Within the space of a week, both Dr. Dre and Public Enemy have released new studio albums. It’s hard not to take a step back to google something on your phone just to reassure yourself that it really is 2015 and not the early 90s. Dre’s album was primarily used as a tool to fuel the hype of the NWA film. However, P.E’s decision to make a comeback was fuelled by an unsettled political landscape in America, pretty much the same reason for their initial formation in the late 80s. Citing Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels as sources of inspiration, they hit the studio to create yet another record full of politically charged anthems and unique production.
To say the album is stereotypically P.E is an understatement, but that doesn’t mean we have heard it all before. They adapt a modern approach to the production, most notably on the exhilarating ‘Those Who Know Know Who’. It proves that you might not actually need multiple chaotic samples layered on top of each other to create a captivating Public Enemy album. Man Plans God Laughs doesn’t instantly demand attention like their classic releases, but 28 years into a career that’s a hard quality to maintain.
Many of the topics touched on lyrically are of vital importance. Chuck D has always had the ability to provide brash and honest views on what’s wrong with the world. On ‘Earthizen’ he gives an alphabetised rundown of some vital life advice and why you should not accept everything you are told as fact. This is why Public Enemy have always been and will continue to be an important act, not just in hip hop but in music. They mirror the social conscious of many minds around the world and use their platform to assure these people that they are not alone in their thinking.
Man Plans God Laughs will definitely not get the same amount publicity or achieve the same sales as Dr. Dre’s album did. If anything the surprise release from Dre may have slightly overshadowed the fact that the act who directly inspired NWA were also returning. However, this shouldn’t downplay the importance of this album,and of Public Enemy. They have returned, maybe not with as big of a bang as you might have hoped, but they’re here, they’re loud and they have a voice that needs to be heard.
After 16 years since his last solo album and having released two singles in 2008 for an album that is now deemed to never see the light of day, Dr. Dre surprised the world by announcing ‘Compton’ with just a couple of weeks notice. Speculation spread like wildfire instantly. Who would be on it? What would it sound like? Will it even be good? Some doubted him and others defended him. Luckily for us, Dre is a perfectionist, and we were never going to get a subpar product. It should not come as too much of a surprise then that he has released an album with the potential to revolutionise and revive the West Coast hip hop scene, yet again.
The list of artists that feature on ‘Compton’ is dense. There’s plenty of new and relatively unknowns that appear frequently, (Anderson Paak and King Mez). Of course many of the most interesting moments are hearing Dre back in the studio with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Kendrick Lamar. All of the heavyweights deliver some of their best verses in years, perhaps realising that this may be how their career will be immortalised for this generation. The biggest star of the show is Kendrick. Many have been waiting to hear him over Dre’s production since he has emerged as the most interesting and prominent artist from the West Coast in years. It’s safe to say he makes the very most of the situation, appearing on He demands attention from the first word he vocalises on ‘Deep Water’, rapping with an unrivalled confidence and skill and the intention of gunning for his competitors throats.
That’s not to say there aren’t some mediocre tracks or verses either. Ice Cube’s verse is somewhat entertaining but the song suffers due to messy and repetitive production. Eminem also keeps up his streak of incredibly well written raps that sound impressive, but that lack any sign of emotion or message. What could have been one of the highlights of the album, hearing a reunion of the two recording partners and friends, falls into the now hefty category of forgettable Dr.Dre/Eminem collaborations.
Lyrically, Dre goes into detail on everything from the pressures of releasing an album (‘It’s All On Me’) to the treatment of people in Compton by police and the media (‘Animals’). The latter is one of the best tracks on the album. The insightful lyrics are soulfully delivered by Anderson Paak over the smooth beat that is as immersive as J Dilla at his best. DJ Premier even appears at the end to scratch some vocal samples. It is little elements like this that Dre added in that prove he really pulled out all the stops to make this album sound like a classic. Not only should ‘Compton’ stand the test of time, it will serve as a benchmark of influence for artists that will emerge in the next 10 years.
The real star of the album unsurprisingly is the production. He has created 16 tracks that sound brand new but still have hints of 90’s west coast nostalgia that many crave from him. The mixing is supremely handled as always. Each kick and snare sounds crisp and lands perfectly over the intricately layered beats. It’s refreshing to see Dre taking the music in a different direction than many would have expected. If you think about the leaps and bounds hip hop has taken in terms of what can be done with production in the past 15 years, it is no wonder that this record isn’t particularly similar to anything we’ve heard from him before. In the long interim since Chronic 2001, Kanye West’s entire career has happened, Jay Z has become a business mogul and plenty of fads have come and gone. If Dre had of released a carbon copy of his critically acclaimed previous work, he would be deemed irrelevant by today’s standards, no matter how good it would have sounded. What he has managed to do on ‘Compton’, is create a new sound for the West Coast, one that is desperately needed. This album will spawn many imitators as his others have before. This isn’t doubting the creativity of other artists, but you cannot deny the influence Dre has already had and now will continue to have because of this album. This may be our last appointment with the good Doctor but it is much like a prostate exam. Briefly uncomfortable in parts, but much needed and we’re all a lot better off because of it.
Having released his debut, the Sun Rises in the East, in 1994 alongside DJ Premier, many would believe that Jeru the Damaja’s prime could be far behind him. However, undeniable charisma and talent thankfully prevent this from being the case. The show that he put on was as energetic, and more entertaining, than that of many artists who were born the same year his debut was released. Age may not be a factor but experience most certainly is. Performances such as this one prevent Jeru from fading into obscurity and cement his legacy as one of hip hop’s greatest performers.
Many artists can claim veteran status in rap music at this stage. Anyone who released an album in the 90s that resulted in some form of acclaim tends to do so. However, it is rare that this title is as applicable to anyone as Jeru the Damaja. He controls the crowd at the Sugar Club not just with ease, but with a high level of professionalism, one that is often missing on his peers’ behalf. He even stops an over enthusiastic fan from being kicked out, highlighting and enhancing the control he holds over the crowd and the entire venue.
Mixing an array of new material with classics and results in a ferocious set. When he’s not impressing with his flow and wordplay, he jokes with the crowd about racism vs prejudice, Irish stereotypes and eh.. his “large black shillelagh.” His good mood is absorbed by the spectators and is reciprocated tenfold. Competitors should notes on how to genuinely and consistently create laughter amongst an audience, something that is slowly becoming a lost art form in live music. The DJ duties, provided by ChoiceCuts own DJ Scope are more than suitably handled. Scope either knows Jeru’s set like the back of his hand, or is incredibly good at rolling with the many punches that the set delivers.
As soon as it’s over he’s straight to the smoking area to sell copies of his latest album. It only goes to prove that work ethic is essential to any hip hop artist, regardless of your stature. Some would view Ireland as yet another easy pay check for 60 minutes work, but Jeru at least gave the illusion that he had immersed himself in our culture to some degree. Whether he’s giving us his best effort at speaking Irish or talking about his ‘gaff’, it’s clear an effort was made on his behalf to try gather somewhat relatable material to entertain the crowd between tracks. Fair enough it can verge on patronising at some stages, but if you drop the patriotic facade, you begin to realise that he is genuinely funny regardless of who he is poking fun at. It is not a show that packs hit after hit into 60 minutes but the enthusiasm shown by the crowd and the act prove that that may not be as big a necessity as previously thought.