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Standout Track: No. 8, “Hustler’s Boogie,” a bleak meditation on a bleak period in D.C. history: the drug wars of the 1980s. The track focuses on the story of notorious D.C. drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III, opening and closing with clips of news reports from his 1990 trial, which put him away for life. The track gurgles with anxious synths and sports an old-school beat—with its dark sound and easy flow, “Huster’s Boogie” could be a D.C.-themed version of the Roots’ “Rising Down.”
Musical Motivation: “We are huge fans of The Wire,” says Rashad Dobbins, one of the Cornel West Theory’s MCs. “We wanted to make a song about a D.C. drug story, but in a way that didn’t glorify it,” the Riggs Park native says. To wit, there’s nothing romantic in its downcast verses. Take the grim, rhythmic poetry from its conclusion: “Dope boys, track stars, hustlers, bosses/Cadillacs don’t fit in coffins/Tombstones, a trophy for ballin’/Telephone love, death is calling.”
Teacher’s Perk: With its creative but unbusy arrangements and political themes, the band could be said to have pedagogic aims. It even convinced its namesake, Princeton scholar and occasional spoken-word performer Cornel West, to appear on its 2009 album Second Rome. “Hustler’s Boogie” comes from the band’s new mixtape, In Her Hands: Embryo Capital Vol. 1. But Dobbins says his music isn’t quite a vehicle for teaching. “My whole thing is reflection, inspire to go deeper,” Dobbins says. “We’re not trying to educate [listeners], but inspire them.”
The Cornel West Theory performs with Diamond District, Damu the Fudgemunk, and DTMD Saturday 9 p.m. at the Black Cat. $12.