Public Enemy keep asking the hard questions on What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Public Enemy keep asking the hard questions on What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? 

click to enlarge Public Enemy

Public Enemy

Eitan Miskevich

New York hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy put together a music video for “Fight the Power: Remix 2020” to kick off June’s BET Awards, which was broadcast in the shadow of continuing street protests against police brutality triggered by the killing of George Floyd. They’d made the original version of “Fight the Power” for the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and though that 1989 film—with its focus on racial divides, police brutality, and gentrification—could be seen as forecasting 2020, it was describing struggles that date back at least to 1619. As Chuck D raps in the track, there’s “nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check.” The updated “Fight the Power” includes new guest verses from Nas, Black Thought, Rapsody, Jahi, and YG that echo the original’s rallying call for Black, Brown, and other marginalized people to rise up, updated for our times; as Rapsody deftly reminds the listener, “You love Black Panther but not Fred Hampton.” When it comes to sociopolitical commentary, Public Enemy haven’t been at a loss for words even once since Chuck D and Flavor Flav cofounded the group in 1985, and their dedication to politically educating their listeners comes through loud and clear on their new album, What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? (Def Jam). In addition to the refreshed “Fight the Power,” the record features new mixes of six tracks that originally appeared on the 2017 album Nothing Is Quick in the Desert (offered for free download exclusively on Bandcamp for about a week surrounding Independence Day). While not every song carried over from Nothing Is Quick is a winner (we could’ve done without hearing Daddy-O deadnaming Caitlyn Jenner again on “Yesterday Man”), the smooth-groove protest track “Beat Them All” deserves a second hearing—and not just because it encourages political action against shoddy leadership. One of the new songs on What You Gonna Do, “State of the Union (STFU),” is a fun collaboration with the great DJ Premier (formerly of Gang Starr). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the message—an impassioned demand that the current leaders of the country “shut the fuck up”—and it’s absolutely delightful to hear Chuck D join Flavor Flav in the song’s chorus. Public Enemy were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, and the Smithsonian has Chuck D’s boombox, but the group aren’t resting on their laurels anytime soon—not while there’s still a revolution that needs a soundtrack.   v

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