J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Return Trip:
Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show

Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show
(Def Jam ; 1987)

There's something irresistible about those first, few, imperfect steps. There's something about hearing the first attempts at greatness, especially with the knowledge of what is to come. Yo! Bum Rush the Show is one of those albums. It is a creation that straddles a line, whispering, suggesting of the revolutions to come that aren't quite apparent. In large chunks it sounds conventional, but pieces of the sonic quilt are lying in wait.

The album is steeped in the colors of its trade. This is late 80s hip-hop afterall and it was hard to escape the sound. The record is full of the drum-machine beats that propelled Rum DMC. Songs like "Miuzi Weighs a Ton" and "M.P.E." are the archetypal slow-beat jams that typified so much of hip-hop at this point in time. Chuck D. and Flava Flav are the slowest they would be throughout their career also. Chuck is still perfecting the sermonizing pulpit voice that would be his calling card and even Flav doesn't sound as completely nuts as he would come to sound in the coming years. "Too Much Posse" is the tamest of the requisite Flava tracks on a Public Enemy album. Compared to the certifiably insane "Cold Lampin'," it sounds almost..dare I say..coherent. Compared to its follow-up, the legendary It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Yo! Bum Rush.. seems almost quaint. The political and social screeds are present, but not domineering. There are even ill-placed dashes of misogyny ("Sophisticated Bitch") that would be echoed and altered in later albums ("Pollywanacraka," "Meet the G That Killed Me").

The album's strong points, though, are very strong. Opener "You're Gonna Get Yours" is one of the classic opening-tracks - a banger in the best sense, celebrating the Oldsmobile 98 in all its glory. "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)" most closely approximates the speed and punky noise that the Bomb Squad would perfect in the coming albums. The classic self-titled song, "Public Enemy No. 1," is built over a droning, unceasing horn sample that also hints at the Bomb Squad's coming appropriation of atonal sections of songs to offset the powerful rhythms and vocals.

But even the songs that sound more typical are full of vinegar. The aforementioned "Miuzi Weighs a Ton" takes advantage of the group's tendency for meta-allusions, referencing their own vocal samples in a song where the chorus eerily foreshadows "911 Is a Joke" in its dark, gothic tones and unhinged vocals. Even "Sophisticated Bitch," for all its wrongheaded and sterotypical posturing, is a great example of the Def Jam sound of the late 80s - taking advantage of a dirty, grimy guitar sound that propels the melody of the song.

This album would be completely blanketed by Public Enemy's two, subsequent albums, but as a document of where they were coming from, and for the fact that it has a few of Public Enemy's all-time classic songs, it's worth it. By 1988, just a year later, they would create an album that would change the face of popular music, not just hip-hop, but as a warm up for what was coming, Yo! Bum Rush the Show is as insightful as it is enjoyable.

Rating: E(xcellent) / I(nteresting)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Public Enemy - "You're Gonna Get Yours"

Public Enemy - "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)"

Purchase Yo! Bum Rush the Show from Amazon.

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