Machines That Make Civilizations Fun is Bigg Jus’ second completely solo effort since departing seminal underground rap collective Company Flow in the late 1990s, and it’s an album that took him years to make. The rapper spent that time in his own head, rebuilding the foundation of his musical knowledge from scratch while shutting out influences from the outside world. Obsessed with wealth disparity and exposing the truths behind international relations and monetary politics, Bigg Jus’ final product is a lyrical masterpiece that is part uplift narrative, part science fiction, and all diatribe.

A street kid by choice who came of age doing graffiti before joining Company Flow and revolutionizing underground rap in his twenties, Bigg Jus is simply incapable of being anything other than himself. Machines That Make Civilizations Fun is both abstract and iconoclastic, and stands on its own amongst the narcissism and escapism that pervades popular music in the rap and indie worlds of 2012. Bigg Jus remembers when rap was actually about something, and Machines That Make Civilizations Fun is for those who are hungry for music that aggressively addresses the problems of our declining culture. His music is as uncompromising as it is fiery. With the intensity of an apocalyptic preacher, his bleak, searing verses are so intricate that each stanza could provide a jumping off point for an afternoon spent chasing ideas across Wikipedia. America in 2012 is fucked, and Bigg Jus is here to ring the alarm.

As naturally as the pose comes now, he didn’t begin as a "message rapper." Born Justin Ingleton, he grew up around New York around the same time that Run DMC and Salt N Pepa were putting his neighborhood’s scene on the map. As a kid, he rechristened himself Lune TNS and tagged trains throughout the five burroughs. Though rap is his game now, Bigg Jus still holds onto the Lune TNS moniker and says that he occasionally hits the streets to paint. He can’t shake his fondness for the hip-hop heyday of his youth, a subject that was at the forefront of his work with Company Flow. In that crew, with fellow MC El-P and DJ Mr. Len, he mixed traditional hip-hopisms with science fiction. Company Flow aspired to bring hip-hop back to an idealized, pure, and anti-commercial form, and they wildly succeeded.

At the end of the Nineties, when he left Company Flow, purifying hip-hop seemed like the most important thing. Bigg Jus started a label, Sub Verse, devoted to promoting truly independent artists. Then, September 11 happened. The city of New York, which had raised him during his teenage years and taught him what rap was supposed to be, was transformed forever. Bigg Jus also experienced a transformation and felt compelled to turn in a radical new direction.

"That’s when the music switched," he says. "Because of 9/11, I started to be able to read between the lines, and reading between the lines gave me a new way to write." His solo debut, Black Mamba Serums, had been completed and readied for release by Sub Verse in September of 2001. He began to get the feeling, however, that "there was some type of impending something or other." Following his intuition, he pulled the plug on the record before it got to stores. When Ninja Tune wanted to release the album a few years later, he rewrote most of its songs from a new perspective. The resultant album, Black Mamba Serums v2.0, represents the beginning of an obsession that has only grown in the ensuing years.

"Machines That Make Civilization Fun rounds out the tenth anniversary of 9/11," says Jus, "Ten years of war, austerity measures, quantitative easing, and robberies." Bigg Jus’ lyrics question the official explanations of international events and attack doctrines coming from all ideological fronts. Our political leadership has changed since the attacks, but Bigg Jus is clear that his suspicions of systemic malfeasance have not subsided. On the track "Food For Thought (Shit Sandwiches)" he suggests that his perpetual war theory extends to the current occupant of the White House: "Left hand on the soft-kill / Right hand on the cannon / Cause after this audacity of hope / More fake disaster."

The production is weighty by design. Audiences have always responded best to Bigg Jus’ aggressive side, and he wanted to be sure to satisfy them. "It’s been a second since I put out an album," he says. "Usually people like the harder, more poignant stuff. That’s duly noted." These aggressive beats underlie his overarching message. Bigg Jus is a lyrical soldier in a battle of true class warfare between the downtrodden for whom he made his last LP, Poor People's Day and the "Fortune 500 fascists" ("Empire Is A Bitch (Fake Arab Spring Mix)") who abuse them with "the audacity of a pitbull fucking a hippopotamus" ("Black Roses").

Inspired in part by Company Flow, many of Bigg Jus’ peers in the underground scene of the 1990s were politically-inclined. Today, Top 40 schlock artists make ham-handed references to "the economy" and "hardship." Yet Bigg Jus is on a different level. From start to finish, Machines That Make Civilizations Fun is a relentless indictment of systems the rapper would like to overthrow. "Food For Thought (Shit Sandwiches)" begins with the following dictum: "Either you are the elite / Work for the elite / Or enemies of the elite."

Company Flow, 1997, NYC

Yet Bigg Jus isn’t merely in the business of drawing lines. "Freedom ain’t free," he raps in "Empire Is A Bitch (Fake Arab Spring Mix)," "and like herpes we come to spread that shit." Spreading freedom, indeed, is the closest thing that Jus has to a stated agenda. He uses political vocabulary on Machines That Make Civilizations Fun, even as he conveys the message that we need some sort of extra-political solution. "This method doesn’t work," he says, describing modern American democracy, "so where do we go? I try to make sure that [on my albums] there are a couple of lines about where its supposed to go and what we can do." For Bigg Jus, the solution is radical: "We need our own version of an Arab Spring that’s not manufactured... Ultimately, the real shit is there. People will rally around it... the super-computers are even predicting that revolution will happen at some point in time."

On record, Jus comes across as a messianic figure shouting truth to blinded masses in need of awakening. In person, though, he’s surprisingly laid back. His calm demeanor belies the aggressive "Kingspitter" persona that he displays so readily on the mic. And while his rhymes are focused on deep issues like greed, corruption, and social change, he stresses that his music comes from a place of celebration, not contempt. "It puts a smile on my face," he says. "I don’t sit in a room doing heavy stuff grimmacing and being angry."

He’s been pursuing the heavy stuff ever since he was a child. Orphaned at age four, he ran away from foster care several times in early adolescence. "I’m a ward of the state," he told NPR’s Day to Day in 2006, "and I tried to avoid that by living on the streets of New York, but I was doing it at an impossibly young age." Bigg Jus credits his love of graffiti and b-boy culture with keeping him out of trouble as crack ripped through his neighborhood in the Eighties. It was on the trains that he learned how to deal with "the reality of life, which smacks you on the face when you’re a homeless twelve year old."

"It got hectic," he says now. "I was underage and I didn’t have a good home. I was kicked out, so I had truancy officers and social workers after me." Eventually, he caused the state so much trouble that he was ordered by a court to enroll in military school. Though he was stuck there between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, the academy didn’t change Bigg Jus into a conformist. Instead, it kindled his already-growing disdain for authority.

Yearbook Photo: "Military school was a gulag."

In the words of NPR’s Christopher Johnson, "growing up on the streets gave Jus a rugged and immutable self determination." After military school, he was firm in his desire to be self-reliant and free. Thus, the DIY ethos was at the heart of his music from his early years with Company Flow, a crew whose credo was to be "Independent as Fuck." Bigg Jus’ last release, 2006’s Poor People’s Day, was a collaboration with DJ Gman. While that album was a mid-2000s high point for literate hip-hop, Bigg Jus was happy to be in the producer’s chair for Machines that Make Civilizations Fun. Because he had complete control over it, this album is the true sequel to Black Mamba Serums.

Yet Bigg Jus is not satisfied with simply doing things himself -- he’s only excited if he’s also doing something interesting. In conversation, Jus reduces his artistic goals to a single statement -- "I like to trailblaze." To create Machines That Make Civilization Fun, "trailblazing" meant learning new recording software, inventing new cadences, and furiously revising rhymes.

Trailblazing can be both challenging and time-intensive. As he worked on the album, he took creative isolationism to an extreme by avoiding new music entirely. He camped out in Los Angeles, pushing deadlines with his relentless perfectionism. He was also impacted by world events and changes in the socio-political atmosphere, and these kept Bigg Jus going back to the studio to refine his lyrics. When the Occupy movement began in September, he had to craft a new verse to capitalize on its message and adapt it to into a militaristic call to arms: "Occupy Oakland / Occupy Washington / Occupy Langley / Occupy all dem" (Redemption Sound Dub). He also taught himself how to use all new equipment to make this album, and the organic learning process he used to understand hardware and software has led him to break as many musical rules as lyrical ones. His beats move back and forth between consonance and dissonance, rhythm and arrhythmia, pushing and pulling his words in different directions.

Atop his dark and stuttering instrumentals, Bigg Jus is a vocal trailblazer. "I don’t want to have the same flow in every song," he contends, "on every album, I try to come up with new cadences." He guesses that Machines That Make Civilizations Fun has "four or five" new cadences, and that may be an underestimate. A similar impulse impacts his verbosity: "I’m completely wrapped up in the phonetic sounds of words -- every album, in every song, I try to say at least one word ain’t nobody said before." Throughout the record, Bigg Jus is acrobatic in his handling of complicated stanzas -- the truly impressive thing is that he’s able to make his thoughtful delivery seem effortless. On paper, his words are prose-like. Out of his mouth, they dance like poetry.

To go with his lyrics, he’s now delving into the world of cinemetography. "I love video and photography as much as I love music," he explains. On a recent trip to New York, he busied himself by filming all over the place and trying to capture the character of his old neighborhood. As Bigg Jus moves forward, he hopes to shoot videos for the tracks on Machines That Make Civilization Fun and to concurrently capture images as he records new songs, using the films to make his verbal pictures even more concrete. "My lyrics are visual," he says. "I need to match that."

Bigg Jus will certainly find more places to shoot footage next year while he tours in support of his new album. He’s excited to bring Machines That Make Civilizations Fun to the masses, especially because new technology allows him to do more with his live performances than he’s been able to in the past. He explains: "Standing there rapping - 14,15,16 songs in a row 14,15,16 years in - not quite fun. Now, I can play."

In addition to his own touring schedule, he is making plans with a revitalized Company Flow. The group reunited earlier this year at the behest of Portishead, who invited the group to join them at an All Tomorrow’s Parties event in London. Having nailed that show and another one at Santo’s Party House in New York, the trio was booked for the 2012 Coachella festival and has begun to improvise new material in rehearsal. Bigg Jus even collaborated with El-P this summer for a remix of the first single from Machines that Make Civilizations Fun, "Black Roses." The remix marks the first time the two of them have worked together on a recording since the 1990s.

Bigg Jus & El-P, Company Flow Reunion Show

Company Flow’s fans have long been clamoring for a new album, and Jus has said in several interviews that he’d love to make one. Now, that seems like a distinct possibility. "[When we were younger], we struggled to make [the sounds we wanted]," he says. Today, all three men have the benefits of age and experience. "I can hear the sound that’s different than my sound and different than El-P’s sound and Len’s sound," Jus says. "I can hear how they all come together and how that’s it’s unlike anything that pretty much anyone’s doing right now. It’s all about pushing boundaries."

As welcome as a new Company Flow record would be, however, Jus isn’t waiting to push boundaries. The rapper on Machines That Make Civilizations Fun is irreverent and untethered, and the album stands nearly alone on the contemporary hip-hop landscape. More than a decade and a half into his career, Jus chalks up his success to the fact that he does everything his own way. "I have no ceiling," he says. "I never feel that I’m stuck, that my work will be shelved, or that I can’t put out a record when I want to put out a record."

Mush Records