By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The problem with Love Below is that its hyperotherness is a tad too studied. The self-consciousness of persona and other people’s perceptions of it that Big Boi discards early on in his disc fairly permeates Dre’s. His positioning of himself in the lineage of Hendrix, Sly Stone, Prince and Coltrane (the last on an admittedly fly drum & bass instrumental of “My Favorite Things”) is labored; his Negro psychedelia is refreshing in the context of contemporary R&B and rap that have been hijacked by, well, the reigning bullshit, yet it’s still a little too familiar; it’s a formula, a cliché in its own right.
Still, Dre taps into some real, age-old tension around the issue of Negro (male) authenticity and the ache of not really belonging anywhere. The wobbly Sammy Davis Jr./Nat King Cole–wannabe crooning he employs on the CD intro is ostensibly asking where true love can be found (“Some say Atlanta, some say New York, some say Paris, France, but who knows where this flower grows?”); the flower in question, however, is also his black self. The faux-Brit accent he employs on the skit “Good Day, Good Sir” (featuring Puff Daddy’s manservant, Bentley Farnsworth) evokes the late Marvin Gaye, who in the ’70s was mocked by many of his peers when, after living in England for a hot minute, he returned to the States sporting an exaggerated English inflection. But as pretentious as the accent was, it was also poignant, bespeaking the gnaw that has resided inside even the most acclaimed black geniuses. The irony of aping the colonialists in the search for personal freedom is, of course, too rich for words.
To understand why Dre’s Brit affectation registers on a deep, racialized level, you need look no further than the current controversy surrounding political rappers Dead Prez, who were recently arrested in New York while in the middle of a photo shoot. Their refusal to produce ID when confronted by police resulted in their arrest on transparently bogus charges. (The cases have been dismissed against three of the four people arrested; tellingly, the white photographer snapping the photos was neither asked for ID nor arrested.) Listening to the group’s new album, Get Free or Die Tryin’, is to embark on a journey of pointedly race-based wariness, weariness and anger — as well as the flaming impulses of resistance. Musically, they’ve altered the formula significantly from their 2000 debut, Let’s Get Free. This time, they employ beats and stylistic flourishes that wouldn’t be out of place on a DMX album (“Fuck the Law”) or a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony joint (“Paper, Paper”); the autobiographical “Coming of Age” rests on a bed of feathery funk. These tweaked aesthetics provide textures and accessibility meant to help the duo reach beyond their cult of the already converted. The crippling flaw with their debut was that, while their rhymes were tight and full of fire, they contained little poetry. Ironically, just as the group’s artistry is getting more dynamic, their reality reminds you of a persistent fact: Sometimes America just beats the poetry right out of you.
OUTKAST | Speakerboxxx /The Love Below | (Arista)
DEAD PREZ | Get Free or Die Tryin’ | (Landspeed)