Public Enemy are no strangers to using basketball as an analogy for the human condition, particularly the socio-economic game which we are all subjected to.
Celebration of Ignorance is the third studio album by Chuck D. Released under his guise of Mistachuck which first appeared on his debut solo album Autobiography of Mistachuck that was released in 1996. It is also a concept album on the life and work of basketball player and activist LeBron James and the current state of affairs under the Trump régime.
The album is a ten track collaboration with Cleveland rapper Jahi of PE2.0, a Public Enemy spin off project that aims to revisit and reinterpret classic Public Enemy tracks. This raison d’être appears to be at work on this album. The album was produced by the fellow PE2.0 collaborator an film maker C-Doc.
The opener ‘TiredOf45 (12.30.84)’ harks back to the early rock/rap of Def Jam with the refrain “Lebron building schools, 45 building walls”, taking aim at Donald Trump who appears on the album as “45”, his name not worthy of respect. Think Book of Revelations where an attack on Emperor Nero is veiled under the moniker 666. It’s a jump up party anthem in the vein of Shut Em Down (Pete Rock Remix), that will no doubt be a fixture of future Prophets of Rage gigs.
The date in the title is the birthday of LeBron James, whom Chuck D has collaborated with through music and social projects. James’ character appears throughout the album as an antithesis to Trump and as a saviour of humanity.
The second track, ‘BOT’, features scratching and cutting reminiscent of early Public Enemy and Chuck D’s lyrics pack a biting punch of social commentary as usual but this time they about the internet age. BOT refers to social media bots that are controlling our narratives with artificial arguments and knee jerk reactions, and also to the technology that is enslaving us.
‘Ain’t No’ which features Wakrat, a group founded by Rage Against the Machine and Prophets of Rage bassist Tim Commerford, is a 90s rock rap piece, its distorted guitars and “Tired of you f*cking with me” chorus should appeal to Rage Against the Machine fans.
Bluesy guitars feature on ‘Cavemanic’, think grunge meets Public Enemy à la Kool Thing by Sonic Youth, which is no surprise given Chuck D’s liner notes, this is a throwback album.
The stretched guitars cutting in and out of the track in the instrumental break towards the end provide the most experimental point on the album and the track as a whole sounds psychedelic in parts. The lyrics deal with the alienation and feeling of powerlessness people have in the world. This adds to the grungy feeling of the track. The dumbing down of society and it’s regression to the caveman like mentality of Trump’s policies is aso addressed here. It is also about the zombification of society caused by technology. The imagery of people stuck in their mancaves recalls the internet addicted shut ins who have peppered our news media in recent years and Plato’s cave allegory where one has to break free and see the truth.
‘MutterERT’, Starts off as a jazzy track in the style of Pete Rock, the vocal sample at the beginning is an attack on Neo-conservatism. The lyrics cement Chuck D’s place as the Bob Dylan of Hip Hop. The delivery is like Earth People from Dr. Octagonecologyst and this track uses similar imagery but is more earth-centric, in fact it powerfully convinces you that damm this world is in trouble on so many levels. Our politics, economics and addiction to technology have now made us the aliens on mother earth. The song culminates in a mouth organ cascade, bringing the albums blues influence and that of sixties protest songs again to the forefront .
‘sPEak On It’ is another heavy rock track which should go down well at Prophets of Rage gigs. The track flows nicely into ‘FreeBLACK’ which is textbook Public Enemy. Chuck D takes the soapbox for more socially conscious lyrics on escaping the system over a basic drum track. Its minimalism making it more powerful against the previous rock song with a siren sound that is almost like the iconic whistle on Rebel Without a Pause.
‘Blacknificient’ – a slow track, the main sample shows the album’s soul influence. The lyrics again consist of issues relevant to our times and also internet slang acronyms which are symptomatic of our current day. The main chorus of “Our significance is infinite” offers an antidote to the hopelessness and apathy of today. The empowering lyrics hark back to the early days of conscious Hip Hop like KRS-One and also the civil rights movement.
‘Celebration of Ignorance’ is the album’s title track and the most direct attack on Trump, It almost sounds G-Funk in places, it is more an interlude with social commentary by Chuck D. It’s reminiscent of DJ Shadow’s ‘Why Hip Hop sucks in ’96’ but more like “why the world sucks in 2019”.
It addresses the problems of today like “The dumbing down of America”, and features a critique of the currency of today, “30 second soundbites”, which will eventually count down to 1 second soundbites. The interlude then ends with fade out into a void, probably a pause to take in the implications of the lyrics.
The next track marks a hopeful and angry return. “Tiredof45 10.18.18”is a reprise of the opening track, and closes the album, The date marking Lebron James’ Lakers debut. James has hinted at running for office in 2020, his first year of eligibility. Is this album then Chuck D’s endorsement of the King of Akron for president?
This album is a refreshing return to socially conscious Hip Hop in the current climate of cheap club tracks. It is an exhilarating listen and when it’s over you really feel like taking a stand. Musically it harks back to the early days of the genre and shows vast musical influence, in part gleamed from Prophets of Rage, and Public Enemy’s earlier rock sampling. Fans of Public Enemy and Chuck D will not be disappointed. It’s a great album that transcends the Hip Hop genre through its musical pallet but sonically there is nothing much that is new here, not that that was ever the point.
A joint by DJ ISURU #1