Monday, December 31, 2007


I recently asked a friend of mine who is part of the hip-hop industry about a new album by a young up-and-coming artist. His answer was that "No one cares about that album." But it is good? "No one cares." It's kind of sad: being "hot" - or "hott" - is more important than being good. It's like you can't be one without the other.

Of course, that's not true. Public Enemy - one of the greatest groups in history, and I'm talking hip-hop, R&B, rock and roll, whatever genre you want to talk about - hasn't been "hot" for a long time.

Most fans will agree that their best albums were 1988's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and 1990's Fear Of A Black Planet. I always felt that the next one, 1991's Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black is also a classic. That seems to be when they stopped being "hot," though. Maybe because on their first few albums, they were scaring the crap out of white people, by criticizing the government and society in general. Adding to that, the music was appealing to lots of young, white people, despite it's pro-black message. But on Apocalypse, they started looking towards their own community, and maybe people didn't like that.

But as a long time fan, even I had to admit that the albums that came next weren't classics: Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age and There's A Poison Goin' On had moments, other albums didn't really have any songs that I loved. Then, all of the sudden, they did this collaboration with Moby, called "Make Love Fuck War," and it is one of their greatest tracks ever. The song was a one-off, but was later included on their New Whirl Odor album, which turned out to have some other great songs, like "Bring That Beat Back" and "New Whirl Odor."

But this new album, How Do You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? is damn near a classic. I really like the latest albums by Common, Kanye and Nas, as well as KRS-One's album with Marley Marl, but P.E.'s latest is the best hip-hop album of the year. The fact that Chuck D. and Flavor Flav are in their 50's, there are no "hot" producers, and the album criticizes materialism and fake gangsterism in hip-hop makes it commerically dead on arrival, which is just a damn shame. Do people really need to hear Jay-Z's return to his gangster roots? They'd be a lot better off with this record.

A critic from Rolling Stone magazine really summed the album up in a short review: "Young hip-hoppers respect Chuck D.'s hectoring legacy from a distance, but his moralizing conscience and increasingly uncompromising disdain for gangsta lies makes them nervous. So they claim his flow has thickened and his beats have falen off, which is just more lies." Or as Chuck says in "Can You Hear Me Now?": "At the age I am now/ If I can't teach/ I shouldnt even open up my mouth begin to speak!"

The hip-hop and R&B industry totally reminds me of the country music industry: very conservative, likes to sort of look rebellious, while not toleralting any rebelliousness. I'm starting to think of Public Enemy as the Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash of hip-hop. I guess maybe they should be referred to as "Outlaw Hip-Hop."

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