The Best of P.M. Dawn
LOOK, WE DIDN'T know any better, all right? We were from the suburbs, for God's sake! We thought it was called "rap"! And we thought the hip-hop nation would be as thrilled as we were that they'd finally unearthed their very own Brian Wilson, a shut-in who daydreamed of unearthly vistas. How could we have known they didn't want one? Well, we found out, and so did P.M. Dawn. Eventually, overweight and oversensitive vocalist/conceptualist Prince Be would let the criticism get to him, shifting his focus away from hip hop and toward breathily sung R&B. This stylistic makeover was probably a relief to Be, too--Jodeci and R. Kelly, after all, tend to be less prone to handing out beatdowns than KRS-One.
Forgive, then, those of us who took P.M. Dawn's canny, popwise craft not just for some kind of magic but for some kind of hip hop as well--we weren't exactly wrong. Trip-hop's languid soundscapes owe P.M. Dawn, as do the mumblings of latter-day sub-underground MCs like Quasimoto and Sensational. In fact, this compilation has me wondering just what might have been had Be not begun composing more than he sampled and singing more than he rapped. With the exceptions of the vulnerable-man apotheosis "I'd Die Without You," Be's musings communicate better when spoken: They're more hypnotic, more knowing, more playful, more himself. (Naysayers frequently missed his sardonic undertones. Even when he mused on life's cosmic vibrations, he knew enough to distrust fate's fickle hand).
This amalgam of ethereal and earthy is something few groups, hip-hop or other, have quite gotten right. And even though P.M. Dawn were a great singles band, this collection does them a disservice. Even if 1995's Jesus Wept and 1998's Dearest Christian found Be and J.C. the Eternal writing lesser hooks than they used to steal, the organic feel of these albums preserves better than this patchwork. (Useless bonus remixes by Todd Terry, C.J. Mackintosh and David Morales don't help.) The hip-hop nation might not have wanted its chakras read, but P.M. Dawn did it anyway. And we're all better off for it.