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After five years on the hip-hop scene, Public Enemy had managed to create a lasting legacy on the world of music. Not only had they conjured up four of the freshest hip-hop records ever, pushing politicised hip-hop into the mainstream for the first time, but they did so with unmatched fury, finesse and rapidity, distinguishing themselves from other rap acts. So much so, in fact, that they released 'Nearest Misses' in 1992, a compendium of both old and new efforts which gave them time to reflect on a career which was still only in its infancy. With the first 6 tracks being new and the last 6 being remixes of some of their great but lesser known songs, 'Nearest Misses' was an enticing prospect from PE.
The album swings into action with a compelling sound sample: an American man asks us to listen to PE and evaluate - is this art or violent propaganda? When the bass-line kicks in and the understated tune reverberates through the song's spine the answer is clear, with D offering a wonderfully measured rap full of feeling. Interestingly, not every line is rhymed but this does not detract from the rap offensive, with D even jokingly revealing this very fact at one point. The song's all about D with the vocals dancing around the background track and winding into a well-balanced chorus. X and Flav take a back-seat here, but that's by no means a bad thing as D kicks off the album with great finesse.
The album's tone changes with 'Hit da Road Jack', a song infused with funky undertones. For one, Flav's early melodic tune is plucked from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' psychedelic tune 'Behind the Sun' off their 1987 album 'Uplift Mofo Party Plan'. The backing track itself has a wonderfully measured tempo, with a smooth transition into X's well-mixed chorus. X is on top form here with some compelling scratching while Flav's involvement is also impressive, with a reggae-style rap mid-way through which breaks the song up well. Moreover, D delivers again, hitting every note with pinpoint timing.
'Get off My Back' changes the formula again with a barbershop-quartet-style entrance - Flav melodically sings the song's title with D when a deep beat drops into the tune's main body. The melody continues throughout the song in a harmonic backing track which intertwines with another funky mix from X. The chorus is the first ever sung one from PE, with Flav seemingly imitating Red Hot Chili Peppers' early style once again. Flav then reverts to PE form with a slick, tongue-in-cheek rap you expect of him, and the song is one of the group's freshest ever. By moving sampling to the side, PE have created their first harmonic song which wonderfully mixes rap, funk and melody into a compellingly upbeat track.
This funky feel continues in 'Gotta do What I Gotta Do' though soul also influences PE here. The song is kicked off by a rare PE interview snippet, but the layered music compiled by X soon kicks in, working well in tandem with D's confident rap. The tune is again impressively layered and bounces around D's vocals to give the song a measured tempo. Likewise, the soul-infused 'Air Hoodlum' impresses with a slower tempo which gives D more time to deliver his vocals to full effect. X's mixing is again great here, with samples used to break up the tune's main body mid-way through.
'Hazy Shade of Criminal' is the album's stand-out song, with PE in their element in a rap against police corruption. D stylishly delivers every vocal with the relentless flow of his rhyme and pinpoint precision allowing him to condemn the anti-black agenda of the American Police force. X's mix is simple but strong enough to support D in his rap offensive, and Flav works off him well. The tune is wholly defined by D's wonderfully smooth style and lyrics charged with political reason - it's PE tweaking the sound they created five years earlier to full effect.
At song seven the first of PE's remixes makes its entrance: 'Megablast'. Sadly, it just doesn't match the brilliance of the original, whose charm owed largely to the duet between D and Flav. Here, a mass of sound samples simply obscure the rap and it seems painfully clear that the sounds have been added to the song, as the slowed vocals simply don't match the flow of the backing track. The same can unfortunately be said of 'Louder than a Bomb' which incidentally does the reverse of the above. The original was defined by its unusually rapid tempo and layered tune while the use of a more reserved, sterile tune simply doesn't do enough to help along D's confident vocals.
Luckily, the remix of 'You're Gonna Get Yours' is a wonderful reinvention of PE's original. Its success lies in keeping the root formula the same and simply changing aesthetics. The tune remains the same, as do D's vocals, but excellent scratching is weaved into the song design to give the tune which opened their début a reboot. The core formula is simply tweaked rather than completely overhauled, making for a great aural experience.
'How to Kill a Radio Consultant' is a mixed bag, but doesn't really manage to convincingly update PE's original. The tune has again been down-scaled to thrust D's rap into the spotlight and although D's vocals were tight on the original they actually seem less impressive when they stand alone. It's by no means a bad remix, it just seems unnecessary as nothing aside from the backing tune has really been changed. Conversely, 'Who Stole the Soul' updates well, once again given simple tweaks which simply heighten the song's impact rather than detracting from it. Original samples remain but the beat drops in much deeper to make for a louder spine to the song; unfortunately, though, it can't offer enough variation to represent a great remix of PE's tune.
'Party For Your Right to Fight', while not managing to eclipse the original in magnitude, is still an impressive remix which is given a slower tempo and intensely funk feel. The intermittent guitar riffs and slap bass sounds reverberate behind the vocals to give the tune a fresh feel. At times, though, the vocals do seem too detached from the tune, detracting from the overall experience. The album finale is reserved for a live-in-London version of 'Shut 'Em Down'. Even slower than the already slow original and with a notably less audible backing track, it's a rather weak ending to the album which would've been impressive live but doesn't capture the energy or fury PE are known for well enough.
In summary, 'Nearest Misses' is just that - an album which has a few hits but more misses. PE seem to have slightly lost their way here; maybe their creativity was spent after their first four momentous albums, as this record is overall a compilation of good, but not great, B sides which simply doesn't show off PE as well as it should. There are notable highlights, with Hit da Road Jack's funk feel offering a new side to PE and 'Hazy Shade of Criminal' recapturing past glories impeccably. Sadly, though, the album is let down by the largely weak remixes in the album's second half, which detract more from PE's solid originals than they add. Ultimately, this is an album for hardcore PE fans only, while newcomers are advised to hear their first four albums before launching into this one.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Tie Goes To The Runner
2 Hit Da Road Jack
3 Get Off My Back
4 Gotta Do What I Gotta Do
5 Air Hoodlum
6 Hazy Shade Of Criminal
8 Louder Than A Bomb
9 You're Gonna Get Yours
10 How To Kill A Radio Consultant
11 Who Stole The Soul?
12 Party For Your Right To Fight
13 Shut Em Down