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 Nebraska for 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 cycle—refreshingly 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.