Release Date: Jul 24, 2015
Record label: Cobraside
Genre(s): Rap, East Coast Rap, Political Rap
The first generation of rockers who grew up in public faced their share of ridicule, a fact that does not escape Chuck D. A keen observer of history who also possesses a sly sense of humor, he raps over a sample of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" on Man Plans God Laughs, Public Enemy's 13th album. Like the Stones, PE have been around so long and their influence has been so thoroughly absorbed into the culture that it's easy to take them for granted, but where Mick & Keith played arenas, Public Enemy consciously shrugged off the majors and remained fierce insurrectionists, existing just under the radar.
It’s not uncommon for a contemporary rapper to say they don’t want to be recording past the age of 40, so where does that leave Public Enemy? Hip-hop artists’ attitudes toward aging puts Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and co. in an inherently awkward position, seeing as they’re now three decades removed from their formation. Fortunately, they can manage.
Earlier this year, Public Enemy's classic 1990 album, Fear of a Black Planet, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Almost 25 years to the day after Chuck D's piercing shouts bookended Radio Raheem getting choked out by the police in front of onlookers in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, Eric Garner suffered the same fate. Since then, the police have killed Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and many, many more unarmed black men and women.
"Here we come from another time," Chuck D raps on Public Enemy's 13th studio album. In fact, PE's iconic rap radicalism is as timely as ever in the era of Black Lives Matter, and a couple of tracks here push an argument for their relevance by echoing the spacey minimalism of today's hip-hop. But 55-year-old Chuck D and 56-year-old Flavor Flav are at their best flying the old-school flag, kicking Afrocentric rage over chaotically noisy tracks like "Praise the Loud" or the low-slung funk of "Give Peace a Damn." If their voices sound a little worn, blame the apathetic fools Chuck attacks in the Rolling Stones-sampling "Honky Talk Rules" for not heeding his message years ago.
For a period at the end of the ’80s, Public Enemy seemed like the only band that mattered. A New York hip-hop group avant-garde in sound and confrontational in delivery, their early UK shows were righteous eruptions of black identity and militant rage that made a generation of bowl-cut indie kids tremble in their anoraks – and radicalised more than a few in the process.Hip-hop is a genre always in search of the new sound, and by the mid ’90s, Public Enemy had been supplanted by a new wave that were less angry, ripe for assimilation. Still, in 2015 it’s hard to say their message doesn’t still have legs.
If there ever was a time for new music from Public Enemy, this is it. The revolutionary hip-hop band returns revitalized on its streamlined but emphatic 13th record, speaking directly to the issues of a divided and bloodied America. Chuck D doesn’t address Ferguson and Baltimore directly, recognizing they were part of bigger problems: “Don’t believe a damn word I received/ gotta lotta nerve saying I should just leave/ like who gives a damn if they kill another man” (“No Sympathy From the Devil”).
We devour music at such a feverish pace that, more and more, great collections of songs fall through the cracks. Over the summer, we caught up with another punk band who’s almost as ambitious as Titus Andronicus, a critically and commercially approved R&B singer who somehow isn’t in the ….