sweeper Social Club, pairing guitarist Tom Morello with rapper Boots Riley on a self-titled collection of striking, strident songs that take aim at the status quo with devastating riffs and searing lyrics.

Their collaboration is a good fit: Morello’s guitar anchored ’90s agitprop band Rage Against the Machine, and Riley is the lyrical force behind militant left-wing hip-hop duo the Coup.

Together, they’re storming the ramparts of American culture and calling for change somewhat more radical than anything President Obama advocated when he was running for president.

Riley scoffs at politicians (“puppets,” he sneers on opener “Fight! Smash! Win!”), dismisses popular entertainment as a cynical distraction from more pressing issues and nurtures a conspiracy-minded suspicion that the rich and powerful got that way by exploiting the undereducated, poverty-stricken masses. To remedy the situation, he advocates revolution in none-too-subtle terms.

“I pledge/To get their foot off my neck,” he promises on “The Oath,” one of several songs calling for the forceful (and not necessarily peaceful) removal of the ruling and/or moneyed classes.

That’s nothing new for the MC who once rapped about “5 million ways to kill a CEO.” What’s different here is Morello, who swaps the Coup’s smooth Oakland-style funk grooves for monstrous hard-rock guitar riffs that land with the force of the bombs Riley wants to throw.

Morello’s guitar growls menacingly through “Fight! Smash! Win,” ducks and weaves through the verses on “The Squeeze” and squeals like heavy machinery in serious need of lubricant to open “Megablast.” What starts as a greasy, low guitar line on the last song, “Nobody Moves Til We Say Go,” erupts into a riff that rumbles through your guts like strong chili, only this kind of visceral turbulence just leaves you hungry for more.