Truth Universal, Invent the Future (Independent)

Truth Universal, Invent the Future, album cover, February 2014

It can’t be easy, putting in work for black positivism and righteous hip-hop activism in what is arguably the dirtiest city in all the Dirty South, but somehow Truth Universal manages. He seems to have realized early on that he was a prophet without honor in a city worth saving and picked his battles accordingly. There are a few signs that he’s adjusting his aim slightly on his latest album/mixtape, Invent the Future, which finds him switching over almost entirely to soul and R&B grooves, as if he’d figured the youngbloods in the city for a lost cause. Certainly thugs aren’t trying to hear him drop mentions of Deniece Williams or Seafood City or Jazzy Jeff, not to mention rhyming “Picasso” with “Burkina Faso.”

Or, alternately, he might feel he can still reach just enough kids to make a difference. Why else would he bother with a “Letter to the Youth,” where he includes solid dad advice like “Four years of college could boost your finances / Ain’t nothing guaranteed, but you have better chances”? And who couldn’t understand the cycle of hopelessness and despair that leads to the self-explanatory, unhappy ending of “Domestic Disturbance”? How many rappers of any age are bothering to address food insecurity and GMOs, like Truth does on “Food Fight”? More than ever, the message of the city’s premiere hip-hop poet needs to be heard. The good news is that his bullet points are sharper than ever, even as his sound gets more retro. But with hip-hop getting assimilated by the minute, will the kids who need to hear him preach even get a chance to?