Enslavement: “The action of making someone a slave; subjugation”
Apex Zero is an emcee who has used a unique fusion of hip hop, dub beats, and other musical mechanisms as a tool to espouse political, social, and personal resistance for more than a decade.
The arrival of the new ep, All and Nothing, continues this tradition with perhaps more urgency than ever before. If we were in any doubt as to Apex’s continuing commitment to change and his integrity, we need only look at the release date. It is hard to think of a bleaker time in British politics for those most marginalised in our society. Young people, refugees, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, and those with disabilities to name just a few, find themselves evermore disenfranchised by austerity measures. We have just had a general election. It is easy to feel powerless when so few hold the power. As French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre poignantly said, “When the rich wage war it’s the poor that die”. Apex Zero is here to remind us that while we live, while we breathe, while we can speak, then we do not have to be passive subjects in our own lives. Even on the smallest scale, for instance through the music we make, even listen to, we can be active agents of both our own fate and of change in our own way. “The world is yours – you own it” (Flying High, All and Nothing).
Couple together the title of the EP, with the lyrics and concept behind the lead single and first track, 21st Century Enslavement, there is no doubt as to the prevailing theme that is driving Apex Zero ferociously at this time.
All and Nothing conceptually and musically embodies both themes, and musical methods of production, that are an original mixture of both old and new. This is what makes them unique. For instance, musically, most songs combine beautiful, often calming beats with full on, angry hip hop vocals. And it works like a dream. Politically, it is a simple title depicting an age old problem. The ever continuing polarity between rich and poor, haves and have nots, the mainstream and the margins. These are brutal times, and that is paralleled by the music. Apex wastes no time. From the first line on the brilliant lead single, to the last bars of the JamAfreeca remix of Flying High, the power projected by the emcee is necessarily brutal, and breathtaking. This highlights a double meaning in the title, not just the subject matter in the deeper sense. In a more literal sense it conveys the energy expounded. Apex is prepared to give his all in highlighting injustice and garnering hope, and it is black and white; give everything you have to your art, to your cause, or go home.
Interestingly, Apex, in the first track 21st Century Enslavement is telling us that while imbalances of power are an age-old problem, it is through new means that this is being propagated. Marginalisation, the song shows us, is not necessarily always overt. The suppression, the alienation, the exploitation have taken on cunning forms, very often in mundane ways. Wage Slavery for instance means a job does not render “someone free”. It would seem that the more covert forms of enslavement in this century are, paradoxically, both subtle and nasty. But the new also contains the old. “Every generation, same shit begin again and starts over”. Fierce lyrics exist on top of some special and extremely lovely beats. Like the world we live in that the song describes, 21st Century Enslavement hits us hard. But rather than hitting marginalised groups hard, and taking from those who need it the most, Apex gives us something valuable in a way that transcends monetary value.
Exclusion as a theme continues into The Way. The first line is both sad and telling: “I sit staring at a cold sun”. It speaks of exclusion, of marginalisation, of alienation, and of emptiness. It seems that even nature, which we have destroyed will no longer let us in.
Flying High, and its remix at the end of All and Nothing, contains some brilliant dub beats. In essence it puts forward the notion that we are born in chains. “Everyone who’s had a taste of being free, who’s shook them shackles off, felt all that relief, everyone who’s never felt it now’s your time”.
This is where Apex Zero is trying to confront the problem that the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre talked about, the fear of freedom. Some of the shackles are our own, because we are afraid of breaking out. We can be very frightened of absolute freedom. “Man is condemned to be free”, Sartre said, adding that it’s what you do with that freedom that is important. It’s clear, if we were to have a free world, the songs all point towards Apex Zero wanting one where we are not just inert subjects, where ethnicity and religion do not invoke prejudice, and where poverty does not cripple people, leaving them hungry and desperate. Philosopher Albert Camus also said, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion”. Apex expresses a freedom that he has found, hence, he is a rebel, in that he vocalises eloquently the truth as he sees it.
With two remixes, one of 21st Century Enslavement, the second an African Jam version of Flying High, the ep All and Nothing, is finished off in sublime fashion.
All or Nothing covers timely topics with an almost brutal, breathtaking energy. Those topics may be ugly, but the effect is the complete opposite, it contains a strong beauty. It is hopeful and inspiring when so many have given up politically in an age where austerity has hit them hard.
Listening to All and Nothing, one is struck not just by the outstanding and clever musicianship, but also the moral integrity of Apex Zero. Reminded of Albert Camus’s assertion that “A man without ethics is a wild beast let loose upon this world”, Apex Zero offers up hope within an ever growing urban jungle. Power is not distributed equally, but we are not powerless either. In giving us this knowledge Apex is giving us the greatest gift of all. That of hope wrapped up in a package of beautiful and hard hitting music.