Somewhere online I read that this was an early “alternative hip hop” album and that coloured my experience of it, because it didn’t seem that alternative to me. But what do I know?
I don’t know enough about the history of hip hop to know how early the positive lyric stuff started, but all of the earliest stuff I’ve heard has been from 1990, as far as I can remember. And I appreciate this stuff as I find Gangsta Rap in particular to be pretty dumb. And the bragging in general sounds more believable when it is intelligent and I am more accepting of it when it’s towards a goal I feel like is not self-destructive.
These guys are literate and they are clever and they are confident. I can see how they could make their particularly niche, esoteric version of Islam appealing to a lot of people. But the lyrics really do just feel like a spin on the positivity of De La Soul (who are referenced) and I’m not sure they make a different enough impression (aside from the focus on Islam).
The music is less impressive to me than the lyrics – it feels a lot like typical east coast hip hop of the era. It might be a little more rooted in soul and other forms of more conventional popular music – one of them sings Billy Joel at one point! – but it still sounds pretty similar to other stuff I’ve listened to from New York circa this time.
It’s just way less quirky than I was expecting, I guess because I was expecting something a long the lines of Tribe’s quirkiness, or something equally weird. And that’s not what’s going on here: this is earnest and direct. And that’s not a bad thing but I like the weird stuff better.
It might be a big deal, I honestly don’t know. But I think there was “positive” (or “conscious”) hip hop well before this and I’ve definitely heard more interesting hip hop records from 1990 and earlier. Oh, and did I mention this thing is insanely long? Because it is.