Blackalicious, Talib Kweli On Upcoming LP For Mumia Abu-Jamal

Death-row inmate's writings inspire rappers and poets to interpret 'freedom.'

A hip-hop compilation raising awareness about the plight of Pennsylvania death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and featuring Blackalicious and Black Star will be released May 16.

The Unbound Project Vol. 1 features original music by conscious underground hip-hoppers and poets, including producer Hi-Tek, West Coast lyricist Aceyalone,

COLOR="#003163">Rakaa-Iriscience of Dilated Peoples, Brooklyn-based Medina Green and spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker — who was featured on the Roots' 1999 album Things Fall Apart.

CD and vinyl versions will be accompanied by a 30-page essay about the criminal justice system and its effect on the hip-hop community. Fifty percent of the project's proceeds will go toward Abu-Jamal's defense fund, organizers said.

"It's most appropriate as a hip-hop record because it's really the

hip-hop generation that's suffering by the legislature and the misrepresentation by the media," said Frank Sosa, a promoter of politically active hip-hop events in Los Angeles who, with Chris Vargas and Bill Baren, put together the project.

Beyond being a statement on perceived criminal injustice, Sosa said The Unbound Project Vol. 1 is a concept album based on Abu-Jamal's writings. "I thought it would do Mumia's cause more justice if we were to highlight the things that Mumia highlights [in his writing]," he said. "So each artist that participated was asked to record a song based around the idea of freedom."

The first single, "Mumia 911" (RealAudio excerpt), by the Unbound Allstars, was released late last year and garnered the project national attention. The single featured Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, Dead Prez, Public Enemy's Chuck D, Afu Ra, Goldii Lokks, Pharoahe Monch and Aceyalone. The next single, by Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek (known as Reflection Eternal) will be "The Human Element" (RealAudio excerpt).

The Unbound Project Vol. 1 represents the creative collaboration among hip-hop artists who share strong feelings on the subject of

Abu-Jamal and his case. Sosa said the convicted murderer's controversial writings had ratcheted the public's concern and the government's discomfort about criminal-justice system issues.

Abu-Jamal has been on death row in Waynesburg, Pa., since he was convicted of the Dec. 9, 1981, murder of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal has proclaimed his innocence all along, and his supporters claim he was set up because of his work as a political commentator and his involvement with the Black Panther Party, a

black-activist organization.

Abu-Jamal has exhausted his state appeals and has been unsuccessful in appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court for a new trial. Michael Lutz, president of the Fraternal Order of Police's Pennsylvania Lodge, announced a general boycott of Abu-Jamal supporters last August. He said then that he hoped the boycott would have an effect on artists such as Rage Against the Machine, who have long supported the death-row inmate. "I hope it does affect them in some way," Lutz said, "or at least get them to take time out to find the true facts of the case."

"If you look at Mumia's case — I feel that, and a lot of people feel that — the real reason why the government wants this person dead is not because of what may or may not have happened the night in question but because of what [he] has to say," Sosa said.

"He's totally outspoken about the criminal justice system and where it's going. ... That's what The Unbound Project is all about; it's to shed light on the criminal justice system. [Mumia] was merely an inspiration."