Well, I’ve had this album for about a month so I think I’ve lived with it enough to post a full review.
I bought it after seeing stuff about them in The Source. I was a wee bit wary cos there’s plenty of crews who pretend to conscious rap but very few who deliver.
Dead Prez do.
I’m gonna pepper this review with quotes because DP have come out with some of my favourite hip hop lyrics *ever*. I’ll do a track by track rundown:
Just over two minutes long. Starts with some spooky howling and then a speech about nasty stuff with knives and wolves. It most reminds me of Brand Nubian, round about ‘In God We Trust’. A good atmospheric opener.
2. I’m A African
What can I say? Nearly every bloody lyric is pure poetry and power – there’s no fat to trim here at all. This track made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up exactly the same as when I first heard ‘Fuck Tha Police’ or ‘Fight The Power.’ Lyrics like:
“Bounce to this socialist movement – my environment made me the nigger I am”
And rightly, they say they’re:
“Somewhere between NWA and PE”
The track expounds Afrocentric politics with a conciseness and anger I haven’t heard in years. They even drop in a Stetsasonic reference for those who’ll remember.
3. ‘They’ Schools
“I went to school with some redneck crackers, right about the time Third Bass dropped the ‘Cactus’ (album).” Again, it’s straight in-your-face analysis. Pointing out just how the education system is loaded against black kids *but* also that self-education is therefore the key. That’s the difference – a lot of rappers might dismiss schooling but DP seem indignant at being denied an equal opportunity.
This is the single that you may have heard. A wobbly, jiggly bassline over a sparse rhythm and cutting lyrics concerning the biz. I quote:
“Nigger, don’t think these record deals gonna feed your seeds and pay your bills.”
This track most reminds me of TCQ’s ‘Showbusiness’ in that it’s trying to separate the industry from the culture.
5. Police State
A very down and dirgey backing supports more theorising, this time about the nature of modern nation states. The opening sample could have been lifted directly from Lenin’s ‘State & Revolution’ and when DP start rapping, it’s no less blistering:
“We sick of working for crumbs and filling up the prisons,
dying over money and relying on religion,
we do for self, like ants in a colony,
organise the wealth into a socialist economy
a way of life based on the common need”
I haven’t heard such focus in hip hop in a *long* time, even more so because, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t all seem to be NOI-oriented. Or any religion.
6. Behind Enemy Lines
A song for those locked up, either directly as political prisoners (Black Panthers and family) or as a result of a fundamentally fucked-up economic system.
A short track dedicated to something that’s definitely gonna annoy the FBI
8. Mind Sex
Mmmmm… this is the sauciest DP get and it’s a slow and slinky vibe. It’s sort of like the first Digable Planets album or perhaps Tribe’s ‘Electric Relaxation.’ It is cool to hear a hip hop song which is trying to do something different about sex but personally I think I prefer Big Pun’s blunter approach 🙂
9. We Want Freedom
A flutey sample leads into a harp arpeggio. DP ask, what are you willing to do to earn your freedom?
“What you gonna do to get free,
we need more than MCs,
we need Hueys, revolutionaries”
It’s probably one of the bleakest songs on the album because it envisions the breakup of society necessary to effect change.
10. Be Healthy
Based around a classical guitar riff, this is definitely another favourite of mine. DP get Masterchef on our asses and this song is their menu. Ahem,
“I don’t eat no meat, no dairy no sweets,
only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and wholewheat”
It’s a great song precisely because it’s ground not that often covered. And it’s still ultimately a political song, about self-education and health education. One to play people if they moan that hip hop is just about guns and bitches.
Another short (1.37) one basically about… discipline and organising your life. Reminds me a bit of a Sesame Street song which is a compliment.
This is probably one of my least favourite tracks but on this album, which means it would be the standout track on most hip hop albums. It’s trying to link too many things (mental states, organisation, liberation) and I don’t think it quite comes off. But again, this is only compared with how good the rest of the album is. There’s a crazy chugging rock guitar that comes in near the end.
Sort of DP’s version of Cube’s ‘Good Day.’ All the shit that makes for a good day, all the shit that’s worth having and real, unlike the distractions we’re pushed towards by society. Very chilled and hard to imagine being made by the same people who wrote ‘I’m A African.’
14. Animal In Man
If Angela Davies had written ‘Animal Farm’ this is how it would have come out. A great, almost military backing coupled with a warning about Stalinism. Again, not that common in contemporary hip hop.
15. You’ll Find A Way
A lovely instrumental. A muted trumpet (or trombone?) wails over minimal piano and drums. Wouldn’t be out of place on an Air album.
16. It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop
Partially a reprise of track 4 but also more. Faster, more cynical and meaner. More acoustic than wibbly basssynth.
17. Bonus Track 1
“You can’t fool all the people all the time but if you fool the right ones, the rest will fall in line.” I’d guess this track is called ‘Telling Lies.’ Covers a whole lot of ground from multinational corporations to the opiate of religion. Distrust everything you know.
18. Bonus Track 2
This is the only tracking with a Wu-ish backing, making good use of the Les Dawson riff. It’s more claustrophobic and probably the most beat-down track.
Well, if you’ve made it to here, you can see that I like this album 🙂 If you like PE, NWA, The Roots, BDP, KRS1, Black Eyed Peas, Ice Cube, Channel Live, Gang Starr, Brand Nubian or the Last Poets, buy this album. You’re gonna love it. Don’t buy it if you don’t like revolutionary polemics or dancing round your front room like a mad bastard.