The Earliest Bird: September 25th, 2020 Top Pick Of The Week Is Public Enemy’s “What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?”
New Musical Express dubbed it Public Enemy’s best album in years, but, of course, it isn’t. It isn’t as good as 2012’s Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp or 1998’s He’s Got Game . What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? hits hard but it is a touch obvious, it doesn’t sell its G-Funk, Flavor Flav is overworked, the hooks aren’t hooking, Keith Shocklee is, as always, missed, the cut up sound seems to miss the song, and to dub the enemy the internet is nonsense of a high order. None of which makes the return of Public Enemy to Def Jam any less than a good album with some major players, George Clinton, Cypress Hills, the remains of the Beastie Boy and RUN DMC, and Chuck D in full lunged ferocity.
What’s missing is the playfulness of their first three albums, the silly rabbit, cultural ransacking, cleansing anger at the epicenter of 1990s Black Pride. “Public Enemy Number Won” is of the most interest if only because we got back Ad Rock, Mike D and Reverend Run, but it is too studied in its history of PE. Still… The rap legends kick off with their ode to the death of the grid, and then again, and then a a track that finds PE unable to find a way to deal with Trump, “State Of The Union STFU” and is why the album doesn’t quite make it; if your diatribe cum hook goes “state of the union, shut the fuck up, sorry ass motherfucker, stay away from me” you’re not taking it seriously, is playground taunts and not worthy of the horror that is Trump.
If you can get past its strangely obtuse aim, as though reading a book online is any different that reading a hardcover novel, the sounds can be alarming, the electric guitar on “Yesterday Man” echoes Prophets Of Rage, and has you looking about for Tom Morello, which makes the best song the least PE-e. Ice-T joins em for the ferocious, horn blowing out the cobwebs, “Smash The Crowd”.
But dreams that this this is the follow-up to Fear Of A Black Planet can be put on hold, as #BLM has shaken rap to its core with Noname, S.H.E., and Vince Mensa among a number of artists capable of performing uber-strong protest music, Public Enemy remains a bellow of rage and the same as it ever was. There are numerous wars raging in the US in 2020, the grid going down isn’t one.