When you think of music with a message, chances are bands such as U2 or Rage Against the Machine come to mind, but Public Enemy should be right up there with them. Coming out of Long Island, New York, Public Enemy have used music as a vehicle to spread knowledge to the masses for over 35 years now. From the 1987 classic Yo! Bum Rush the Show to powerful statements made with 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet, 1991’s Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, 1994’s Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, and beyond, Public Enemy have never been one to shy away from social commentary. Consistently led by the booming voice of Chuck D, along with irreplaceable hype-man Flavor Flav, they are now set to return with their latest album, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down.
Set for release on Friday, September 25, 2020, it marks their first album with Def Jam Recordings since 1998’s He Got Game. Coming at a critical time in American history where a health crisis looms, social injustice has been vividly spotlighted, and it seems we are on the verge of a civil war, yet again, Public Enemy promises to pull no punches. In fact, it is rather telling that their hit song “Fight the Power” still resonates so strongly three-plus decades after its creation – but more on that later.
With wildfires spreading in our minds and across portions of the country, we have to question have we really made progress or are we stagnant in place? Something to ponder, Public Enemy offer 17 new tracks that shed some light on bleak situations.
For starters, Public Enemy – currently Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and DJ Lord – turns back the clock a bit with an authentic, old-school Hip Hop sound. Obvious within the turntable work of DJ Lord, unmistakable hype of Flav, live guitar work of Khari Wynn, and most of all, verbal attack of Chuck D, this album has it all. Additionally, you will find extra flavor throughout each track thanks to guest spots from the likes of Cypress Hill, George Clinton, DJ Premier, Mike D and Ad Rock of Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, Daddy-O, James Bomb, Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG, Questlove, Ice-T, PMD of EPMD, Jahi, Mark Jenkings, Impossebulls, and Ms. Ariel.
All very impressive aspects, bringing it all together is the lyrical potency that stamps each and every track. From cuts like “Grid,” addressing our addiction to technology thus leading to our downfall, to the apologetic attack of “State of the Union (STFU),” smoothness of “Public Enemy Number Won” and intense “Toxic,” there is plenty to dig into. And that is not all, because then you have the updated, hard strike of “Fight The Power: Remix 2020,” the guitar-driven “Smash The Crowd,” hypnotic “Go At It,” and somber yet fitting tribute to Hip Hop history inside “Rest In Beats.”
All in all, you could say Public Enemy is back but they never really ever went away. In truth, they have been consistent, prolific, and restless for their entire career; that includes more recent albums such as 2015’s Man Plans God Laughs and 2017’s Nothing Is Quick in the Desert, which might have flown under the radar but were both stellar. If anything their reunion with Def Jam is a great move and solidifying, because it reunites a legendary band with a legendary label, plus strengthens the Hip Hop world. We are living in very uncertain times, and now more than ever, we need Public Enemy to say it like it is, and that is exactly what What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down is all about. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this fantastic retro-vibed Hip Hop album 5 out of 5 stars.