Wednesday, August 31, 2011

497: Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush The Show

Release Date: January 26, 1987
Label: Def Jam/Columbia

Well, I got bored tonight, and decided to listen to the next album on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time (if you're keeping track, this is the fourth one I've listened to since starting this monumental task).  That would be Public Enemy's debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show.

I'm not the biggest hip hop fan in the world, but I can appreciate a good rap now and then.  I'm a big Beasties fan, I've listened to Straight Outta Compton a handful of times, and I've even heard Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet and It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.  When I listen to rap, I typically like it to be clever, not about sex and drugs, and socially conscious.  That rules out almost all rap you hear on the radio.

I especially appreciate 80s rap.  In the 80s, rap was all about rhymes and samples, and rappers were just average kids from a rough neighborhood freestyling about the system holding them down.  And it worked, because they weren't multimillionaires rolling around in nice cars and big mansions.  They really did live in a society where the black kids lived in a dangerous Brooklyn ghetto, and the white people all worked in offices in the Financial District.  This is 1980s New York, and, having lived in black neighborhoods in The Bronx, I find rap about race issues in 1980s New York to be culturally interesting.  Just watch Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing."  It even prominently features Public Enemy's own "Fight The Power."

Now back to Yo! Bum Rush.  This is very 1980s.  The lyrics actually rhyme, and the rhythms are very straightforward.  And of course, they're all about fighting the power:
And those who lack, the odds are stacked
The one who makes the money is white, not black
You might not believe it, but it's like that
Group leader Chuck D has one of the best voices in rap, and he is an expert at vocal inflection and tone.  Check out the track "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)."  It's Chuck D at his finest, and an example that every boring, monotone modern rapper should perhaps take a look at.

Don't worry, it's not all serious.  They can boast with the best of them:
Oh yes, I presume it's the tunes - that make us groom
To make all the ladies swoon
But it's also the words from our direction - a goldboy session
Kickin' like Bruce Lee's chinese connection
 This is definitely not for everybody.  If you don't like the socially conscious lyrics, you might get bored of this quickly.  If you hate rap, you'll probably want to shut this off before the first song is over.  But if you have any appreciation for hip-hop whatsoever, or just find black culture in any way fascinating, this is definitely one you should at least listen to once.  It's been called one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time.  I'd say if you liked "Do The Right Thing," you'd like this.  It is, after all, the soundtrack to the slice of society that the movie depicts.

Standout tracks: Sophisticated Bitch, Rightstarter, Yo! Bum Rush The Show


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