Worcester rapper Ghost in the Machine is a busy guy. His collaboration with local rapper Weapon E.S.P and New York producer Reckonize Real, “Savageland,” just came out in April, and now he's out already with a third collaboration with producer DJ Proof, “Heroes for Hire 3.” It's a testament to Ghost's work ethic and the prolific nature of the Worcester hip-hop scene, certainly, but it's also uncannily timed. The album was dropped May 15, a full 10 days before the slaying of George Floyd, which has sparked a nationwide firestorm over police brutality and institutional racism.


Those are the subjects at the album's core, and while the timing seems to be little more than serendipity, the truth is that it points to a larger, more tragic truth: These subjects never stop being timely. The recent protests are the largest we've seen in decades, but they're hardly the first. We have seen a constant trickle of stories of unarmed persons of color, largely black men, being slain, often at the hands of police. We see it so much that it often barely blips on the cultural radar. Indeed, even as we talk about Floyd's death, the May 27 slaying by police of Tony McDade, a black trans man in Florida, has barely made the news at all, and the March 13 slaying of Breonna Taylor by police – in her own home – has only gotten a little time in the spotlight.


Point being: This album was always going to be timely, and that's an absolutely horrific thought.


The album begins with a sort of slow deliberation on “Power, Pt. 2,” with Ghost intoning affirmations: “I've got power/You've got power.” There's a beat to let that thought sink in, before the pace escalates, the rhymes wrapping tight as the song unfolds. By the time the album moves onto the second song, “No Smoke,” it's barrelling forward at full force. “Sever the strings of Geppetto,” raps Ghost, “freedom still rings in the ghetto/in the minds of the youth and the poets/confined to the booth.” The rhymes are tight and the music has a slow-burn groove, and that might be enough to sustain the song, but then, something interesting happens: Ghost's raps give way to a sample from a 2009 speech from rapper Wise Intelligent, which breaks down the history of black uprisings since the '60s through the Rodney King riots. It could be merely didactic, but Proof''s music makes it work.


The album has numerous high points. “Juice” digs into the grind of hard work with a sultry beat that burns, and “Hannibal Barca” – named for the famed Carthaginian tactician – dives deep into African-American pride with swagger and force. But really, the apex of the album is “Geronimo,” inspired by Geronimo Pratt, an African-American Vietnam veteran and member of the Black Panthers who was convicted of murder. The conviction was overturned years later when it came to light that police had withheld information that exonerated him. We've been here before. There's always a knot of rage stoked by racism that emerges from time to time, and probably always will until we find some way to untangle centuries of damage. The weight of all that cultural detritus lands on the song “Numb,” featuring local rapper Fred Crespo. The exhaustion resonates throughout the song, but the song itself is not exhausting. Indeed, it's driven by an undertow of determination and hope.


There's no prescription here. Instead, Ghost counterpoints the politics and anger with moments of joy. “Too High,” with rapper Death Over Simplicity, and “Prays Together” and “Yesterday” all have elements of shaking one's self out of despair, and focusing on the things in life that make it worth living. It gives the album a bittersweet feel as it rolls to the end, but it also shows the humanity which pulses under the anger, and that is, ultimately, what shines through.