n Public Enemy's revolutionary 1988 LP, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, head M.C. Chuck D roared through one black-power
another, fashioning an aural altar to Louis Farrakhan here and a sonic testimonial to Malcolm X there.
Then came the last song and its in-your-face irony. On this rap, P.E. decided to sample the title line from the Beastie Boys' party platitude, "Fight for Your Right" and rearrange it so it went something like this:
"Party for your right to fight, fight!"
Whether Public Enemy had consciously set up the Beasties and their mindless song as metaphors for the white world and its leaders was debatable. But any way you looked at it, Chuck D wasn't rapping about peaceful revolution or evolution or siblinghood regardless of color. His lines were all about rising up and crushing the establishment. And in case you missed the message, the back cover of the album featured the group's drill-cum-dance team, the S1Ws (Security of the First World), clad in battle fatigues, toting Uzis and staging a jailbreak.
Don't think P.E. was just waving to itself way out on the radical fringe. The hormonally hyper raps of Tone-Loc and the squeaky-clean consumerism of D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince may have had Top-40 radio gently swaying to their sugar-cereal hip-hop, but if you ventured out of the malls and onto the streets, you'd find more firepower from where the S1Ws' Uzis came from. Ice-T rapped about the uselessness of gang-banging in "Colors," but Ice and his posse still decided to arm themselves with pump shotguns for his Power album cover photo. Boogie Down Productions M.C. KRS-One sounded off against violence at rap shows in a track called, "Stop The Violence," but on the cover of By All Means Necessary, there KRS-One is, peering out a window with his Uzi cocked.
There was no reason to expect these drive-by contradictions to stop any time soon. Public Enemy and Ice-T both went gold with their latest guns 'n' glory efforts, and their Uzi fetishes haven't been catching much flack from Tipper Gore or cutting into record sales.
Yet, with all these contradictions to wrestle with, the Public Enemies and KRS-Ones of the rap world apparently decided they weren't so sure they wanted to continue taking their pet Uzis out for walks. So late last year, KRS-One got together with such politically-minded rappers as Public Enemy M.C.'s Chuck D and Flavor Flav, Kool Moe Dee, Doug E. Fresh, and M.C. Lyte, and called the group the Stop the Violence Movement. The all-star posse recorded a catchy and righteous, if predictable, "We Are The World"-style collabo-rap called "Self Destruction," railing against black-on-black violence.
Of course, the group couldn't ignore the omnipresent Uzi issue. M.C. Lyte let loose with lines like "Leave the guns . . . alone" and "You ain't guardin' the door/So what you got a gun for?" And Heavy D added, "I heard a brother shot another/It broke my heart."
The song had an all-star cast of rappers, rhymes, and beats. But a peek at the cover of the single revealed that the group had stored its hardware in the closet right next to the pile of contradictions. And as if to make sure the closet stayed shut nice and tight, the group got more than 45 radio stations across the country to play the song at noon on January 16 in honor of pacifist civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Whether Chuck D, Ice-T, and KRS-One decide to do the NRA thing on the covers of their next albums remains to be seen, but the call to cool it has rap fans in a lather for now. When Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart debuted March 11, "Self Destruction" was at the top. There it stayed until May 20, when a group called De La Soul came down from either Mars or Amityville, New York (the trio claims to be from both places), and bumped it from the top spot with the individualist manifesto, "Me, Myself and I." The song contained the curious line, "Say Plug One and Two are hippies/No, we're not/That's pure plug bull." Meanwhile, intrigued listeners streamed into stores to score a copy of De La Soul's independent debut LP, 3 Feet High and Rising. When they laid their eyes and ears upon it, they discovered not only were Plug One and Two hippies, but that rap had taken a 180-degree ideological turn. Here was a hip-hop outfit neither waving guns around on the cover nor distributing the message of Farrakhan on the inside. Instead, there were Day-Glo daisies surrounding pictures of the group members, and wedged into the "o" in Soul was a peace sign. It seemed to be the rap equivalent of all those naughty students plugging up the National Guard's guns with flowers. Whether De La Soul was opportunistically catching rap's pacifist wave or just coincidentally happened on the scene at the politically right time, it's clear from the success of the Stop the Violence Movement, and to an even greater extent, De La Soul, that flower power has dropped the bomb on firepower. Strip down for the love-in, take a hit of acid and hug a tree. Hippie-hop is healthy and happening in '89.
DE LA SOUL RAPPERS Posdnuos (a.k.a. Plug One) and Trugoy the Dove (alias Plug Two) hate more than anything to be called hippies. Probably as much as Morton Downey Jr. hates the hype surrounding his hurt-thyself campaign.
"If only we could have a giant blimp pass over the earth and flash the message WE'RE NOT HIPPIES," Pos whined to New York magazine a few months back. "We don't mind if people say, `You remind us of the hippie days, of Sixties things,' because there is some of that in our music.'"
As for the evidence, Posdnuos (Soundsop spelled backwards) and Trugoy (Yogurt spelled backwards) may as well catch the next Lear out to Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock, or wherever the Dead is playing this week.
Take a glance inside the album cover. You'll find peace signs and daisies printed everywhere. (Pos and Dove have also been known to carve peace signs into their hair.)
Cue up side one, track twelve, "Tread Water." De La Soul's been getting its inspiration either from "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," from Alice in Wonderland, or from wherever the artists of those works got their inspiration. In "Tread Water," a crocodile wearing daisies in his hat talks to the Soul. Come to think of it, so do less sartorially splendid squirrels, fish and monkeys.
Considering the Doolittling that takes place between Mr. Squirrel and the Dove (who claimed his mother first gave him the nickname because he was so peaceful as a boy), Greenpeace may just want to think about making "Tread Water" its theme song: "My population's dying/And we're all in tune to doom/Like a daisy, I need water/I need chestnuts to consume/ `Mr. Squirrel,' I said, `I'm sorry/But the problem can't be solved/If there's no one here to help/And no one to get involved.'"
Before the song is over, Posdnuos has turned Mr. Monkey on to De La Soul, and Mr. M has rewarded him handsomely with some positive philosophy called "da inner sound y'all." Also known as D.A.I.S.Y.
Now try side two, track four, "De La Orgee." This song will immediately take the baby-boomer set back to the last time they flopped around in the same room with eight naked friends. Moans galore, "De La Orgee" is a most curious composition considering today's viral death penalty for free love.
Or how about side two, track six, "Description." Plug Two: "I am Trugoy/A dove-like boy." Plug One: "I love peace/Well, at least/I think we/Need some." Granny (a De La flunkie): "I need peace for me." China and Jette (two other De La flunkies): "We're crazy/For daisies."
And side two, track ten, "D.A.I.S.Y. Age." Self-explanatory.
SO DE LA SOUL SHOWS UP last Sunday at the Celebrity Theatre, and if you've called them hippies, maybe you feel bad about it. Fashion-wise, it's perhaps more accurate to label them boho-beat-beach bum-hippie wanna-be's. Posdnuos strides on stage looking like a mad intellectual-artiste, sporting round specs, a black beret-like cap, a white t-shirt, baggy Bermuda shorts, earthtone Rockport-style shoes, a daisy pin and the all-important peace sign medallion hanging from a chain around his neck. Trugoy makes the scene in a reggae-fied tam, a red-and-beige shirt, Bermudas, red socks and more earth-toned shoes. And deejay Pasemaster Mase? Beige--shorts and jacket.
During its too-brief half-hour set, the group runs through 3 Feet High and Rising's longer, radio-ready material: "The Magic Number," "Plug Tunin'," "Potholes in My Lawn," "Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)," "Eye Know." Mase spins samples from prehistoric R&B, Otis Redding, and Steely Dan, and De La ascends to the trippy heights of Parliament-Funkadelic heaven.
Before the Soul lights into the anti-drug "Say No Go," Pos and Dove grow quiet and deliver a peaceful no-no message, cluck-clucking away. The laid-back approach seems more akin to reggae than rap, the M.C.'s seemingly leaning back on their heels, not pressing forward on their toes, when passing out the admonishments. They save the most popular song in the set, one that has little or nothing to do with politics or social consciousness, for last. The crowd stays on its feet for the incendiary disco rap, "Me, Myself and I."
But lest anyone forget, Posdnuos is proudly wearing a peace sign on his chest. And when "Me" finishes, he blurts out the punch line that defines the politics of rap in 1989 as succinctly as "Party for your right to fight" did last year:
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kim/jack - plz knife in box, thx
A peek at the cover of the single revealed that the group had stored its hardware in the closet right next to the pile of contradictions.
Strip down for the love-in, take a hit of acid and hug a tree. Hippie-hop is healthy and happening in '89.