“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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