Artist: Public Enemy
Rating: 7 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Many of today’s brand of Hiphop fan will fail to understand the importance and relevance of Public Enemy to the music we know and love. They’ll listen to classics from “Black Planet” and “Nation” and screw their faces up because they don’t like the beats, or Chuck’s voice is too angry, or Flav is annoying, or they talking all that “black shit”. The wiser, more experienced among us simply nod their head and say nothing, for we are the Hiphop Yodas, and they are an army of Luke Skywalkers who have just crashed their X-Wing fighters into PE’s audio swamp. They are raw and ignorant and must be schooled in the ways of the Enemy… let Master Chuck D and his group of political prophets teach you young Jedis…
This album is long overdue – the last we heard from our heroes was in 1999 with the patchy “There’s A Poision Goin’ On”. That album received a lukewarm reception and many figured that this would be the cue for Chuck, Flav, and company to hang up the mics. Between then and now, Chuck especially has worked hard – working the college lecture circuit, popping up in numerous TV current affairs and sports programs, and still managing to find time to dabble in Slamjamz.com, PublicEnemy.com, and BringTheNoise.com. Flav meanwhile has… well he’s just been Flav… cameo appearances in others’ videos, guesting on Wu-Tang albums, doing his traffic reports for NY radio, and STILL threatening to release that infamous solo album of his! In the background though, work had been going on with this album, and Chuck being the master of promotion has managed to harness the power of the record companies’ arch nemesis, the “evil” internet, and work it for the benefit of PE and his labelmates on Slamjamz. How? Well in addition to heavily promoting this album, and other Slamjamz joints on the web, PE offered the chance for budding remixers to get theire hands on classic PE tracks and go to work. The winners would have their work included on this album… cue stampede…
Anyway enough background info – lets talk about the music…
Where’s the intro?!?! I loved PE records because they always had that dope little minute and a half intro where Terminator got busy on the cut, while the little samples were dropped all over the joint. They kinda set the theme and tone for the rest of the album, and its a shame that that trend has been broken here. (As a sidenote, even if there was an intro, there’d be no Terminator X anyway, as he has moved onto pastures new. His replacement is the more-than-able DJ Lord.) Things just bang right into action with the lead single ‘Give The Peeps What They Need’, a bongo-laden return to classic PE terrority. Built around the bongos and a simple acoustic guitar loop, this is, as Chuck is famed for once saying, “music that girls will hate.” Its almost like they’ve never been away – Chuck’s deep voice bring the realness, as Flav’s manic tones urge him on from the background, over music that’s the closest they’ve ever come to recapturing that classic Bomb Squad feel.
The title track follows, and again PE bring the noise – this time a rock guitar meshes with another boom-bap beat to form another superb backtrack for Chuck to hit the targets with his take on the rotten state of music industry politics. And you know what? He hasn’t lost the knack for lyrically flying heads – “Activism? Lets call it raptivism / Since a lotta emcees be stuck on isms / As in sexism, self-hate racism / Why many cats get stuck in prison.”
Next up is the first of several excerpts from PE live performances. Live shows have always been an important part of Public Enemy’s repertoire, and although obviously not sounding as polished as the studio cuts, the live performances of ‘Miuzi Weighs A Ton’, ‘Fight The Power’, and ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ included here certainly make a great attempt at capturing the energy of PE live and putting it on wax. Never a substitute for the real thing, trust me… but still enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
The next couple of cuts sound more like an attempt by PE to make their sound a little more relevant to today’s Hiphop fan – the beats have a little more oomph, they’re a little slower paced for obvious head nod purposes as opposed to the quick Bomb Squad-esque grooves of earlier joints. It makes for a mixed listening experience – ‘Put It Up’ definitely bumps, but the message in Chuck’s lyrics is a little lost in the thought that others manufacture this type of beat better. Its not bad, but its not outstanding either. Similarly, Flav’s only solo cut on here ‘Can A Woman Make A Man Lose His Mind’ serves only to draw comparisons with classic Flavor Flav cuts of old – and there’s no contest. Again its not a BAD track, its just that PE’s back catalogue sometimes hinders enjoyment of newer cuts a little. Well that, and the fact that the beat sounds like something Terminator rejected for his “Superbad” album. (Is it just me who feels like this?)
As for the remixes I mentioned earlier? Well, personally I could’ve gone without. New York’s Molemen have managed to strip away all the good points of ‘By The Time I Get To Arizona’ and replace it with some distorted guitar-type thing that does nothing more for me than grate on my nerves. Similarly, the Functionist remix of ‘Shut Em Down’, which turns the angry mood of the original into some kind of electro-tinged romp through static and feedback, and Argentina’s Jeronimo Punks’ horrific butcher job of ‘Public Enemy #1’ (this is not and should never be a DANCE track) are equally poor. The only one that is remotely listenable is the remix of ‘B-Side Wins Again’ by Scattershot, which manages to complete its tightrope walk over Shit Valley, despite being blown off a few times during its five minute attempt.
Its not all bad though – there are strong points in amongst the skippers. ‘Son Of A Bush’ is a no-nonsense audio hit on Dubya, which take over from where Paris left off over a rock guitar that manages not to dominate the track. Chuck does NOT mince his words here at all –
“Oh no, struck by greased lightning , effed by the same last name
You know what? China ain’t never givin back that goddamn plane
Must got this whole nation trained on some kennel rations – refrain
The same train, full of cocaine, goes the brain
Have you forgotten? I’ve been through the first term of rotten
The father, the son, and the holy Bush-shit we all in
Don’t look at me, I ain’t callin for no assassination
I’m just sayin, sayin, who voted for that asshole of your nation?”
Elsewhere, the cinematic ‘Get Your Shit Together’, ‘54321 Boom’, and ‘Now A Daze’ all stand out. The latter cut in particular is superb, and features Professor Griff dropping some jewels over an understated piano-driven beat.
This is a solid, and welcome return to the game for PE. The only problem that I have with this is the inclusion of the remixes – yes its certainly cool to make your fans feel part of your projects, but not at the expense of throwing your sound down the toilet. Sure, you can skip the offending tracks, but if you’re constantly skipping them, then why have them on there in the first place? Apart from this, I feel that musically this can certainly compete with, and in many cases surpasses, a lot of the output from the current crop of “big-name” Hiphop artists. Lyrically, there’s no competition – Chuck D is one of my favorite emcees for a reason… he continues to hit every target he aims at, and this is the main reason why you should think about picking this up. Listen to the man – THIS is keeping it real.