By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Dead Prez's political spiritual elder, Soledad Brother George Jackson, poses a question balancing love with revolutionary necessity: "Does the building of a bed precede the love act itself? Or can we 'do it in the road' until the people's army has satisfied our territory problem?" On Revolutionary but Gangsta, DPz tackle a related set of contradictions, releasing a "commercial album" to combat how their "conscious artist" closes them off to fans who loyally pump Mobb Deep. Focusing on personal experience augmented by a smooth continuum soul sound, balancing retro with forward movement, it's comfortable in the tradition of early Goodie Mob reflections on expropriated Afro-American labor and U.S. country livin'. A Bruce Springsteen's Nebraskafor the soon-to-be-united new-Afrikan diaspora, the album unapologetically shuns the border policing in the "hip-hop community."
Shifting from the dissonant collage production of their debut, RBG rides out smoothly like one long, g'd-up song cyclerefreshingly short, demonstrating a focus and intensity of purpose. Its fluid delivery and Stic.man's production expertise imagine the landscape of a Sam Greenlee novel: a little Curtis on the eight-track, a lot of pastels and black leather in the crib, an assemblage of soldiers conspiring on Chicago's South Side. The infectious melody and crow-caw hook of "Walk Like a Warrior" benefit from M1 and Stic's fluid rhyme style plus a verse from Krayzie Bone; it reminds me of youthful days diggin' Bone Thugs' "Neighborhood Slang," envisioning fantasies of vengeance.
The remix of the album's showpiece, "Hell Yeah (Pimp the System)," features Jigga's intro provocation: "We're together on the same track now baby, what you gonna call us now"? To showcase the track's 'hood-survival-crime how-to guide, M1's "Downbeat Production Collective" enhances the original version's thrash guitar with a catchy, slowly intensifying synth and pianist Vijay Iyer's pulsating Arpeggiator. Will RBG both pass activist purity tests and overcome critical stubbornness? Probably not. But alas, I think they'll be all right in continuing to negotiate a hostile landscape, beds and all.