Testament: Kiss Me through the Phone

I first saw Testament perform in 2007, following a small-scale riot in Athens, Ohio. It was exciting to see an MC delivering an explicitly anarchist message with the skills and charisma it takes to make real hip hop, rather than the well-intentioned imitation one sometimes finds in politicized circles.

Testament has since released a handful of recordings, some of which are freely available for downloading. His original work, such as “Get Into It” with Illogik as Test Their Logik, shows great promise, but thus far my favorite track is his interpretation of pop radio hit “Kiss Me Thru The Phone.”

Testament does with this song what we did with pay phones and the Situationists did with comic strips. Just as a minor billboard alteration can expose the sinister truths concealed in an advertisement, Testament’s cover version reveals the story latent within the original. No one can relate to the chorus more intensely than those separated from their lovers by prison walls—and with 2.3 million behind bars in the US, that may help to explain the song’s popularity.

Testament raises this plotline to the surface:

I wanna see you
but all I can do is listen
to your voice on this phone
we’re digitally kissin
through telephone wires
til they let me outta prison

This brings out all the longing and sadness in the original, formerly buried beneath a thick layer of pop glitz. It’s surprising how much feeling this trite, throwaway jingle can convey when the lyrics deal with something real. Like every other product of industrial capitalist society, radio hits are produced from the toil and tribulation of thousands never credited; superficial and disposable, they’re designed to mask the coercive social relations behind them. But the ghost of all the humanity squandered to produce them lingers somewhere within, and all it takes to summon it is to draw back the curtain.

Drawing it back, Testamant casts light on a civilization in which life at every level of society increasingly resembles imprisonment. The backstory of “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” is that most of us are separated from our loved ones to such an extent that even our fantasies and love songs include this distance. Our friends and families are scattered across the continent by the enforced transience of the job market; our lovers are gone at school or work, even when we are not; we hardly even get to raise our own children. The shelves stocked with energy drinks at every gas station attest to the unsustainable pace of modern life: scrambling to keep up forces us beyond the limits imposed by our own bodies, without ever delivering the promised pleasure and belonging. How many people have absentmindedly nodded along to the original version of this song in semi cabs, in Greyhound buses, in canneries and warehouses, in barracks in Iraq? How many use mp3 players and Ipods as surrogates when they cannot even call their loved ones, or have none to call?

In the music video produced by Interscope, romance mediated by commodities gives way to a romanticized relationship to commodities themselves: the singer’s lover is shown listening to his recordings in place of talking with him, and the love song becomes a product-placement ad for the latest in cellular technology. The more impositions we accept on our lives, the more false substitutes we settle for in place of intimacy, the further removed we become from each other and the possibility of self-determination. The function of pop music is to channel real longing into emotional release without raising the question of where that longing comes from. Yet all it takes to render this longing dangerous again is to show it in its true context, as Testament has done here.

Testament will be performing with From the Depths at a few shows on their upcoming tour through the eastern half of North America.

This review is dedicated to a few of our many comrades currently serving or threatened with time behind bars:

Political prisoner Jeffrey Luers
Environmental activist Marie Mason
Imprisoned organizer Daniel McGowan
Victim of FBI entrapment Eric McDavid
Grand Jury resister Carrie Feldman

12 thoughts on “Testament: Kiss Me through the Phone

  1. this shit is corny yall. anarchists rappin… eh stick to that hardcore or what ever

  2. so wat if anarchists rappin, there is no limit to wat we all can do through music..dont b a jackass here, dude

  3. For supporters of Eric McDavid, I would recommend listening to “Anna is a Stool Pigeon” by Tom Gabel (front man of against me). The entire album is anarchist driven, it’s a great listen. The track can be listened to for free at his myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/tomgabelmusic

  4. I don’t think that the real issue here is whether or not a rapper can have anarchist lyrics. To make such a claim is at it’s core to conform, since almost by definition the uncommonness of such a political statement in hip-hop is anarchy. To take a style of music and use it in a way that surprises listeners should be encouraged and not mocked or condescended to.
    At the same time I think the effectiveness of the lyrics is handicapped by the fact that the music itself doesn’t really appeal to the people at which the lyrics are aimed. I myself had not idea there was any appeal to anarchy at all in the song because I can’t stand to listen to it! So while I appreciate the originality, I can’t really bring myself to support it from a musician’s standpoint.

  5. jeez, sorry he didn’t have your exact music preferences in mind Mackenzie. that’s the real problem with political hip hop, is they didn’t call you up to ask what kinda music you like. can’t get a message through if YOU can’t listen to it.

  6. I wasn’t saying that at all.
    I was just pointing out that the style of music is surprising considering the message. The song has a more produced and commercialized sound, and is quite a bit different than the rawer sounding music that one would expect to have lyrics with anarchist connotation. You have to admit that most music that displays this type of sound is quite the opposite.Even if I don’t care for it personally, that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid form of expression, and I’m not trying to undermine its merit.

  7. Mackenzie said: “At the same time I think the effectiveness of the lyrics is handicapped by the fact that the music itself doesn’t really appeal to the people at which the lyrics are aimed.”

    How do you know who the lyrics are aimed towards? I loved this music, other people I showed it to loved it. I’m an anarchist. How the hell is it handicapped?

    Mackenzie said: “by definition the uncommonness of such a political statement in hip hop is anarchy”

    …. ?

  8. I think I understand where Mackenzie is coming from. If i were to here one of these songs without previous knowledge of their content, i would have no idea the were anarchistic until i really listened to the lyrics. As for the appeal of such a sound to the target audience, I’m not sure how to comment. I listen to a vast collections of musical styles so i guess it would depend on ones preference, if you didn’t like hip hop you probably wouldn’t listen to the song. But extending the message of anarchy into other genres of music is a positive thing, allowing others who may not come in contact with it to be introduced.

  9. I just saw Testament and Illogic on Buy Nothing Day and we had the whole venue twisted for “This is why I’m Not, This is why, this is why this is why I’m Not, Im not gonna buy, im not gonna shop, this is why this is why thisis why Im not” haha good times. And after holdin it down we brought them to an after party were some kids flew a sign to buy a keg and they jovially remarked “In Canada we don’t drink kegs and have gun racks like this, you kids are wild.” Those kids. True F*cking Story, neverending true story. Party-Animal Liberat*on Front, caw caw.

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