Happy Hip-Hop Week, everybody!
As you surely know by now, Monday unexpectedly brought us Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, and yesterday dropped Azealia Banks’ Fantasea mixtape on our unsuspecting heads. And now to end the work week, none other than Public Enemy has sneaked out their new album Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp on iTunes today.
Much like Green Day’s strategy with the imminent Uno!–Dos!–Tre! trilogy, the influential rap group’s new LP is meant to be paired with the upcoming September release The Evil Empire of Everything; according to a press release, Public Enemy frontman Chuck D considers the two albums to be “twins, not identical but fraternal.”
Obviously, we can’t speak for The Evil Empire of Everything, but we can say this: Most of My Heroes… is pretty damn great.Let’s start off with the obvious: Who are these heroes Chuck D speaks of? They are legion. To be specific, some of the under-repped political and civil-rights figures that the record throws shout-outs to include Cynthia McKinney, Dorothy Height, Dolores Huerta, Emiliano Zapata, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton (though he does have a comic character named after him), Cesar Chavez, Elizabeth Martinez, and Emmett Till (plus many, many more).
So in case you were wondering: yes, the album’s 11 tracks are indeed politically inclined. As the statistics-happy lead track “Run Till It’s Dark” makes clear, Chuck D has never sipped the post-racial-America Kool-Aid: “Forty or so million blacks in America/How can 13.5 percent of the population be scarin’ ya?“
And as one would expect, the group doesn’t spare the hip-hop community either. Just take a gander at this indictment of the state of current rap music (or, really, most popular music today), taken from “Get Up, Stand Up”: “This song don’t give a damn/If the rhymes don’t fit/Beat don’t bounce/If the DJ quit.” And to drive the point home: “This song don’t give a damn/If you can’t sing or dance to it/Can’t romance to it.”
The Hard Rhymer’s just as merciless on “Truth Decay”: “Truth don’t sell a lot of records or books/To hell with rapes, to murder rates/To lying on mixtapes/I want the truth.” The album’s great lead single “I Shall Not Be Moved” expands on that theme: “They got me started; where I start?/Cause I do it to support the art/What good is learnin’ from some record/When y’all only listen to 15 seconds.” And then there’s the crafty, Large Professor-featuring track “Catch the Thrown” — a play on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s luxury-rap monster Watch the Throne — which argues that a disadvantaged community can certainly find socioeconomic progress and prosperity, but in the end, “You can’t change race in the United States.”
But what makes Most of My Heroes so good isn’t just PE’s usual revolution-keen lyrics — it’s also the album’s evolution-keen production. In a year that saw Killer Mike R.A.P. Music bring Bomb Squad production and fight-the-power, Reagan-angst urgency back into style, these O.G.s (with help from great guests like Bumpy Knuckles, Brother Ali, and a Run-less DMC) seize the moment by spiking their usual formula with newer, weirder, and welcome musical elements. Even non-fans of Public Enemy will find it crisp and listenable. The Z-Trip-assisted title track, for instance, is built on a minimal alarm-clock hook that mesmerizingly complements the song’s shout-speak vocals track, while the record’s closing number “WTF?” further confirms that Chuck and Co. are equipped to handle relaxed, non-agitated production.
We have no idea what The Evil Empire will end up sounding like, but we can say that at least this half of PE’s twin-album series is an unexpected but good way to end a great week in music.
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