Thursday, September 21, 2006



When hip hop does, in fact, implode under the prolonged stress created by the relentless pop monster. When hip hop becomes a series of stories we tell our grandkids at bedtime. When music as a whole has been reduced/condensed to the smallest, most microscopic common denominator and crowds of thousands can dance almost endlessly to the sound of a single sustained tone. When albums are locked behind three feet of glass in some gallery in France and all of our music can be either drunk in a 5-gig soda pop or mixed into soups as a 256 per tablespoon oregano-ish seasoning. When it's all over, long gone, nevermore.

When that happens, there will be one album that will survive because it's constructed with not only edges and sides capable of withstanding point blank atomic blasts, but it's also equipped with the strength and resistance to deflect the negativity of a million distraught music critics. It is my number one record, the biggie: Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet.

If you don't own it. Stop here. I'll be more than happy to wait for you to return.

Okay, now that you have it, please begin listening immediately. All this will make much more sense now that actually bought it with your hard-earned cashola and have it blasting with enough volume to give the next zip code headaches.

Black Planet is a unique recording, indeed, because it takes both the musical and lyrical blueprint outlined in both Yo! Bum Rush the Show and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (popularly held as the definitive P.E. record), and it multiplies that intensity, that aggression, that frightening militancy that almost suffocates the listener as the album marches to the drums of the Bomb Squad and salutes to the words the great Chuck D.

It's an assault--an absolute beating. If there was ever a hip hop equivalent to a black metal record, it's Black Planet. It's a whirling, spinning and sometimes nauseating experience as the beats are programmed to loop at twice the normal speed under layers and layers of samples from anything: George Clinton, Leon Haywood, Prince, Slayer, Eddie Murphy, Sly and, of course, the backbone of the entire record, James Brown. Musically, the Shocklees launch themselves to the very forefront of hip hop production, blazing a trail that many have failed to replicate (and it ain't like no one tried). Their ability to piece together a gnarly spectrum of noises, horns, whistles, yells, drum fills and guitar licks into a coherent and arresting record is beyond phenomenal--it's simply unexplainable. At the end, if you share any sort of appreciation for the artform, you should be left speechless for weeks.

If you're looking for an example of such wonderment, I would encourage multiple listens to "Who Stole the Soul?", "Fear of a Black Planet" and "Revolutionary Generation"--perhaps the most feared three-song sequence in the history of hip hop. For early 90's hip hop, the drum patterns border on bizarre, but are glued together by the defiant hollers of a hungry and nasty Chuck D.

Although many will disagree, Chuck has never sounded as good as he did on this record. He takes to every line on this record like not only his career's on the line, but his life's on the line. The deafening boom of Chuck's vocals rattles cages and shatters windows as he delivers the line from "Who Stole the Soul?":

"Paid enough in this bitch, that's why I dissed them,
I learned we earned, got no concern
Instead we burned so where the hell is our return?
Plain and simp the system's a pimp,
But I refuse to be a ho.
Who stole the soul?"

And Flavor (before he was a star) is the "spoonful of sugar" as he mushmouths his way through every verse and follows every Chuck verse with a "yeah" or "that's right!" But Flavor, no matter how much people might want to discredit or discount his contributions to not only Public Enemy, but hip hop as a whole, he rocked this record like a champ.

By the time you make it "B Side Wins Again," you're gasping for air as your lungs so compressed under the stress of the first sixteen tracks, but P.E. allows for no rest as the record continue to wildly press on. Followed by "War at 33 1/3," once again P.E. and the Bomb Squad accomplish the musical equivalent of a sonic boom in a collision of drums, bass, vocals and speed. Incredible. Insane.

I first happened along P.E. when I was a mere 13 years old. My eyes peeled open to the visions of the Security of the First World running along the beach in the video to "Brothers' Gonna Work It Out." Chuck with his standard black jacket and Flavor in a tuxedo with a baby's bottle in his mouth--the imagery was so defined, the impact was immediate. I didn't know what I happened along, but I knew it was going to change my life in some way. In those early listens, I was left very confused. Racial equality and social awareness was a little over my head, but insistant on what I had found, I listened to it regardless until it made sense. But I remember being absolutely floored by the sound of this record. To this day, nothing's changed. I've listened to this record countless times from beginning to end. I never leave town without it--taking it with me on almost every road trip without fail. In fact, Angry Tim has named me Mr. Can Never Have Too Many Copies of Fear of a Black Planet. He's right.

You just can't own enough copies. And you can't have mine. Buy your own. It's gonna be cheap because the catalog division of a very powerful music distributor has marked it down to midline pricing. Buy up. It's a lot cheaper than paying a buck a song on iTunes. Not only that, the booklet still comes with complete lyrics.

Don't be a fool. Buy this record immediately.

Album Highlights:
"Brothers Gonna Work It Out"
"Revolutionary Generation"
"B Side Wins Again"
"Fear of a Black Planet"
"Who Stole the Soul?"
"Fight the Power"
"War at 33 1/3"
"Welcome to the Terrordome"
"Burn Hollywood Burn"


K-Fleet said...

I remember listening to this as a teen too, and still wonder if I should hate myself due to all the "Down with Whitey" rhetoric. So, now you've hit #1, where does your hip-hop critique go from here? Where would you rate Digital Underground-Sex Packets or Sir Mix-A-Lot-Swass?

j3 said...


SWASS: no mention at all.

TX said...

Good list, broham.

Anonymous said...

So, what killed it for Mix-a-Lot, Baby Got Back, Put em on the Glass? Granted, he's not the best rapper, and Return of the Bumpasaurus put the last nail in his coffin, but Swass is very listenable from beginning to end, and quite comical with Buttermilk Biscuits and Squaredance Rap. Maybe your taste steers more toward Seminar where he starts to get on the political tip. Either way, he's part of hip-hop history and will be heard in clubs round the world along with V-Ice. Word to ya Mother!

K-Fleet said...

I was the anonymous response, web had a brain-fart and blinked out in the middle of sending the comment.

j3 said...

sir mix a lot as his most political is a comedy record.

i don't look for listenable. i look for enjoyable...MEMORABLE.

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