Alt-V

dead prez, Let’s Get Free

Nathanael R., 14S43

What do we know about dead prez?

dead prez consists of two rappers M-1 and stic.man who want seemingly want nothing to do with punctuation or capital letters. Let’s Get Free, their debut album, was released in 2000. In the fifteen years since, they’ve only released two other full-length albums and a smattering of EPs, mixtapes and collaborations and none of them has really made an impact. Let’s Get Free still remains their best and most well-known project to date, but even then it’s often forgotten and left to stagnate under the dubious label of “underground hip hop”. But that’s why Alt-V exists right, lmao.

It’s very difficult to like Let’s Get Free. To put it nicely, the sound isn’t exactly the kind of music you’d want to dance to. It’s dirty, grimy and dull, a bleak backdrop for two rappers who clearly aren’t rapping for fun. The drums are relentless and painful, while the production is kept to a minimal with barely anything to break the monotony of M-1 and stic.man’s direct, in-your-face bars. Honestly, it’s difficult to sit through the length of the album without feeling bored or getting a headache from the eye-wateringly dull production. There is nothing vibrant, fun or remotely pleasurable in the project, and when there’s a two-minute long silence before the last two songs it’s actually quite nice respite.

Listen closer, and it doesn’t get much better at first. It’s very difficult to tell exactly what Let’s Get Free is about. The themes are knotted, scattered, spliced together and altogether very difficult to distinguish. You do, however, get the idea that race and racism plays a big part in the dead prez rhetoric, probably because the first thing you hear on the album is a recorded speech demonising white imperialists, and the first proper song is titled “I’m A African”. It’s all very alienating to most listeners who don’t appreciate such overt political themes in their music, and dead prez’ unapologetic and direct delivery is equally off-putting. But then, they include just enough quotable quotes to get you to listen even closer and scrutinise the lyrics, and that’s when you start to realise dead prez as two of the sharpest, cleverest, yet most esoteric minds to ever apply themselves to a beat.

As dense as their subject matter might sometimes be, follow the tangled maze of their lyrics and occasionally you’ll end up in surprising places. ‘They Schools’ slams education systems as inadequate and broken, while ‘Mind Sex’ is a strange song that basically describes, well, mind sex (whatever that is). ‘Hip Hop’ is a vicious rip into other rappers who only focus on commercial success rather than having an actual message, and “It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop” is a sequel/continuation that appears near the end, an interesting concept from what you now realise is a pretty interesting duo. At different points in the album, you’ll hear a James Bond theme song, an N.W.A reference, a Mexican guitar solo, a re-telling of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and a song about vegetarians. Yup.  Vegetarians.

I’m not gonna lie, I tend to be really biased toward rap music in my reviews, but as much as this is one of my favourite albums of all time, the unabashed and heavy-handed tackling of political themes in Let’s Get Free and the sheer density of dead prez’ lyrical ideas mean that they’ll unlikely ever get the recognition of other popular hip hop artists. They’ll probably never make it a big as those who make bland, thoughtless and thoroughly unimpressive music but sell it way better. It’s sad in a way, but the music industry is still a business after all and that’s just how things are. Maybe one day I’ll review a Drake album.

Rating: 7/10 (I wanted to give it a nine tbh, but it’s really not easy listening for those who aren’t really into rap and you could probably start with more accessible albums than this.)

Favourite Tracks: ‘Hip Hop’, ‘It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop’, ‘Psychology’

Favourite Lyrics:

My mother keep her eyes closed, she say she praying, I listen close to what she saying

When she speak of Jesus I ignore it, but when it’s practical I’m all for it

You got to think like a soldier, I’m training myself to snatch pistols out of holsters

Discipline keep the mind focused

This whole world is a corn field son, look out for flying locusts.

Alt-V

The Smiths, Louder Than Bombs

Keith Lau, 14S63

Louder Than Bombs

Louder Than Bombs is a classic example of an amazing album being produced in the right time. This is not to take any glory away from the the talent of The Smiths. There are bands most definitely better than The Smiths, but there has never been a band that made such good use of their talent. They exuded an image of power and deliberateness and emotionally stirring lyrics. Of course, this was before Johnny Marr left the band. Despite the album being a substitute for The World Won’t Listen and Hatful of Hollow as they were not released in the US, Louder Than Bombs was an immaculate marriage of Morrissey’s melancholic lyrics and Johnny Marr’s astounding mastery of the guitar. Johnny Marr’s riffs in ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ and ‘London’ just serves as a testament to his breadth and width of inventiveness. To have created just one riff as good as Johnny Marr’s contribution in this album would be a coup for many guitarists already, and Johnny Marr has done it twice in the same production.

The album is a great example of the genre that The Smiths have spearheaded, Jangle Pop. They’ve fully embraced the flavour of the time which was Brit-Pop and New Wave, while preserving their identity and powerful, and emotionally charged aesthetic. The Smiths, especially in Louder Than Bombs, have managed to stay current and relevant even now. Tracks like ‘Asleep’ and ‘Please Please Please Let Me Have What I Want’ are being used in movies soundtracks like ‘500 Days of Summer’ and ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower

For long-time fan of the sound of The Smiths, this is an amazing album, second only to The Queen Is Dead. For new listeners of The Smiths, look forward to ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ as well as ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable’ to get a good feel of jangle pop and Johnny Marr’s legendary guitar conversations.

Rating: 9/10

Favourite Lyrics: ‘Hang the DJ’ – Panic

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