“Son, why are you bumping the Black Eyed Peas?” my roommate asked, incredulous that I would dare walk into the living room playing such poppy filth.
“It’s dead prez,” I replied. “‘New Beginning’ is the single off their new Information Age album.”
“What the fuck? This sounds like the song they play at the end of the night at the club. This is what they’re doing now?”
Sadly, it is. Let’s Get Free was my soundtrack during my “revolutionary” phase in high school (complete with Che t-shirt and calling my freshman history teacher a racist). If I time-traveled to tell High School Me that the 2012 dead prez album sounded like the Black Eyed Peas, High School Me would accuse 2012 Me of selling out and being sent back in time by the establishment to spread lies about dead prez, who in his mind are on the verge of overthrowing the corrupt system in 2012. High School Me settles down only after 2012 Me tells him about Black Hippy, the San Francisco Giants winning multiple titles, and this place he’d never visited named San Diego.
dead prez used to make music that you put your fist up to. Information Age still gets your fist up, but only to pump it in the air, fighting the beat like a douchebag from Jersey. The duo keeps their socially-conscious themes from albums past, but backing them with EDM production is trying to fit the square peg in the round hole. One of my favorite morning radio shows in Sacramento had a segment where the anchors would read tragic news over happy music, which pretty much sums up Information Age. If you were to ignore the verses on “What if the Lights Go Out” and just kept the radio-made beat and hook, you’d have the hottest dance song in the club:
“What if the lights go out, right now, right now/What if the lights go out, right now, right now/Follow your heart, follow the light…”
I can neither confirm nor deny that I’ve used the above lines in certain, ahem, situations that definitely didn’t involve emergencies and tragedies, as dead prez used them.
A group as groundbreaking and creative as dead prez could surely do better than a song called “Dirty White Girl” about cocaine. Ironically, if this song was played in a club in the 80’s, the whole club would probably pull out the mirrors and rolled up $100 bills. The raps sound like they were lifted from a PSA that would air after The Magic School Bus:
“She’s been around the industry/I know her history, it’s not a mystery/PCP, crystal meth, LSD, it’s not for me…”
I half-expected to be told to not be a fool and stay in school.
The most salvageable track is the jazzy, subdued “Learning Growing Changing,” which sounds like it was lifted from The Roots’ Rising Down or How I Got Over. Perhaps Information Age is an attempt to be a little more accessible, because it sounds like something the label made them release against their wishes. There are some bridges to repair after saying things like “running up on them crackers in they City Hall.” But it seems like dead prez have lost their bite.
Listening to Information Age instead of Let’s Get Free and RBG is like watching Scarface on ABC Family instead of HBO. I salute them for trying something new, something that many, many artists fear. But the execution just wasn’t there. They’re too smart and too talented to make this same mistake twice.