The Best of PM Dawn
Recent greatest-hits packages from L.L. Cool J, EPMD, KRS-One, Ice T, Heavy D and the Boyz, and A Tribe Called Quest have confirmed what hip-hop fans have known for years. Not that “best of” formats for rap records are marketable to nostalgics, but that rap artists, even the most innovative, sound best in a singles-based medium. All of the artists mentioned have spearheaded definitive mini-revolutions early in their career and followed them by spotty careers marked only by a few memorable singles. The alternate-astral-plane-dwelling new-age rap figureheads P.M. Dawn are the exception to the rule.
From their inception, P.M. Dawn sounded more like Windham Hill than Sugar Hill, rapping with the abstract heart-on-my-sleeve fractal melodrama of the Smiths over the swooping ethereal dreamscapes of Vangelis, preaching (higher) consciousness to a rap world ambivalent to either. Creatively (though not commercially), their career has remained relatively stable, only occasionally fumbling through the über-sappy pretensions of 1998’s Dearest Christian, I’m So Very Sorry For Bringing You Here, Love Dad. “Falling off” in the rap world is what usually constitutes the need for a greatest-hits package, but despite comparative commercial floundering, P.M. Dawn’s dramaturgical approach to cosmic ambiance was never, technically, “on” in the first place. The 10 “hits” offered on this brief retrospective reveal a jarringly creative consistence, a near-impossiblity in the rap world, but P.M. Dawn would much rather float above the hip-hop nation: appearing momentarily to create orchestral think-music revolving around the saturated hooks of Spandau Ballet and George Michael and allowing the backbone of a song to crack under the pressure of cerebral overproduction. The Fugees sampled Enya, but P.M. Dawn lived it, and these 10 tracks are a living testament to a hip-hop group who transcended the genre’s confines to the point of outliving the expectations of being creatively devoid by four albums. The only down notes are the conspicuous absence of the original version of “Reality Used to be a Friend of Mine” and the club-friendly house remixes (by Todd Terry, CJ Macintosh, and David Morales) that compose the album’s melancholy conclusion. These weak retreads are slightly overbearing, but actually an appropriate denouement for a brilliant group who made a decade’s worth of slightly overbearing trance-hop.
V2 Records, 14 East 4th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10012; http://www.v2records.com/