Music Review: Public Enemy
"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." So begins Public Enemy's sixth album, "Muse Slick N Hour Mess Age."
True to the quote, Public Enemy has always stood their ground amidst media controversy, little radio airplay, white supremacy, and ignorance in general. This time around they're still singing about the same subjects (including a few more), but many hip-hop fans and journalists aren't satisfied with their long-awaited new album.. This is not surprising, considering their previous four albums (not including "Greatest Misses") are tough acts for anyone to follow.
Where to begin reviewing the newest album from probably the most influential rap group of all time? It's difficult to ignore all of the recent negative publicity, but for the sake of journalistic integrity and love of the band, I tried to quiet the voice of outside media and just listen to the album. As P.E. would say, "Don't believe the hype!"
Just as that phrase echoed throughout their "It Takes a Nation of Millions ..." album, the question "Which side are you on?" is posed throughout this one. As always, the members have the courage and creativity to express their own views.
P.E. rises above a blast through today's common "gangsta rap" style with their usual thoughtful, pro-Black lyrics. As he's done before, Chuck D gives his opinion on gangster mentality and drug use, especially in "So Whatcha Gone Do Now?" He raps, "I sing a song 'cause I see wrong ... talkin' dat gat-talk/walkin' dat catwalk ... /guns, drugs, and money/all you know how/so whatcha done do now?"
Love for the Black community is sung about in "Whole Lotta Love Goin' On" and in the beats behind the rallying cut, "Soul Power." Feelings about Columbus Day are made brilliantly clear in "Hitler Day," which asks "How can you call a take over a discovery?" It goes on to say, "Some thanks for the givin/when times are hard/and some got the nerve to pray to God/ain't about turkey and cider that gets me sick/it's that take-from-the-Indian trick ... now he got a day to celebrate/ain't that a trip?/'cause the Indians ain't got shit!" It finishes by saying that commemorating Columbus Day is as crazy as a "Hitler Day" holiday.
P.E.'s conspiracy theories are more obvious than ever in this album, especially in Chuck D's personally-written intros to songs like "Bedlam" and "Race Against Time."
Part of what makes P.E. so powerful is the strength in Chuck D's scathing voice and his outrageous word-play ability. That's all still here. Straight-up creativity flows in phrases like "iller than Illinois." (Who else would say that?!) But the other part that makes Public Enemy great has always been its music - and that's where muse is weak. The highly digestible single, "Give it Up Now," is a prime example. It doesn't altogether fail, but the bass just isn't as heavy and hard as on their previous releases.
Does the record show three years work of work in the music? No. Is it worth the price of a CD? Maybe. Worth a listen? Definitely.