Be honest–chances are, you tell people you like dead prez [click to read] but you don’t know too much about them beyond their debut single “Hip-Hop.” It’s okay; you’re forgiven. The dp’z are usually serious in a way that make Talib Kweli seem like Jim Jones, so admittedly, they don’t exactly fit into every mood. Nevertheless, the duo makes up in credibility what it loses in accessibility so Pulse of the People deserves a look.
The first words of the first song (“Runnin’ Wild”) are definitively “fuck the police,” followed by tales of young men who turn to militancy and crime because the world hasn’t given them any other choice. Bun B [click to read] and Styles P [click to read] stop by on “Don’t Hate My Grind” and “Gangsta, Gangster” [click to read] but the two definitely come more to dead prez‘s territory than stic.man and M-1 go to theirs. “Afrika Hot!” finds them pledging their allegiance to the Uhruru movement with drums and guitars crashing all over the track, courtesy of DJ Green Lantern – who produces the album.
They do occasionally step away from the politics, or at least couch them in less abrasive terms. There’s a switch to something more laid back and almost radio-friendly with “NYDP,” a respectful, but honest look at life in New York. “Summer Time” flips a Teddy Pendergrass sample into a love song, and the closer, “My Dirty Valentine” reminds you that even revolutionaries like to get laid.
But again, let’s be honest–dead prez is tough to listen to, not at all because they’re bad, just because they’re just really, really heavy. The few aforementioned tracks break things up here and there, but you need to be in a particular headspace to really vibe with it. Several other politically minded emcees make albums that are still enjoyable at face value, so it’s not exactly valid to say “it’s heavy because they’re speaking the truth.” That doesn’t take anything away from the album, but if dead prez could find a way to be smart and amusing simultaneously (as have, say, The Roots), it would get them over the hump from “good” to “great.”
Pulse of the People is good, but good in the way that Proust novels and environmental documentaries are; they’re easy to appreciate intellectually but difficult to digest casually. It isn’t fit for the club, but unless you spend your whole life there, everything doesn’t need to be. It would be crazy to say that this would, could or should replace more casual fare on your iPod but when you’re in the mood to be challenged, dead prez can still do it better than most.