REVIEW | EMOTIONS FUEL PUBLIC ENEMY’S TANK, WITH YEARS OF BUILT UP ANGER WITH NEW RELEASE ‘WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE GRID GOES DOWN?’

“What hap­pens if all media net­works are des­troyed? 

 Are you afraid to pick up a book? 

 Are you afraid to even deal with who you are as a per­son?”

These are just a snip­pet of the thought-pro­vok­ing ques­tions delivered by hip-hop legends Chuck D and DJ Lord in Pub­lic Enemy’s new, ground-break­ing record What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?. It’s hardly a sur­prise for me to tell you that this album feels like a his­tor­ic­al moment as the revolu­tion-start­ing group don’t exactly retain a repu­ta­tion for ‘hold­ing back’ when it comes to polit­ics and ques­tion­ing the media and the impact it has. It also proves the first release for the group under Def Jam record­ings for over two dec­ades- a cul­tur­al insti­tu­tion they helped to build. Plus, their return to Def Jam was her­al­ded around the globe earli­er this month with the group’s icon­ic logo pro­jec­ted onto some of the world’s oth­er most icon­ic cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions includ­ing the Eif­fel Tower and Moulin Rouge in Par­is; Par­lia­ment, Marble Arch & Tate Mod­ern Museum in Lon­don

After a his­tor­ic­al year for police bru­tal­ity and the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, a new Pub­lic Enemy album is per­fectly timed. How­ever, the release of names fea­tur­ing on the record adds to its spe­ci­al­ity. The album includes, Nas, YG, Raps­ody, DJ Premi­er, Black Thought, Questlove, Cypress Hill, Run-DMC, Ice‑T, PMD, George Clin­ton, Daddy‑O, Jahi, The Impos­se­bulls, Mark Jen­kins, S1Ws Pop Dies­el and James Bomb and Mike D and Ad-Rock of Beast­ie Boys and each involve­ment is taste­ful, import­ant and brings nos­tal­gia as well as reit­er­at­ing cur­rent mes­sages for those who still need to hear them.

The album is a rude awaken­ing for Trump and racists alike with a bril­liant and severe lack of sub­tlety to the lyr­ics. With its lead­ing single, ‘State of the Uni­on STFU’ lit­er­ally includ­ing the instruc­tions, “State of The Uni­on; shut the fuck up” whilst con­tain­ing a back­ing lay­er of Trump being aggress­ively told to “Go!”, it’s clear that the col­lect­ive voice of Pub­lic Enemy is con­tinu­ally get­ting louder. Cypress Hill make a wel­come appear­ance in ‘Grid’ ques­tion­ing police bru­tal­ity and the effects of ‘justice’. We are then hit with a series of anger driv­en phrases that can­not help but rile one up into want­ing to fight against everything Pub­lic Enemy want you to. “What are you gonna do- whatever it takes!”

Beast­ie Boys and Run DMC nos­tal­gia run through the veins of revis­ited track, ‘Pub­lic Enemy Num­ber One’. They exit the album with a dance remix while embra­cing an 80s hip-hop exter­i­or whilst Mike D main­tains that dis­tinct­ive Beat­ie Boys sound. Then we have tracks such as ‘Tox­ic’ that pos­sesses an almost hard-to-swal­low raw emo­tion that leaves one speech­less. “Cit­izens suf­fer­ing while he be balling…. If a mule died, he used to say buy anoth­er one, if a n*gger died, he used to say try anoth­er one”. The mov­ing mes­sage is dif­fi­cult to listen to at times and the emo­tion is the pet­rol fuel­ling Pub­lic Enemy’s tank that is already filled with years of built up anger.

The first gig I have memory of attend­ing at the age of six years old was Pub­lic Enemy in 2003 at the Respect Fest­iv­al in London’s Mil­len­ni­um Dome. I do not remem­ber too much unfor­tu­nately (apart from the rides and sweets) how­ever, their mes­sages have a power­ful way of imbed­ding them­selves in your memory. Pub­lic Enemy take clos­ure into their stride when fin­ish­ing What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?. Fea­tur­ing Ms. Ari­el, we are hit with a 15 second mes­sage of power, emo­tion, and peace in ‘Clos­ing: I am Black’. It sums up the over­all philo­sophy of this record and embod­ies the beauty of Pub­lic Enemy and their leg­acy:

“I am black, woman, beau­ti­ful, magic, intel­li­gent, resi­li­ent, loved, innov­at­ive, power­ful, influ­en­tial, unapo­lo­get­ic and woke. Peace”

 Say it louder for the people at the back…

What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? is avail­able on all plat­forms.

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About Jasmine Hodge

Jasmine Hodge
I'm Jasmine, a freelance music journalist, music PR and portrait artist who doesn't hold back.