For those who do not remember, P.M. Dawn were a duo—rapper Prince Be the Nocturnal and his brother DJ Minute Mix—who reached the pinnacle of hiphop fame in 1991 with their debut album Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience. The album contained the song "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss," a blend of the beat from Eric B and Rakim's "Paid in Full" and melody from Spandau Ballet's "True," which dominated the airwaves that year and brought a spiritual element to hiphop that, though Christian in its devotion, was pagan in its attitude. P.M. Dawn went far beyond De La Soul's hippie abstractions, and the Jungle Brothers' afrocentric mysticism, and took listeners to a fantastic place dazzled by new-age crystals and bright with stars and moons that exerted strong (if not final) influences on human affairs. Here, supernatural forces could not be separated from natural ones, the real from the dream, the dead from the living—according to Prince Be's worldview, all was a single, absolute, oceanic, cosmic process. This is what P.M. Dawn introduced to the mix and it shocked the hiphop community at that time. P.M. Dawn was the first and, as it turned out, only commercially successful rap group to draw all of its revolutionary inspiration from forces that were clearly feminine. Up to that point, all revolutionary inspiration had been masculine in source and character.
It is in this context that P.M. Dawn's famous beef with KRS-One must be understood—the feminine as opposed to the masculine. Modern hiphop, which begins in 1983 and ends in 1987, was constituted by its aggressive repudiation of the feminine, which was posited as regressive, passive, commercial, and morally and creatively bankrupt. Hiphop was instead experimental, progressive, and radical on the level of form and content. And the enemy of this progressive energy was regressive female energy, which found its expression in R&B, the female singer, the black elegance movement, the glamorous productions of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and the decadence of Morris Day. In "Rock the Bells" (1985), LL Cool J denounced the "all jerry-curl suckers wearin' high-heel boots" (black elegance) and threatened to make mincemeat of "Michael and Prince."
LL Kook J also upset the hiphop community with his pop song "I Need Love." It was feminine, regressive, and emotional—yuck! But he quickly returned to favor with "Jack the Ripper," a track packed with male rage and named after a killer of women. Back then, however, there was no progressive feminine element in hiphop, which is why even feminists like Queen Latifah drew their style, energy, and revolutionary program from a masculine source. It's with P.M. Dawn that the feminine was first given its progressive agenda: an alternate society (the "Utopian Experience") that challenged the established order, a new spirituality, a reevaluated mode of being (Prince Be) and making music.
Now we must break hiphop into four categories: On one side, there is the regressive masculine (Nelly, 50 Cent) and the revolutionary masculine (Queen Latifah, KRS-One); on the other, there is regressive feminine (Lil' Kim, MC Hammer, and R&B singers like Monica, Bobby Brown), and the revolutionary feminine (almost Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, definitely P.M. Dawn). Of all four categories, the least represented is the revolutionary feminine, and what dominates hiphop today is the regressive element in both the masculine and feminine categories. To understand why KRS-One hit Prince Be over the head with a microphone and commandeered his show at Sound Factory Club in 1991, you must see that it was the progressive masculine order defending hiphop from what it believed could never be revolutionary, the feminine.
But P.M. Dawn were not the enemy and this is where KRS-One was wrong: he lumped all that was feminine into all that was weak and corrupt. Later, however, KRS-One would get it right by raising beef with Nelly, one of the many peaks of the regressive masculine. But by that time, 2001, it was too late, the damage was done: The progressive masculine was expelled from the mainstream and banished to the underground, which has ultimately become a mixture of the descendants of KRS-One (Common Market, Silent Lamb Project, Madlib) and of P.M. Dawn (Zion I, Cee Knowledge & the Cosmic Funk Orchestra, One Self). The war in hiphop should have been, and should always be, between all that is progressive and all that is regressive.