Literally released in the nick of time, DJ Green Lantern’s long delayed dedication to Barack Obama is nonetheless worth the wait. Collecting revered emcees from both the mainstream and the underground, “Yes We Can” wholly succeeds to rally behind its nominee without excessive condescension for the opponent. I’m writing this within an hour of election day, and I think it understandable for one to wonder if this release is too late to truly have an effect. The mixtape, however, is as much a premature celebration as an effort to get out the vote. Never do the participants persecute lax voters or simplify Obama to solely representing his color.
In the final frame of Matty Rich’s classic film “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” the screen reads, “First things learned are hardest to forget. Tradition passes from one generation to the next. We need to change.” Now, it should be recognized that “Yes We Can” is the first record of its kind, and its national scope is the greatest hip hop has seen since “America is Dying Slowly,” the AIDS awareness compilation album released twelve years ago. While musically straight, “America is Dying Slowly” seemed an immature reflection of hip hop, as verses and even entire songs strayed from the topic at hand. Although Nas and will.i.am have constructed mature support songs for Obama, hip hop again allowed itself to be perceived insensitive when Ludacris’ violent bars on “Politics as Usual” caused a brief stir within the media. However, Matty Rich would be proud to see that Green Lantern and host Russell Simmons have learned from these mistakes and have created an, above all, focused mixtape.
It should be understood (rather, assumed) that “Yes We Can” isn’t something you’ll want to hear in the club, nor keep in rotation in your car for months. At slightly over an hour long, it offers songs and speeches in equal portions. What’s amazing, and should be accredited to Green Lantern, is the fluidity and entertainment of these interludes. The highlight of the tape’s first half is possibly “Jay-Z speaks on the American Dream.” Hov is both eloquent and relatable (compared to Nas’ often messy speeches), and the interview is interspersed between soulful musical interruptions.
Among these interludes, Green Lantern’s choices of background music should be noticed. The immediately recognizable melancholy of Nas’ “One Mic” is combined with Obama’s powerful “We are one people” speech. Labi Siffre’s incredible “My Song,” most notably sampled by Kanye on “I Wonder,” receives its own interlude, concluding with children declaring what they’d like to be when they grow up. While I can hardly claim to have heard every Green Lantern mixtape, I think it’s safe to say that this is some of his best mixing to date.
This far into the review and we haven’t even gotten to the rapping yet! I assure you that this isn’t because it’s disappointing. “Black President Remix” is split up within the mixtape, collectively featuring emcees as popular as David Banner to the practically unknown Christina K. “Part 1” is a considerably steady reimagining of the Nas original, while “Part 2” sees its marching band drums sped up and coupled with a funky bass. Beginning with a tongue-in-cheek query, “Let me hear you cheer if you loved the last eight years!” followed by a cricket response, “Part 2” is by far the superior remix. Rhymefest calls Obama and Biden “the real mavericks” while Wale flows all over the track. Royce Da 5’9″ delivers the most memorable verse, though, vicious as ever:
“Because it seems heaven sent
I think I’m ready, to have a black precedent
I rock wit Obama, you should follow ya boy’s footsteps
It’s time to clean up the George Bush mess
It’s time for our status to grow, we done about had it
It’s time for a more democratic approach
That’ll thank me
The only person in the rap game voting for John McCain, is Daddy Yankee”
Fellow Slaughterhouse member (I think they’re a group now?!) Joe Budden hops on John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change to Change,” writes more relevant, equally biting bars:
“I got word from my lady
She said ‘JB if they rape me, then Palin want me to keep the baby
And then they wan’ raise taxes
The dollar’s worth nothing as is it’s not enough to wipe my ass with
And racism’s still existent
They say it’s dead but I got suspicions or maybe it’s just a figment
Of me imagining change, just fiction
Waste of time revisions that never come to fruition”
The heat doesn’t stop there; Joell Ortiz’s “Letter to Obama” is an excellent variation from the other Obama support tracks, while Charles Hamilton jumps on “Lose Yourself,” putting himself in Obama’s shoes on “My Moment.” One of the album’s best songs is Wyclef Jean’s spirited “Obama for President,” reminding those that radically oppose the spreading of wealth that “your soul is worth more than diamonds and gold.”
The greatest surprise of “Yes We Can” is that it ends with such appropriate poignancy. The outro, a spoken word offering from New Jersey poet Qadir, summing up the mixtape in chill-inducing fashion:
“It’s easier to find fast foods, than fresh fruits
And education has become second, to Lex Coups and fresh boots
So yes, a change, is past due
See it’s not about the poor vs. rich
The have-nots against the have-much
But the ones who can’t afford a black tux can’t even get a tax cut
It’s much much bigger than black or white, it’s wrong or right
So can we come together to bring justice to light? Yes we can
Our troops have become nothing but war casualties
And if you don’t want any more casualities
We have to do much more than just cope
It’s gonna take a man who had the audacity to hope
And the people who have the audacity to vote
Yes we can
Yes we can
Yes we can”
Foreword: If you’re registered to vote, please remember to bring a form of photo ID, and an iPod for while you’re waiting in line. One cannot exaggerate the significance of this election, nor how important each vote truly is.