How well do the radical rappers perform where it really counts--in the grooves? Here's a look at the recordings by some of the movement's key spokesmen and women, rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).
*** 1/2 Movement Ex, "Movement Ex," Columbia. "Freedom Got a Shotgun" and "United Snakes of America" are righteous raps, delivered by Lord Mustafa in a hard, direct manner that suggests Public Enemy member Chuck D.'s style. King Born's creative samples and manipulations provide equally compelling backing. The whole thing's weighed down some by the didactic messages (tackling an impressively wide range of social ills), but that might be a function of the youth of this promising act.
*** 1/2 Brand Nubian, "One for All," Elektra. There's a playful ease to this record recalling the colorful experiments of De La Soul, and there's as much sexual boasting as Islamic teaching. But that doesn't lessen the power of the lessons delivered with style and creativity by rappers Grand Puba Maxwell and Lord Jammar and deejay Saddat X. An impressive debut.
*** Paris, "The Devil Made Me Do It," Tommy Boy. The Bay Area rapper includes histories of black radicals in the liner notes of this debut, and presents a Black Panther-esque agenda in his raps. Not as compelling or inventive as Movement Ex or Brand Nubian, but the message is strong.
** 1/2 Laquan, "Notes of a Native Son," 4th & Broadway/Island. The beats and delivery of this L.A. teen are pretty plain, but so is his intent on such pointed indictments of the power structure as "Imprison the President." Extra points for using mostly live musicians instead of samples.
** 1/2 Professor X, "Years of the 9, on the Blackhand Side;" 1/2 Isis, "Rebel Soul;" 1/2 X Clan, "To the East, Blackwards," 4th & Broadway/Island. The customized Egyptology and recurring code-word phrases and exhortations are a bit silly, and the beats are not as strong as teaching rap should be. But these activists aren't afraid to, as a Professor X song title says, "Call a Spade a Spade."
For further investigation: Poor Righteous Teachers, "Holy Intellect," Profile; King Sun, "Righteous But Ruthless," Profile, and Intelligent Hoodlum, "Intelligent Hoodlum," A&M.;