Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Review: Public Enemy - Power to the People and the Beats, Public Enemy's Greatest Hits

Public Enemy, arguably the greatest hip-hop group of all time, has released Power to the People and the Beats - Public Enemy's Greatest Hits, an 18-track best-of compilation that reminds us how much the majority of today’s hip-hop sucks.

Public Enemy was and still is the benchmark by which all other hip-hop artists are measured. Always a lightning rod for controversy (though it can be argued that they brought this on themselves), PE perfected the political rap/house style, incorporating intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics with infectious beats and first-rate mixing and production. Nobody has even come close to duplicating what PE did musically.

PE was reportedly mentioned in an FBI report to Congress entitled "Rap Music and Its Effects on National Security."

The strength of PE’s catalog lies in its first four albums; and fortunately, that’s what this collection features, with three additional tracks coming from later CDs. Each PE album reflected a particular time and place. Because so much of the music is political and social, the topics of the day played a big part in each album’s subject matter. This, in part, gave each record a cohesive feel. Additionally, PE sometimes incorporated various between-song “shorts” that were comprised of short musical interludes or spoken-word samples from famed speeches. These elements combined to encourage fans to listen from beginning to end instead of jumping from track to track. Unfortunately for compilations such as this, you can’t really duplicate the flow of a single studio album, much less a PE studio album.

But as far as compilations go, this one flows smoothly, with not much of an indication that its music was recorded in an 11-year span. Actually, the stuff from Yo! Bum Rush the Show sounds more like LL Cool J than the PE you know and love.

Public Enemy’s legacy in suburban America is twofold: a lot of kids went out and read about the civil rights leaders they heard referenced in PE’s lyrics, and white kids everywhere told each other daily to “fight the power.”

This is not PE’s first foray into greatest hits compilation-dom. There are at least two other legitimate collections, with the only notable one being 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Public Enemy. And though that collection includes two of my favorite PE tracks that were omitted here (the Anthrax version of "Bring tha Noize" and the classic "Nighttrain"), it pales in comparison to this album in every other way.

As I stated in the introduction, this collection has 18 tracks, with no throwaways. It is the most definitive PE compilation available. My personal favorites from this CD include "You're Gonna Get Yours," "Don't Believe the Hype," "Brothers Gonna Work it Out," "Can't Truss It" and "By the Time I Get to Arizona." Yes, I know I left out some of the obvious ones. I like those, too. I just like these more.

PE was the Hootie and the Blowfish of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. You have never seen so many inebriated college kids jumping around to “911 is a Joke.”

Keep in mind that there are two versions of this album, the first carrying a parental advisory label on its cover, and a second “clean” version sans the foul language, which is fairly minimal to begin with. PE has never been a big player in the f-bomb dropping department.

No comments: