A lot of people often say things like “you can’t spell rap without crap,” or, “what do you do if you can’t play guitar, bass, drums, or sing?” Become a rapper.” These jokes, while ignorant and unfair, can be justified. All one needs to do is look at the rap industry that dominates pop culture in America. If you turn on the television, you’ll see rappers like Lil’ John or 50 Cent all over MTV. If you turn on the radio, you’re likely to hear something along the lines of “Suck my dick, bitch!” This is rap as most people know it.
However, there is a forgotten side of hip hop. The side that Public Enemy, De La Soul, and such musicians exemplify. Public Enemy is the hip hop equivalent of Rage Against The Machine, which I heard Chuck D was meant to do the vocals for. In fact, hip hop started out as the black version of punk rock. Both movements were angry at the of indifference and deceit of the white men in charge, and they resented racism, pop-culture, and the domination of the poor by white corporate executives who didn’t care. Hip hop was the black, poetic, intelligent, anti-mainstream movement. Unfortunately, the genre has made a significant turnaround in the last ten years or so. Rap has become the mainstream. Immoral people like 50 Cent and his cronies preach violence, sexism, and degrade women constantly in their music videos. The word “pimp” is now synonymous with the word “cool,” even though the pimp is basically the lowest and most disgusting member of society. Although it used to be thought of as sad when a poor teenager joins a gang, now the whole gangsta image is glorified by rappers.
I may seem like I’m dragging on, but the context of the music is important. In 1999, Public Enemy released There’s A Poison Going On
. This album adheres to the roots and foundations of hip hop, and it also raises a big middle finger to everything mainstream. They reject society’s injustices, the corrupt police, the conformities of the recording industry, and the money grubbing tyrants of today’s world.
First of all, I am no fan of hip hop. Over the years, I have listened to little smidgens of it, including some old Outkast and De La Soul. That’s just the thing: you don’t have to like rap to enjoy There’s A Poison Going On. It is so accessible in terms playability that even a rabid metal head could enjoy it. In my opinion, There’s A Poison Going On is the quintessential hip hop album.One of the best things about this album is the profoundness of the lyrics. Flava Flav, while animated and amusing, isn’t as talented as Chuck D lyrically, when it comes to commenting on society. Here is an example from the song Do You Wanna Go Our Way
Now what’s rap gotta do wit what you got for whom the bell tolls? / Is that the way the story goes? 85% believing all the videos God knows / who controls the radios / Some people chose the road to be hoes / And so I rose / in the middle of all the woes / And def jam / negroes turnin’ up their nose
In this segment, Chuck D shows resentment towards the recording industry, at puts it forth in an amazing song with a brilliant bass line and eerie sounds in the background. If you are angry with society and a non-conformist, and you are not a fan of rock music, then perhaps you would really find your alternative voice in Public Enemy, as opposed to punk or metal bands.
Another very strong point to There’s A Poison Going On is the music itself. Terminator X, along with Flava Flav and Chuck D, composes some of the coolest hip hop beats I have ever heard. It isn’t just rhythm to accompany the rapping; it speaks for itself. For example, the song Crash
has one of the most intense and dramatic beats I have ever heard. On this album, Public Enemy creates music that is on par with DJ Shadow’s hip hop side.
Public Enemy can also be very poetic at times, voicing their talent in a not so aggressive way. In I
, Chuck D shows that he can create metaphoric and creative lyrics, while still making political or societal statements.
Running, here we go tumblin / Few solutions, honey they polluted the future / Got me thinking of a new thing / Revolverlution / Computer souls, controlled by confusion / You be clubbin, while the world around you crumblin.
I have the utmost respect for Public Enemy. They create well constructed, enjoyable, yet intense music, but this is not all they do. Public Enemy stands above all other hip hop acts, in defiance of the economic and social restraints of America, and the demonizing and degradation of the African American people. Obviously, this has little bearing on the music itself, but the overall power of the already tremendous music is raised by their intelligence and grasp on society. For people who just can’t tolerate hip hop in away way, I suppose you cannot like this album. However, if you are someone who is unhappy with the state of modern rap, and who appreciates real lyricism, then this album is a must. Remember, I also think that rap is mostly terrible genre, but There’s A Poison Going On proves that there are still talented individuals in the industry who are trying to make changes to both music and the country.