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Nakedness, for dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, is something akin to a state of absolute truth. ‘Dis is me, revolting in front of you / I’m not much but I give a damn,’ he chants on the epic poem that gives this album, the first one to move away from his habitual reggae backbeats, its title.

To this end, Zephaniah has assembled a formidable array of musical collaborators to put their own rhythms to his words. Any album that brings together tabla player Aref Durvesh, Rick Smith, from the Underworld dance duo, and the great reggae bass player Dennis Bovell, deserves consideration, especially when it’s been knitted together by drummer and programmer Trevor Morais. The result is an album where words and music assume a perfect fit: ‘Naked’ is all electro, scattering beats; ‘Uptown Downtown’ is powered by a well-aimed staccato rhythm; while (for perversity’s sake) ‘Slowmotion’ has an intense, trancey feel – maybe its own plea that we take life at a different pace.

Zephaniah’s words are no less hard hitting. Well known for his promotion of justice and tolerance, he unleashes a righteous anger in ‘Rong Radio’ which attacks media disinformation and its ultimate inhumanity.

But he’s too smart to be seduced by the eternal rebel pose. Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Responsible’, a poem that tackles sexism, black history and gangster attitudes head on. And for those who need some help getting the message? Naked comes with 36 pages of lyrics, all illustrated by Banksy’s witty and subversive street art.

Benjamin Zephaniah: too smart to be seduced by the eternal rebel pose.

New Internationalist issue 379 magazine cover This article is from the June 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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