Written by Teyquil Skelton
What you gonna do when the grid goes down? The new album from Public Enemy is nothing short of astounding. It hits you with songs that leave you questioning the state of our country. It creates all sorts of emotions to get you moving and get your fist shooting straight up in the air. It digs deep into the core of the problem in which we deal with daily and the fact that not much has changed in 35 years or so. It still raises the question as to whether racism will ever be abolished. The world is in turmoil and there needs to be action taken into account. In my opinion, this album couldn’t be more relevant to our current society, exposing the failures of a divided and corrupt government that threatens our lives constantly.
The album features iconic artists including Cypress Hill, George Clinton, DJ Premier, AD-Rock, Daddy-O, Run DMC, Ice-T, and PMD to name a few. It’s amazing how this record sticks to the root of Public Enemy’s ’80s and ’90s nostalgic sound as if it was produced back in that era with superb DJ scratches, old school hip-hop beats, and lyrics that spill truths about black culture. PE, Flavor Flav, and Chuck D definitely traveled down memory lane while recording this album. It could have been late-night conversations on Zoom, reminiscing about Public Enemy records from back in the day or the tours they went on during that time. Whatever it was that they did, it reflects strongly on what they’re about and what they’ve stood for, for decades.
Chuck D was never one for biting his tongue and it showed through his lyrics as he told stories of black people and their struggles as well as his own battles. Chuck D and Flavor Flav represented blackness and the power of black skin and what it meant to be Kings and Queens. However, the message remains the same to this day; the only difference is that the younger generation is now given that same opportunity to be supported by one of the most gifted lyrical poets we have in this world as we circle around the moon another day.
One of my favorites on the album is the remix of “Fight The Power” and how this song is needed now more than ever. It strikes hard with real occurrences that are recent and makes the listener face what society continues to ignore. The song meant so much to minorities and African-Americans 30 years ago then and means, even more, today. It’s vital because it touches on things like police brutality, presidential abuse, senseless black annihilation, racist groups, and more.
Another favorite of mine on the album is a song called “Rest In Beats.” Chuck D pays tribute to lyricists like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Heavy D, Eazy-E, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Jam Master Jay, and the essence of what hip-hop represented some time ago.
Chuck D also shines a light on the simple things in life that we, at the moment, can’t experience due to the massive destruction of the coronavirus. He speaks of the times when life made sense, like, diverse tours, recording studio sessions, and spending quality time with those who meant the most. There were also mentions of lost rap flows that have fallen short, to mumbles over beats and lame memes, as well as the absence of important facts about our black culture, one of them being that we were and still are, black kings and queens as stated above. All of this lies within the song “Rest in Beats,” which I find inspiring and invigorating.
The song “Grid” featuring Cypress Hill and George Clinton is a sure shot of a reality check that touches on the idea of what it would look like if technology didn’t exist in our day and age. Would the corruption and abuse of citizens be of any importance if it wasn’t recorded? Would murderers be imprisoned if technology and new tests didn’t detect crime and locate those who committed it? Would blacks and minorities have a chance at a better America today without technology at all? These are all inquiries mentioned as the song played on. I know, for me, it got me thinking from a perspective I may have never thought of before had I not have listened to this song.
Next up was the song “State of The Union.” It’s truly one for the books, as it talks about the slack and laziness of the presidential duties that are not being attended to. Public Enemy gives it to you raw and uncut as they speak of the unprofessionalism ensued and its white privilege that they fail to admit that they’re portraying.
Moving forward, Public Enemy revives the ever so hit song “Number One” but calls it “Number Won” that features Mike D, AD-Rock, and Run-DMC on the familiar ’80s banger with a different twist this time around. Though there are strong elements on this LP, there’s also a couple of ones that are not as tight. For example, “Beat Them All” is one I could have lived without. The song speaks on issues that are interesting, but the structure of it doesn’t appeal to me. The chorus is slow and the verses tend to sway where I lose interest.
“Smash the Crowd” is another one that I can’t grasp, it just doesn’t give me the fire that I yearn for when I listen to tracks. Though Ice-T throws bars, it still drags a bit for me, unfortunately. The song “Go At It” picks up and carries the record out of the slump it fell in with powerful bass and strings from a rhythm guitar that makes love to your earlobe without apology. The song “Yesterday Man” is truly one I can get behind and love what it represents. It talks about how things are different from what it used to be years ago. As the song repeatedly states, what happened?!
If you’re hoping to be motivated, charged, and encouraged, I highly recommend this respected return from Public Enemy to be placed in your archive. This record and the heart of its spirit never left the ’80s and ’90s era. But in reality, it stands as tall and strong as John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Barack Obama, and the very essence of blackness and indigenous warriors across the globe. It’s powerful and full of superhero strength in its own expression of a Black Panther movement.
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