If, in the past, you’ve taken dead prez’s bristling political invective like so many spoonfuls of vinegar, the duo’s new album might serve as a remedying dose of synth-funk honey. Though their radical politics are still present, they’ve shifted slightly: stic.man and M1 appear to have taken up Buddhism. As a result, they’ve stopped trying to spark anarchy and seem content to espouse knowing eschatology. When you’re waiting on the apocalypse, after all, all you can really do is dance and pray. The dancing starts early, with the startlingly pretty “A New Beginning,” which fuses a late-’80s dance-hop beat with relatively calm verses from the duo. Addressing his constituents, M1 gently prods, “You thought the finish line was 1999, didn’t ya?” before the song launches into the best chorus we’ve heard from dead prez in years.
But even the catchiest songs, like “Dirty White Girl,” can hold the kind of sentiments that have made the duo notorious. On that song, white women are a metaphor for everything from cocaine to LSD to Virginia Slims. The comparison will be offensive to many; dead prez are prone to blunt prejudice. That the song is compulsively listenable can makes lines like “Just the kush, not the yayo, cuz that Barbara Bush is fatal” and “I need a Sista Soulja not a Dixie Chick” cringeworthy or gutbusting depending on the listener’s sensibilities. The best thing dead prez’s pupils can do is to use the advice their mentors have lent them (“the best education is observation and participation”) and parse for truth, because there’s plenty to be found here. No one should take issue with a legitimate Africanist take on the European financial crisis or the crushing indictment of the government made on the frank “What if the Lights Go Out:” “What did we learn from Katrina? Better learn to swim if you’re waiting on FEMA.”