Happy 25th Anniversary to Poor Righteous Teachers debut LP Holy Intellect, originally released March 16, 1990.
A show of hands, if I may. Who remembers a time, not too long ago, when hip-hop artists who embodied substance over superficiality were the rule, and not the exception to the rule? A time when listening to the latest rap record du jour didnt engender ho-hum indifference, as you struggled to endure its creators vapid narcissism and materialism masquerading as contemporary cool. A time when the hip-hop community was predominantly defined by provocative, multi-dimensional emcees devoted to examining the social, cultural, spiritual, intellectual, and political dynamics of the world. A time when poignant messages were seamlessly calibrated with refreshing sonic adventurism, making for truly memorable and soul-affirming listening experiences.
Now I suspect that some of you and most likely the younger lot of you may be thinking what in the world is this overly nostalgic, curmudgeonly dude even talking about? But I trust that there are many soulhead readers who raised your hands alongside mine immediately, as you share the same sentimental longings for hip-hops past and regrettable apathy towards its present.
Granted, there are indeed several new artists working today that admirably evoke hip-hops original values, shunning the shallowness rampant throughout much of the industry. But overall, todays rap music is largely vacuous and formulaic, making the more seasoned music heads among us yearn for the originality, vibrancy, and righteous sense of purpose that pervaded the genres golden age, from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. This was the most formative period for me in terms of music discovery, as Ive explored in previous Long Play Love pieces. So not surprisingly, some 20-plus years later, I still recall that time so vividly, and relish any opportunity to revisit the experiences I had with the music that became as The Roots, Erykah Badu and Common all once famously declared the first true love of my life.
An easy way to preserve the spirit of the golden age is to keep the eras classic LPs in heavy rotation, or at least dust them off from time to time. And while you can pretty much select any year during the period and find plenty of classic albums to celebrate, 1990 stands out as a particularly fruitful year for hip-hop long players. Public Enemys Fear of a Black Planet, A Tribe Called Quests Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, Ice Cubes AmeriKKKas Most Wanted and Brand Nubians One for All are the landmark albums released that year that come immediately to mind for most of us. Another album that flew a bit more under the radar than the aforementioned, but belongs in this rarified group nevertheless, is Holy Intellect, the debut LP by Poor Righteous Teachers.
Those well-versed in hip-hop history will recall the ubiquitous connection that existed and still exists, arguably to a less prevalent extent today between a multitude of artists and the Five Percent Nation. Arguably the prime example of this association was Trenton, NJs Poor Righteous Teachers, who through their music, became revered messengers of the Five Percenter movements gospel of black dignity and empowerment. Founded by the trio of Wise Intelligent, Culture Freedom, and the late Father Shaheed, the groups chosen moniker is indeed a direct reference to the Five Percent Nation. Poor Righteous Teachers refers to the enlightened five percent of humanity who believe and teach that Asiatic black people comprised the first civilization on earth and therefore the black man is the personification of God.
Fidelity to the Five Percent Nations core principles is a dominant theme throughout Holy Intellect, though more broadly, the threads of consciousness, pride and wisdom define the albums twelve songs. One of the most gifted and criminally underappreciated emcees ever to grace the mic, Wise Intelligent is the driving force behind the albums greatness. The self-proclaimed magnet catchin your ear sprays his incisive lyrics and rapid-fire flow across the album to spellbinding effect, giving the listener no choice but to pay attention and contemplate the deeper truths behind his words.
The album is not just an exercise in the cerebral, however, as Wise Intelligents powerful voice is perfectly complemented by the late producer Tony Ds penchant for headnod-inducing sonics. Tony Ds choice selection of samples lends some welcome familiarity to the affair, with highlights including Wars Slippin Into Darkness (sampled on the LPs most recognizable single, Rock Dis Funky Joint), Zapps Be Alright (Shakiyla), James Browns The Boss (Word From the Wise) and Soul II Souls Jazzies Groove (Time to Say Peace).
All in all, Holy Intellect is one of the finest hip-hop albums ever recorded, and a perfect manifestation of the genres creative peak. Its worth noting that Poor Righteous Teachers subsequent LPs (1991s Pure Poverty, 1993s Black Business, and 1996s The New World Order) and Wise Intelligents post-PRT solo output also warrant praise, as they build upon Holy Intellects enduring blueprint, but also stand as unique works in their own right. And for those of us who frequently lament the current state of hip-hop, its reassuring to know that we can always grab albums like Holy Intellect from the shelf, place the needle on the record, and pretend that the golden age never ended.
My Favorite Song: Time to Say Peace
“Rock Dis Funky Joint” (1990)
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