As states scurry to count mail-in votes for the 2020 U.S. presidential race, the general election season lies at a standstill with the American public’s emotions teetering and possibilities looming. According to CNN, we’re down to the wire with just four key state election results hanging in the balance that will determine America’s next president and vice president throughout, at earliest, 2024.
Adding fuel to the uneasiness, the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasingly bizarre, ignoble actions of President Trump and untimely celebrity deaths in 2020, anxiety-inducing suspense and real fear are weighing on some of us.
To cope, could you use some immersion in hip-hop charged, rock ‘n’ roll insulated revolt? Take from the iconic Long Island hip-hop group at the top of the media brand for political activism from the recording booth.
What better theme music to use to ground ourselves in the days’ uncertainty than Public Enemy’s new LP, What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? Most noted for pro-Black empowerment lyrics and social commentary on songs like “Fight the Power” and “Don’t Believe the Hype,” the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame enshrined Public Enemy regroups to rock again.
Sept. 25, 2020, the politically and racially conscious collective released its first album since the 2017 Bandcamp release Nothing is Quick in the Desert. What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? marks a reunion with significant history behind it. It’s Public Enemy’s first Def Jam Records release since the 1998 “He Got Game” soundtrack. Def Jam released Public Enemy’s seminal four studio albums. Their latter three, 1988’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” 1990’s “Fear of a Black Planet and 1991’s “Apocalypse 91..The Enemy Strikes Back,” all contain Grammy-nominated performances.
In 2020, rounding out a 33-year career of politically fired art, P.E. presents a 17-track Afro-punkesque hip-hop jam tape equal parts social revolution and social disintegration. Production on What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? is handled by DJ Premier, Easy Mo Bee, C-Doc, DJ-Pain 1, the LBX and Flavor Flav. Expect Chuck D and Flavor Flav to huddle and hurl around electric guitar riffs and turntable magic from Public Enemy’s DJ Lord.
“When the Grid Go Down…”
“Uncle Jam’s Army reporting for duty.” That’s some assurance from George Clinton, father of funk, sir lord of rebel sound. “Face to face, I got your back.” Those words are part of a space travel pep talk prior to forty plus minutes of negotiating what to do “When The Grid Go Down…”
George Clinton makes another futuristic, intergalatic appearance on the album’s second song, “GRID.” Clinton joins powers with legendary rap mavericks and South Gate, California trio Cypress Hill. Chuck D and Flavor Flav tag team vocals as Flav heads a bouncy chorus. The two fuse together, “Folks may have to pick up a book, pick up a pen / Hey! Back to basics again.”
Then Cypress Hill’s B Real tells us about the psycho-behavioral effects of GRID failure. B Real also has an answer for George Clinton: “Dumb us down and divide us up, I see it clearly / Pit one against the other, even though we’re brothers / Make us hate each other while they keep their a**es covered.”
George Clinton and Chuck D return on beat-flips. “What ‘cha gonna do, Chuck? Flav you still lampin’?”
“State of the Union (STFU)”
The oh so declarative “State of The Union (STFU)” comes handcrafted by DJ Premier and launched by an exuberant Flavor Flav. He later shares chorus duties with Chuck D. It’s a song with a big snare and hi-hat perfect for rebel rage–one giant clamorously disruptive middle finger to the establishment. “State of the Union” also has its fair share of weirdness. Chuck D dispatches a public service announcement complemented by rock scream and Flavor Flav hype both converging in on what sounds like an alien abduction. Chuck D rhymes with authority on practice and influence: “It’s not what you think, it’s what you follow. Run for them jewels. Drink from that bottle.”
“Public Enemy Number Won”
Channeling sounds directly from Public Enemy’s 1987 “Public Enemy No. 1,” Run DMC and the Beastie Boys’ Adrok and Mike D connect for a wired, apolitcal song where they revel in their Def Jam hall of fame glory. Today’s “Public Enemy Number Won,” “double-u, oh, n,” operates as a victory lap. Adrock and Mike D celebrate their prominence while bringing things full circle: “Now here’s a little story we got to tell / About a sound so Def that you know so well / It started way back in history / with the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Run DMC and Public Enemy.”
As for the historical significance of the actual tune, the ’87 original sampled a 1974 “Blow Your Head” by Fred Wesley and the J.B.’s.
Public Enemy offers a track named after a hot-button word–toxic. It was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2018. (It earned the title after a 45 percent increase in searches for the term on Oxford Dictionary’s website.)
“Toxic” echoes in on the hook. Flavor Flav and Chuck D again show strength and synergy. Chuck D arrives strutting in like the wise yet cantankerous uncle that everyone respects. “Take me to your leader. Even aliens spoke it / Every treaty signed, their f***ery broke it / And you wonder why only a few of us thrive as their tokens.”
Daddy-O of hip-hop band Stetsasonics assisted a rocked out inquisition into “what happened?” On “Yesterday Man,” Public Enemy draw question marks over and prod conundrums of past and present entertainment industry happenings.
“Fight the Power: Remix 2020”
An ultra unapologetically Black and sometimes political cadre of rhetoricians, Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, YG, Jahi and drummer Questlove help Public Enemy revamp “Fight the Power” on the “Remix 2020.” The hallmark track carries the energy of a block party and activist demonstrations freshened with a menagerie of powerful oratory.
“Fight the Power: Remix 2020” is five minutes of pro-Black inspiration, knowledge and self-love over the “sound of the funky drummer.” North Carolina emcee Rapsody pokes at discrepancies in racial acceptance while saluting HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) Howard, North Carolina A&T State and Hampton Universities.
“You love Black Panther but not Fred Hampton. Word to the Howards, and the Aggies and the Hamptons.”
Carrying the same gravity as the 1989 original, the remix is finely renovated audio architecture without forced assimilation to modern sound trends. Fight the Power 2020 is an anthem–one that matured and has been tastefully groomed and gently recast.
“Beat Them All”
“Beat Them All” sounds like it should be performed at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. The chorus chants like a rambunctious crowd at a soccer stadium–true battle music: “Beat. Them. All! Beat. Them. All!” It’s pure revolution and vanquishes tradition as it turns an American English cliche upside down: “If you can’t join ’em, you know you gotta beat ’em.”
“Smash the Crowd”
The rock influenced rap album transitions snugly into “Smash the Crowd,” getting much appreciated guest appearances from frequent collaborators Ice-T, a rap rock pioneer himself with his metal band Body Count and, under more bluesy vibes, PMD from the Long Island rap duo EPMD.
“If You Can’t Join Em Beat Em”
“If You Can’t Join Em Beat Em” is an end of third-quarter all-out jam session.
“Go At It”
Then we witness Jahi “Go At It” again on his second album appearance. Turns out Jahi of Oakland is the frontman for PE 2.0, the next generation of Public Enemy. “Whatever it is, whatever it be, you just go at it.” Jahi urges ambition on a crash-cymbal backed hook. He seems like an all too apt ambassador for achievement. He’s written a book in stores called “The Intersection Between Hip-Hop Culture & Education.”
“Rest in Beats” and “R.I.P. Blackat”
The Impossebulls support Public Enemy in the first of two odes to lost musical giants and loved ones. On “Rest in Beats,” Chuck D flows over something smooth and head-banging, never feeling mournful despite the atmosphere of reminiscence for long gone values, beliefs and people. It’s a celebration of life and legacy. Flavor Flav issues a mighty impressive, self-produced solo, “R.I.P. Blackat,” right after. Flav’s requiem for a friend presents a peek into his story-telling and introspection. Two listens in and it was my favorite–major replay value.
There are some positive self-affirmations from Ms. Ariel on “Closing: I Am Black” and Mark Jenkins on “Don’t Look at the Sky.” Balancing the euphoria of encouragement, we get gut-checking revelation from Pop Diesel on “Merica Mirror” and James Bomb on “Crossroads Burning.”
“Merica Mirror” gently unveils my coincidentally newly formed assessment. Over thousands of years humanity has leveraged blood, sweat and genius to build modern technology only for that technology to be used as a mirror on our human condition, a human condition maintained far less than its potential given existing resources and luxuries. Humaneness even seems elusive in the face of space exploration. James Bomb at “Crossroads Burning” responds to the album prompt and leads us to some vapor of an answer in just over a dozen seconds.
“What happens if all media networks just drop and destroy. Are you afraid to pick up a book? Are you afraid to even deal with who you are as a person?”
Public Enemy’s natural core sound, usual consort and James Brown inspiration, contemporary flare and turntablism are all integrated agreeably. What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? melds funk and rock into a hip-hop composite beautifully. It’s the energy of a rage against the political machine amid a tumultuous year and taut political climate. The LP does recycle four songs from 2017’s “Nothing Is Quick in the Desert,” which slightly dulls its allure. But that aspect does no real damage to overall quality. Consider the album as workout music for those unbothered about how things are supposed to sound like and are rather motivated by how things are supposed to be like in a fair and just society.
Restless, quarreling mind? Meditation mobile application Calm sponsored CNN’s presidential election coverage for a reason. And What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? is here for one too. Public Enemy delivered perfect harmony between artistic and activist worlds right on time for the “socially engineered anarchy induced chaos.”
Stream What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? below via Spotify and Apple Music.
We’ve also included a Rappurview curated playlist at the bottom called “Public Enemy No. 1’s Mass Appeal Service Announcement Courtesy of Rappurview.” It’s a Spotify-Apple Music compatible mix of Public Enemy’s Grammy-nominated and highest charting performances.
“Fight the Power: Remix 2020” ft. Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, YG and Jahi
“R.I.P. Blackat” (Flavor Flav solo)
“GRID” ft. Cypress Hil and George Clinton
“Smash the Crowd” ft. Ice-T and PMD
“Public Enemy No. 1’s Mass Appeal Service Announcement Courtesy of Rappurview” on Spotify (17 songs; 1 hr & 16 mins)
“Public Enemy No. 1’s Mass Appeal Service Announcement Courtesy of Rappurview” on Apple Music (17 songs; 1 hr & 16 mins)