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dead prez: Let's Get Free

The political impulse in rap music tends to come and go, but the past few years have been extraordinarily good for enlightened hip-hop, with stellar releases by Black Star, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill, The Coup, and others bringing a much-needed social conscience to an otherwise materialistic genre. Like The Coup, New York's dead prez is a group of articulate hip-hop socialists for whom hip-hop and politics are entwined passions. Sonically, the two couldn't be more different, however, with The Coup's thick, sloppy Oakland funk contrasting sharply with dead prez's dark, hypnotic, razor-sharp minimalism. Tearing into the hypocrisies of the social structure with a winning mixture of fierce anger and clear-eyed compassion, dead prez uses its debut album to attack everything from the prison system to public schools to police brutality without coming off as preachy or self-righteous. It's a great record that starts out strong and never slows down: Even when it strays perilously close to Arrested Development territory with musical odes to Nubian sisters, fresh fruits, and Mother Earth, the group still carries it off with panache. But as deep and perceptive as dead prez's lyrics are, they're more than matched by its self-produced, DJ Premier-worthy beats. A call to arms and a damn fine album, Let's Get Free is one of the best debuts hip-hop has seen in a long time.


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