Saturday, 9 August 2003

Album Review: Let's Get Free

Once intertwined, it now seems that politics and hip hop are as different as leather and lace. The works of Ja Rule, 50 Cent and P Diddy could not be further from the politicised lyrics of Chuck D and Ice Cube. Dead Prez’s much-lauded debut sought to renew the days of NWA, Public Enemy and Ice T. In their own words, Dead Prez fall somewhere in between NWA and Public Enemy and with Let’s Get Free they attempt to snatch hip hop back from the clich├ęd stories of guns, girls and dollars. For the most part they succeed.
The album begins with a snippet of an address by the Chairman for the African People’s Socialist Party, Omali Yeshitela. The content should leave nobody in any doubt of how political Let’s Get Free will become and this listener, for one, was left wondering how they would follow this awesome opening salvo. I needn’t have worried.

The opening four tracks are as good as those found on any hip hop album. I’m An African has Stic and M1 reclaim their African roots. The two MCs proclaim, “I’m an African / never was an African-American” over a furious fusion of gun shots and thunderous beats. They Schools is a tirade on the American school system’s perceived favouritism towards white history and therefore white students. While these tracks are outstanding it is the debut single Hip Hop that is the high point. Dead Prez reclaim hip hop and ask their audience some pertinent questions, “Would you rather have a Lexus or justice? / A dream or some substance? / A Beemer, a necklace or freedom?” Behind the highly intelligent lyrics lies one of the most extraordinary basslines of recent years making this one of the best hip hop tracks of the last decade. The track’s remix at the LP’s conclusion is hugely merited.

Sadly after this tremendous opening bombardment the momentum is lost by the time Behind Enemy Lines arrives. The first half of the album peters out with the rather bland Assassination and Mind Sex. Unfortunately this slower pace plagues the second half of the album and it is nowhere near as potent as the first. Be Healthy is the hip hop equivalent of a dentist’s poster. “I don’t eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets / Only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat.” From a group who seemed determined to change the world a few tracks ago, this comes across as an extreme contrast, and all things considered, incredibly weak. Elsewhere, Happiness is like an update of Will Smith’s Summertime, which is, as you might guess, a real disappointment.

However, just as the listener is wishing the album had finished after the first five tracks, Dead Prez bring in two of their best tracks. Hidden at tracks forty four and forty five are Propaganda and The Pistol. Propaganda is vaguely reminiscent of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy classic, Television. It should surprise no one that the backing track is not as good as the lyrics. An acoustic guitar some odd chanting and a female vocalist going through her range is not quite upto matching the enraged stories of conspiracy theories and black rhetoric that M1 and Stic are spitting here. The Pistol is an absolutely incendiary and wholly fitting end to the album; however, once again Lord Jamar’s production doesn’t quite do the lyrics justice.

All things considered, Let’s Get Free is a very competent debut from a very exciting group. However, we're left to rue what could’ve been one of the all time great hip hop albums. Stic and M1 are unquestionably two of the most gifted voices in hip hop today, unfortunately the production on the second half of the LP is so dull it really detracts from an incredible start.

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