Tag Archives: Public Enemy

Yo! Bum Rush The Show At 30: Public Enemy #1!

Public Enemy have been this largely funk/soul/disco/jazz themed blog’s main reference point when it comes to hip-hop. Of course, that’s largely because of my long history with the band. Not to mention them being one of a handful of key topics between myself and blog consultant Henrique Hopkins. As much as black American music is always a forward thinking and moving creative endeavor, its might be fitting seven months after its official anniversary to explore three decades of American music dealing with the presence of Public Enemy’s debut album Yo! Bum Rush The Show.


Being someone born very directly into the 80’s? My perception of hip-hop (or rap as I’d be inclined to call it at the time) is that there were at least two evolutionary stages in the music before the middle of the decade. There was the late 70’s funk/disco oriented of Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow. And than you had the synth-electro oriented approach of Afrikka Bambaatta’s & The Soul Sonic Force. While Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five straddled both approaches.

Than along came Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin’s Def Jam. And the world was introduced to the likes of Run DMC, LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys. Somewhere in that mix? Rap that was overtly sociopolitical hadn’t been greatly represented since the Furious Five’s The Message. Than out of NYC and onto Def Jam came Public Enemy,a hip-hop collective led by turntablist Terminator X and MC’s Flava Flav and group leader Chuck D.

“You’re Gonna Get Yours” starts out the album with a grooving,bass/guitar riff led jam. The song I find most fascinating here is “Sophisticated Bitch”. It is a slow burning groove telling the story of a lady unknowingly prostituting herself-set to the funky rock-guitar riffing solos of Defunkt’s/Black Rock Coalition’s Vernon Reid re-creating the bass riff from Heatwave’s hit “The Groove Line”. “Timebomb” is another extremely hard grooving number.

Interestingly enough,numbers such as “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”,”Too Much Posse”, “Rightstarter”,”Public Enemy#1″,”MPE”,the title song,”Raise The Roof”,”Megablast” and “Terminator X Speaks With His Hands” are all much more in the stripped down,808 drum machine led hip-hop vein Def Jam was championing at the time. What really bought Public Enemy out into the fore was their authoritative rap delivery on the part of everyone,as well as the more aggressive stance of the sound. Which brings me to the main distinctive quality PE had right from the start.

Throughout this album? Chuck D and company were beginning to take a sociopolitical stance that was a bit more direct and specific than anyone in hip-hop had so far. These raps are less narrative stories to illustrate a certain theme. But are more declarations of their motivations. Very much a thematic disciple of Black Power icons such as Malcolm X,Huey Newton and especially musical icon James Brown,Chuck D makes it clear he wants to bring that sense of black empowerment into his type of hip-hop.

On this album? It came off as somewhat implied message wise because PE hadn’t fully developed their distinct musical sound when they were making this album. In a sense because of that? It might be the most important album they made,because it showcased the embryo of a sound that,without the public being fully aware of it coming perhaps,was about to be unleashed by Public Enemy onto the world of hip-hop and music in general.


One of the major points brought up after this Amazon.com review I did four years ago, again with Henrique, was Yo! Bum Rush The Show‘s relationship with the intentions of the Def Jam label’s founders. This occurred in the mid 1980’s, when American pop music charts and MTV were really pushing white rock artists/bands over any music that came from black American culture. That means that, especially with rap/rock crossover’s such as the Beastie Boys and Run DMC’s duet with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way”, that Russell and Rick desired Def Jam’s style of hip-hop to appeal to a young rock audience.

Public Enemy really changed that perception of Def Jam releases. As with any artist in any genre, their debut did the need for more growth. And as most PE admirers would know, this growth occurred very quickly. The group were at this time a five piece band that included live bass/guitar as well as DJ Terminator X. And also a strong rebirth of the black American political consciousness of the 1960’s that asked black people to take care of themselves as people. This pro black,anti self destruction message illustrated everything that has come to represent Public Enemy in the last 30 years.

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Looking Back at Public Enemy’s Underrated New Whirl Odor

new-whirl-odor-cover

Next Friday marks the 30th anniversary of Yo! Bum Rush the Show, the debut album by legendary political hip-hop crew Public Enemy. I have a post planned for both Andresmusictalk and my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, to mark the occasion; but in the meantime, I thought I’d dig up a post I wrote back in 2005 about their surprisingly good album from that year, New Whirl Odor. As I note below, 2005 was at least 10 years past what anyone would consider P.E.’s “prime”; but the fact that it still turned out to be pretty great is a testament to their continued vitality and relevance. Here’s hoping they can continue to surprise us in the next 30 years.

Public Enemy frontman Chuck D is 56 years old. That’s only two years younger than my father… my father, whose favorite band is the Traveling Wilburys. This, of course, brings up all the usual questions about relevance and staying power: questions that are perhaps even more potent when applied to a rap group who made their reputation as a thoroughly of-the-moment firebrand “CNN of the black community.” But listening to New Whirl Odor–Public Enemy’s ninth album in their almost-30-year career–and reading some of the early press reactions, I’m a lot more interested in a different question: namely, when are we going to stop demanding another Nation of Millions from Public Enemy?

After all, it’s more than evident that Chuck and company couldn’t care less about recapturing their “golden era”: if Odor is stuck in any time period, it isn’t the late ’80s or even the early ’90s, but 1994, the year PE released their hugely misunderstood fifth album, Muse Sick-N-Our Mess Age. From the punning title and hand-drawn cover art to the Bomb Squad-free, live-instrumentation arrangements, Odor is a sister album of sorts to Muse Sick–and a worthy follow-up at that. But just like that earlier album, it’s unlikely that anyone will be listening until years down the line. Put simply, this was–and remains–a different group altogether from the one that recorded “Fight the Power,” “Bring the Noise,” and “Rebel Without a Pause.” The sound is mellower, atmospheric, almost minimalist; nothing like the dense sonic barrage that peaked on 1990′s Fear of a Black Planet. There’s nothing here with quite the instantaneous impact of, say, “You’re Gonna Get Yours.” In fact, unlike that seminal 1987 cut, which literally revved to life in a blur of gunning engine and squealing tires, New Whirl Odor’s title track drops in with an insistent, low-in-the-mix beat and almost subliminal swirling keyboards. Is it classic P.E.? Hardly; no song operating on wordplay that terrible ought to be considered “classic” anything. But excitement? Is any Public Enemy track not exciting?

 

What follows, I’m happy to say, is even better. “Bring That Beat Back” is the kind of thing the S1Ws were born to step to: the sound of mainstream hip-hop being marched to the gallows. “Preachin’ to the Quiet” blends live guitar with a laid-back jazz-funk loop and some truly frenetic scratching. And “MKLVFKWR” just plain kicks ass, as musically engaging as “Welcome to the Terrordome” with none of the overly defensive, anti-Semitic bravado. The Enemy is in fine form throughout: Chuck’s voice is as hefty of timbre as ever, but delivered with a restraint that becomes him, high on confidence and only a little lower on boom. Even Professor Griff takes the mic to great effect on tracks like the ambient, reggae-flavored “Revolution” and the tense, jerky “Y’all Don’t Know.” Flav, perhaps for the best, is kept largely out of the spotlight, but provides color and support with his usual panache.

Of course there are a few missteps. “66.6 Strikes Again” needlessly rehashes the cut-and-paste radio skit of Black Planet with diminishing returns, while the abysmal “What a Fool Believes” is not only the worst Public Enemy song I’ve ever heard, but one of the worst rap songs–and probably up there on the list of worst songs in general. Harsh words, I know, but to Public Enemy’s credit, New Whirl Odor’s highs far outnumber its lows… and even the lows speak to this group’s continuing vitality, their willingness to take risks. Closing track “Superman is Black in the Building” (above) stands as a testament to this: nearly twelve minutes long and not a second wasted, it’s at once an epic recap of everything that continues to make Public Enemy great, and a bold excursion into new heights of jazz-flavored funk and soul. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think twice about writing off these hip-hop elder statesmen, even if their “glory days” have long past. Because like it or not, Public Enemy doesn’t need to make another Nation of Millions. They’ve already made their first New Whirl Odor, and that’s plenty good enough.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Say It Loud,I’m Black And I’m Proud” by Chuck D and Kyle ICE Jason

Carlton Douglas Ridenhour,better known as Public Enemy’s main emcee Chuck D,has long been part of my collective consciousness. Suppose it started when a friend my father’s came him his cassette copy of PE’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. It wasn’t something I was encouraged to listen to at 9 years old. But a little over a decade later,I checked it out on CD myself. And onward through my conversations with this blogs co-founder and friend Henrique Hopkins,Public Enemy/Chuck D have been a consistent conversational fixture in terms of hip-hop keeping the funk alive and kicking.

During Public Enemy’s nearly 30 years of existence,Chuck D has only recorded two proper solo albums. He’s preferred to focus his energies as an individual on activism and public lecturing about important matters effecting the black American community. So its been good to have PE be his chief musical focus for that message,while he does more physical work through his political activism. Having based his entire musical career on his deep love of James Brown’s funk in particular,its more than fitting that one of the songs on his second solo album The Black In Man from 2014 is a version of JB’s “Say It Loud”.

For the most part,the song is built on Chuck’s live band playing the song very close to the way James Brown and the JB’s had done it. The drums and horns start out the song before the bass/guitar interaction comes in. The chicken scratch guitar on this version is not mixed quite as high as Jimmy Nolan’s was on the original. But the round bass line is left almost completely intact. Chuck adds some more rap style vocal accents and meter to his vocal. On the bridge however,some heavy scratching changes over to Kyle Jason’s conscious rap that goes right with the theme of the song before it comes to an abrupt stop.

One of the themes of Chuck D’s music throughout his career has been the kind of thematic power different songs can have. He has often stated this about his critiques on hip-hop-that while some of the more commercially successfully music of the genre has importance as aural escapism,its vital that the potential for hip-hop to transmit positive messages of self improvement to black America needs to be better realized. In doing “Say It Loud”,Chuck brings out that the original song actually WAS hip-hop along with that message-with it’s rhythmically rapped lyrics and message. So it works on both levels.

 

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Filed under 2014, black power, chicken scratch guitar, Chuck D, conscious rap, drums, Funk Bass, hip-hop funk, horns, James Brown, Kyle Jason, Public Enemy, rap, scratching

People Music: The Soulful Evolution Of Sound For African America

People Music is a term Henrique and myself often use to describe message songs recorded during the soul/funk generational cycle-specifically by black artists. Political and creative liberation was a key factor in this too. It was my father,however who inspired me to write this by asking me what the most significant song was during the 50’s and 60’s civil rights movement. The most obvious choice for that was “People Get Ready” by The Impressions. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Curtis Mayfield was an early champion for black musicians to have creative and business control of their art. And this 1965 ballad became a huge anthem for the movement as a whole.

As the 60’s progressed,the civil rights movement seeking racial equality evolved into a concept that assumed equality of person. Especially the idea that Afrocentric qualities were beautiful and must be appreciated as such. This became known as the black power movement. The completely rhythm based genre of funk developed during this time as well. As Henrique pointed out,funk continued to be the soundtrack to the black power movement well into the 1970’s. James Brown,who laid the foundation for funk, also recorded the genres earliest and most enduring anthem for racial empowerment entitled “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)”.

The 70’s funk era was chocked full of message songs. All of them reflected ideas that derived from the NOI and Black Panther Party from the mid/late 60’s that black American’s required a more positive understanding of themselves and their futures. 1974 was a year that dashed a lot of the 60’s hopes in general-especially for black Americans. Still funk and it’s tributaries through jazz,soul and rock music was at it’s strongest point. Even during the post Watergate recession. The poet/singer Gil Scott Heron,who five years earlier had given us the black power anthem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” offered up this 1974 song in reflection of a potent present but less certain tomorrow.

Hip-hop’s presence as a commercially successful entity wasn’t yet four years old when The Furious Five released what is very likely the beginning of what is known today as conscious rap. Musically based in the synthesizer based electro funk of the period,this song found Grandmaster Melle Mel dealing directly with the state of affairs of urban black America during the early years of the Reagan administration. The song takes the futuristic sounding electronic grooves and mixes in tales of urban decay and neglect. Of particular note is Melle Mel stating “don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/it’s like a jungle sometimes/it’s a wonder how I keep from going under”.

Though theoretically released at the end of the previous decade,Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” did some very significant things for black message songs at the head start of the 1990’s. It established hip-hop as a major archival medium for funk,in particular James Brown’s,through the use of electronic sampling. Not only that but the realization Chuck D and company had that “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp” showcased an empowering message for black Generation Xers as to just how much misrepresentation black American’s had to deal with over the centuries. And also by offering them a direct call to get involved and “fight the powers that be”.

Message songs within the black community seemed to disappear (or go totally underground) during the post 9/11 years. They were replaced by either reactionary (and often racist) patriotic anthems or simply musical silence. Suddenly a couple of years ago,longtime hip-hop/soul producer and singer Pharrell Williams emerged with “Happy”. Musically it hearkened back to the stripped down soul jazz trio sound of the mid 60’s. While it’s message was very all encompassing-asking the listener to “clap your hands if you feel that happiness is the truth”,it did open the door for black American artists to deliver new political anthems in music that were even more direct.

As I write this article,Beyonce’s performance of her newest song “Foundation” at the Superbowl,a strong pro black anthem, is generating similar controversies as were bought up during the height of the Black Panther Party and the black power movement in general. So the mid/late 2010’s are seeing black American message songs leap back into life in a huge way. Even though many people today are convinced no piece of music has any power to change the world,looking back on this history in the context of what is happening right now proves otherwise. That when it comes to being black in America, musical art is always at the forefront of the political.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2010's, Curtis Mayfield, Funk, Gil Scott Heron, Hip-Hop, James Brown, message music, message songs, Pharrell Willaims, Public Enemy, Sampling, Soul, soul jazz, The Furious Five, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove 11/21/2014 Andre’s Pick: “White Collar Crime” by Grace Jones

1986 was a crucially important year for funky music in the decade. The electro/synth based sound that tended to be the dominant force in the music within the past few years were giving way to a sound where electronic instruments were being used as accents to either a fully organic or organic sounding instrumental bed. This came to prominence with songs such as Prince’s “Kiss”,’Duran Duran’s “Notorious” and the  late and  great James Brown’s “Living In America”.  After leaving her original label Island and singing up with Manhattan  Records,she took a stab at co-production with Nile Rodgers for her first album on the label Inside Story. One of the songs on it that always caught my attention was “White Collar Crime”

The song begins with a slow,rolling shuffling beat that’s accompanied by a high pitched digital synthesizer playing a rather Asian style melodic phrase. Grace’s vocals than kick in with Nile’s guitar providing a subtle accent to the lyrics which,through a series of different stories,illustrates the songs chorus of “white collar crime/you don’t have to do time/blue collar crime/you do time every time”-sung to lower volume horn chart/guitar call-and-response playing opposite melodic statements. On the bridge of the song,the horns scale up as grace asks “do they get away with it” before the drum emulator shuffle is let to solo with the horns fanfaring back into the original phrase-after which Nile himself is heard saying “it’s all the same” as Grace responds “it’s a money/power game”

Showcasing Mac Gollehon,Steve Elson and Lenny Pickett on horns and co-writer/instrumentalist Bruce Woolley on synthesizers? This song has a similar quality to Grace’s “Slave To The Rhythm” in the sense that it is what they call a runaway groove. This amounts to a form of dance/funk which has a light and understated instrumental quality-rhythmic enough for a strutting model but un-intrusive enough where it doesn’t interrupt the focus. Of course Grace Jones,being a former model,is a natural to produce a song in such a way. Not only that,but the lightness of the production and arrangement take away from how hard hitting a groove this actually is. And it’s hard hitting in more ways than one.

By this time? The Reaganomics policy of trick down economics and the Wallstreet/Gordon Gekko attitude of “greed is good” was starting to contrast with how American society actually seemed to be functioning. Especially when it came to foreign policy and black Americans. Grace Jones,twice a foreigner as a Jamaican woman having began who career out of Europe,than crossed over in the US,really made her comment very strongly here. Using tabloid/yellow journalistic expletives such as “it’s outrageous nobody cared” and “shocking,it’s all so mocking”? Jones makes lyrical points that would be made in far more direct ways by hip-hoppers such as Public Enemy and NWA in a short two years time. And that was already being explored by hip-hop by KRS-1 and Eric B & Rakim. And that’s basically the treatment of a wealthier criminal versus that of a smaller time hustler. Indeed Grace Jones and Nile Rodgers provide a very stylish groove out of the money/power game.

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Filed under 1980's, Funk, Grace Jones, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Nile Rodgers, Prince, Public Enemy, Reaganomics

Anatomy of THE Groove 09/05/14 Rique’s Pick : “Give We the Pride” by Chuck D & Mavis Staples

For todays Friday Funk song, we again turn to Chuck D, aka Mista Chuck, this time alongside one of the great funky soul activist matriarch singers of the Civil Rights and Black Power era’s, Ms. Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers. “Give We the Pride” is both an evolution of the self respect messages of Public Enemy as well as a milenial take on classic Staple Singers songs such as “We the People”, “This World”, and “Respect Yourself”, uber funky cuts all that encouraged self love and respect as black people moved into the new vistas at the end of the era of Jim Crow. It represents a continuation of the growth and evolution of Chuck D and Public Enemy’s sound, as Chuck raps over a band playing a new, milenial version of the type of funky soul they grew to fame and acclaim by sampling. The circle is complete, as Chuck and co have gone from keeping the funk alive by sampling it to actually laying it down with a matriarch of the music like Ms. Mavis Staples.

The track is a funky soul, late 60s, early 70s groove. Full band sound, with rhythm section augmented by organ pads, and a horn section including the heavy horns like Baritone sax. The drum beat is very kinetic and hyperactive, and the groove is based on a syncopated riff played by the bass and guitar, the instruments hit that riff for two bars and then rest, with the organ chords then taking up the space they vacated. This creates a nice stop and start feeling to the groove. The drum fills in at various points, and they very interestingly drop the drums out of the track at certain intervals to highlight the vocals, both for Chuck’s rhymes and Mavis Staples singing.

Ms. Staples vocals are fine soul grit, and her message is one that encourages black people today, young people in particular, telling them, “we need pride to survive.” She has a line I really dig where she questions black people’s current materialistic consumption, saying we don’t need all of the expensive labels, because, “Instead of worrying bout the clothes and jewlery/that don’t do nothing for me/because we got the/best, most beautiful/brown or chocolate/cocoa butter skin/in the world.” Ms. Staples lyrics are phrased like a prayer for Pride for black people in this current time, and its much appreciated from a great artist such as her who’s led many times through her art, along with her family.

While Mama Mavis prays for the children and admonishes them, Uncle Chuck takes the adults to task for being corrupters of the young, saying “I’m seeing old folks applaud/nonsense we cannot afford.” One of Chuck’s pet peeves has been what he feels is a lack of leadership and admonishment coming from our current crop of black middle aged folks and elders.

The video itself is special as well. As Chuck D takes a trip to Chicago and records with Ms. Mavis in the Chess records studio. Chuck also shoots scenes near black cultural landmarks such as the Ebony/Jet publishing building. The use of Chicago in particular is signifigant, with the rampant kiling that has been going on in that great city recently. Chuck does his part in this song and video to address and better that situation as well by pointing out the positive aspects of black peoples history and struggle in a city like Chi-Town.

“Give We the Pride” finds Chuck D in a new format for his music and message, rhyming in front of a band as hes done for the last decade, alongside one of his inspirations. Mavis Staples and The Staple Singers are one of the main influences on Public Enemy’s music, one of the reasons those brothers couldn’t see things going in a bad direction and be silent. Chucks voice is even thicker, and he rhymes in longer, more complete thoughts and sentences as opposed to the old choppy approach. Its as if the longer phrases of the new music also inspire a longer sentence structure. Chuck ain’t trying to be cute here! And the song itself is a cool merger of two different generations of artistic activists, coming together and using their great voices to motivate the people in the new Milenium. “Let me walk with my head up high/let me know that I’m fly.”

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Blogging, Chuck D, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop

HAPPY 50’TH POST FOR ANDRE! Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8-3-2014: ‘Tribb To JB’ by Chuck D

ChuckD On the first day of this month marked the official eight month point where my friend Henrique and I formed this blog. It was also the same day as the Chadwick Boseman vehicle ‘Get On Up’,the long awaited biopic on James Brown was released in theaters nationwide. So this is my own 50th post on this blog. To celebrate,I am going to be focusing in on another important tribute…to a tribute as it were: Public Enemy frontman Chuck D’s posthumous 2007 musical dedication to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business!

On Christmas Day of 2006,what was traditionally a day for giving became a sad day when someone was taken from us. That was the day The Godfather,James Brown, died. On many levels? That was a sad day for me,and JB’s passing seemed prophetic. The days of getting up,getting into it and getting involved seemed over-replaced by this cold apathy. Way I looked at it? Things had nowhere to go but up. For the last decade of his life? It concerned me greatly that James Brown’s was beginning to earn the historical presidents of being yet another celebrity train wreck. What I horrid legacy to happen to this man who’d accomplished so much in his life,and positively influenced so many. Of course we also had Chuck D,whose very reason for starting Public Enemy had to do with James Brown’s music and aestetic influence. I could think of no one else better suited to musically pay tribute to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business that Chuck D. And in the year after JB’s passing? That little pipe dream circulating in my mind shortly after the event actually came true.

The album starts out with an intro that illustrates James Brown as forever being the Godfather the entire soul/funk/hip-hop spectrum before launching into an this explosively funky tract of songs in “Soul Power”,”Make It Funky”,”Get Up,Get Into It,Get Involved” and “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud”. Chuck raps in JB’s rhythmic style,accompanied by the James-soundalike vocalist Kyle Jason and the Banned. “Its A Man’s Man’s World” is a sleeker,somewhat more full Latin type take than James originally gave it with the Crew Grrl Order giving a female perspective on the current outlook of black femininity to support the lyrics. “King Heroin” is presented here first with the psychedelic jazz aspect of the original played up a bit more while “Talking Loud,Saying Nothing” expands on the original by making a blatant (and to my ears first in music at the time) condemnation on the George W. Bush-era military industrial political complex.

“Thank Mama For The Soul Sisters” breaks up Lynn Collins’ “It Takes To” with vocalist Ronnique Hawkins by expanding on it with classic hip-hop effects that stand somewhere between the original and its famous sampling by Rob Base in 1988. “Super Band” continues on the themes explored earlier in the album while “Funky President” again takes on George W.,this time more directly on his sociopolitical character in regard to foreign policy. The final song on the album is probably the most telling. Its a narration of “King Herion” by a girl named Autumn Asante,who according to the intro to the narration was thrown out of school for this supposed “racist recitation” after her uncle died of AIDS from heroin abuse. Hearing this coming from a young child,speaking with enormous authority,is moving almost beyond a response. Especially with her very witty and mature improvisation in saying of heroin it will “make a man forsake his own country and flag,not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

Hearing this album eight years after the fact,it really shines a vital spotlight on the societal abnormalities of America in the early aughts. Musically this album basically stays true to the flavor of JB’s originals,adding turntabling and light sampling for a synergy of James’ original vision,and how it impacted his creative descendants. And how James Brown’s sociopolitical vision,as expressed through his music and words,were more vital to this nations healing in the transition from the Bush to Obama national climates than perhaps had been thought. Since the time of this album? I have noticed a great deal more activism and outcry against social policies. More of an expression for justice and goodwill. Chuck D projects the aura of James Brown’s creative spirit here as something to be matyrized,but not pedestalized. Something to be embraced,yet not worshiped. James once said for us to “listen to the case”. But even Chuck D would likely tell you,from what he learned out of JB’s influence is that where one goes from there is up to them.

*For original review,click here to read

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Filed under 1970's, Chuck D, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Music, Music Reviewing, Public Enemy

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/26/2014: ‘The Evil Empire Of Everything’ by Public Enemy

Public Enemy

When I heard about Public Enemy making a comeback in 2012,I was very excited to say the least. On the other hand this comeback seemed delayed for release again and again. By the time it finally arrived it came in the form of two seperate albums. The first of them was Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp,followed by this one as the second. That first album did a superb job at realizing PE’s sociopolitical microscope in order to visually magnify a lot of the truths and contradictions we all see,but for the most part force ourselves to deny. And it did an excellent job,especially when it came to utilizing the musical medium of “the funk” to illustrate that almost like verbally expressed pages in a book. On the second part of the comeback,the same intention is there but the approach is slightly different.

Right off the bat,the musical difference expressed here is that this album focuses on music that is more epic and cinematic. The raps themselves are similarly expressed as very lyrical verses and choruses rather than James Brown style rapping/singing. On the title song,”Don’t Give Up The Fight”,”PEace”,”ResPEct/Spit Out Your Mind”,”Riotstared” and “ICEbreaker” the overall intent here focuses more on the human side of societies ills. This is especially evident when the funk is again on heavily expressed in the music on “Beyond Trayvon”,one of my favorites in it’s tales on how racial profiling isn’t just a problem in itself,but because it now has mainstream acceptability. A similar intent shows up on “Notice (Know This)”. “Everything” is probably my favorite cut,sounding like an early 60’s James Brown soul ballad with Gerald Albright on a sax solo guest spot with Chuck actually counting the blessings of his life,and they aren’t the ones one might expect either.

The album closes with two heavily funk oriented numbers on “Broke Diva”,which goes into the self victimization and manipulations of modern femininity and closes with “Say It Like It Really Is”,where Chuck states that while he hasn’t been consistently present with PE the way he was in the late 80’s/early 90’s that he still intends to keep his message of truth and honestly going forward and expressing it to the people. This along with the second PE release of this year it was paired up with make up for an excellent comeback. While I suppose this could’ve easily been released as a double album much in the same manner as OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below,I can certainly Chuck D’s viewpoint for the albums as two separate entities. Both make similar points. But they express them from somewhat reverse points of view both musically and thematically. This one of the two does so more with human drama. And that makes the topics PE express all the more relatable to those listening.

Originally Posted On November 12th,2012

*Here is a link to the original Amazon.com review

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Amazon.com, Chuck D, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Music Reviewing, Public Enemy

The Anatomy of THE Groove 07/25/14 Rique’s Pick : “Generation Wrekkked” by Chuck D

The strange thing about the “Golden Age” of Hip Hop was how quickly many of the writers and fans turned on its artists, even when, in the cases of MC’s like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, they were still relatively young. One of the most troubling things about it was not simply the fact that musical styles change and we all understand that, but also, the “Self Destruction” era thinking of an M.C making a difference was rejected as corny and out of touch by many in the hip hop journalist community. Nobody sufered from this more than the premier group of Hip Hop activism, Public Enemy. P.E’s 1993 album “Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age” was a direct sonic and lyrical antidote to Dr. Dre’s classic 1992 masterpiece “The Chronic”, basically, grown men who were not afraid to teach and preach and who’s music shook you out of your conformity (Get up offa that thang!) rather than lulled your head into a funky nod. The reviews for that album signaled the end of the classic P.E period. But it did not diminish Chuck D’s talent, voice, or his concern for his people and his art. On his 1996 solo album “The Autobiography of MistaChuck”, he struck back at the nihilism of the hip hop generation under him with “Generation Wrekkkked”, a play on the name of the generation everybody was talking about at the time, “Generation X.”

“Generation Wrekkked” features a totally different type of funk than the old P.E funk of the Bomb Squad. P.E created one of the signature funk sounds of the late ’80s and early ’90s alongside Prince, Go Go, Teddy Riley, Rick James, and Cameo. But the recognition of the gold mine in grooves of samples restricted that approach as the decade wore on. Chuck hooked up with a talented musician and singer named Kyle “Ice” Jason, and on this song, they deliver a straight up laid back funk track. The track is very simple and powerful, and it’s straight up funk. It features a classic, high toned rhythm guitar lick, sharp snare drum hits, powerful bass that does little but direct you to the power of the ONE, some sound effects, and Kyle “Ice” Jason crooning his Curtis Mayfield inspired falsetto. Over this funky soundscape, MistaChuck detailed his dissatisfaction with the Hip Hop culture of the times.

The phrase “If I can’t change the people around me/I change the people around me”, is a powerful one and one that has been a part of my thing ever since I heard it back in the ’90s. It’s also one that could be used in the “hood” or any negative environment in which ones associates and relatives stunt their growth.Chuck sounds defensive, this time not from “sucker critics”, but from Hip Hop fans and critics themselves, the very people he was doing it for! He sits “Johnny Cum Lately’s/Who didn’t recognize/how great and clever/some of these rhymes be”, on his knee for a rap lesson. Chuck’s lyrical skill had even been called to question by the new breed critics, seeing him as more motivator than talented M.C! Chuck tells them “Think quick/been flowing over those/mad vocabs and silly crabs/’for metaphors be passing your ass/like taxi cabs”- a clear riff on black mens difficulty catching cabs in New York City. Chuck basically structured his first verse as a battle rap, a scolding battle rap from a hip hop pioneer of whom “mad kids/never checking for what I said.”

Chuck’s next verse directly raises his issues with the hip hop music and culture that had then become the norm. After an extende Kyle “Ice” Jason vocalizing, Chuck talks about a “million doomed consumers” who “traded their medallions for fourty dozen six packs.”  These rappers were, like Puff Daddy, “Born under a terrible sign in 1969”. Nobody is safe, as he attacks those “Getting kicks from wack karate flicks”, as well as the mafioso style of the late ’90s rap ethos, realizing “I didn’t know under Fros we got so many Black Italians.” Chuck is basically attacking the conforming non conformity of the late Generation X rap kingdom. In the ’90s, the images of individuality, rebellion, and freedom that were popularized in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s had become its own stifiling cultural norm. Clothing styles, language, attitudes and lifestyles that had once been a breath of fresh air from “suburban conformity” had become the new “suburban conformity”, and once more, this could mean nothing but harm for the black community.

Chuck’s solo album was like water in the desert for me in the late ’90s. Almost no artist who existed or was popular at the time, from the Notorious B.I.G to Jay Z had any kind of larger social voice or promoted anything beyond themselves. One could say “they were just pure entertainment”, but unfortunately, there was much they talked about that was actually negative and harmful. This would be remedied by the rise of people such as Lauryn Hill. Now, some of the generation of fans who were fans of the Gangster talk are upset hip hop has gone toward pure entertainment. I must say, if its not going to preach a message, I’d rather see it be pure entertainment than preach negativity! If I can’t change the people around me, I change the people around me! Big props to Chuck D!

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Filed under 1990s, Blogging, Funk, Generations, Hip-Hop