Throwback: Rediscovering Music’s “Greatest Miss” in Public Enemy's Hazy Shade of Criminal
You don’t have to be an avid music collector to be familiar with records donning the title “Greatest Hits”—you know, those compilation omnibus-type albums supposedly featuring said artists, obviously, greatest hits.
In the course of this lifetime, you’ll only come across one album with a seemingly-contradicting mantle, Public Enemy’s first compilation, Greatest Misses. And according to one of its producer's Gary G-Wiz, the group’s intentions towards the album were just that.
The album itself, however, doesn’t fall anywhere near the satirical connotations it promotes, for the songs included lay somewhere in between misses and hits—and by that, I mean being defined as somewhere along the lines of underrated underdog songs you wouldn’t fundamentally lay beside its all-time hits, but songs you simply can’t dismiss nor regard as a “miss”.
To focus on just that, one track perfectly embodies this intriguing concept.
Released a day before the album’s release, Hazy Shade Of Criminal entered the scene and listeners would hear a very familiar “angry” tone, but following up with ample amounts of rigorous analysis, the “word” deceptive would cater more to the song’s nature.
It’s starts with an aggressive beat, topped off with Chuck’s even-more aggressive hook: “Reach uppity reach gotta reach/ Power to the people and the beats”—presenting a clever response to the track’s verses which express the unacceptably-rampant social injustice at the time of its production.
“To the blind, deaf and dumb/ Hard to see them coming but they come, here they come/ Don’t be dumb-diggety-dumb/ Politicians writing bad checks/ Still they getting wrecked/ Looking for a niggas neck”—Chuck’s wake-up call to those being “deceived” by a system layered in a “hazy shade of criminal”. I know, its deep, but isn’t it awesome just thinking about it?
The vinyl that came with its pre-release, however, came with a darker tone. The image displayed a lynch scene with a mob of white individuals circling the spectacle with smiles on their faces. Indeed, it presents a rather viscous illustration, but in a bold degree of gaining recognition, the vinyl conveys a necessary message.
The very image transcends the boundaries of mere racism, and metaphorically raises the notion of the system’s deception misleading individuals into believing inequality and practices encouraging it do not present an issue to be solved—that society can function with such malady, that the metaphoric injustice portrayed through lynching is simply okay. This song boldly points otherwise, and seeks justice.
Interestingly, the track’s contagious beat itself presents a subtle form of deception. According to G-wiz, They started with a single loop abd built around it for the song’s entirety and relies on his dynamic rhymes to orchestrate an illusion of a more complex sound—if that doesn’t suggest the mark of a master craftsman, I don’t know what else does.
There’s a cliché art saying “beauty is in the eye of its beholder”; In this case, I’d formulate a similar one: “beauty is in the eye that sees the bigger picture”, (well in this case, ear), and in many ways, that is where this song succeeds.
Indeed, majority of fans won’t typically add “Hazy Shade of Criminal” to Public Enemy’s “Best Hits” playlist; but ironically, I think it would be a grave mistake to count it as a “great miss”—and you’d be missing out if you miss the song’s true quality altogether. If anything, perhaps you’ll agree that though it falls somewhere in between, perhaps we’ll all rest easy in concluding it under the “music at its finest” charts.
And indeed, it would be a great miss to dismiss this masterpiece.
Today marks the very release date of Hazy Shade of Criminal; give yourself a treat and listen to this magnum opus, masterfully crafted by Public Enemy.
By Jods Arboleda for PublicEnemy.com