- 25 Sep 20
Hip-hop veterans return with star-studded call-to-arms against Trump’s America
Public Enemy’s return to Def Jam after over 20 years feels timely – as their iconic 1989 protest song ‘Fight The Power’ continues to soundtrack the Black Lives Matter protests across America. Following the definition of revolutionary culture expounded by the Black Panther Party in the late ‘60s, in which music was a weapon to be used by the masses, Chuck D’s trademark militant lyricism once again captures the atmosphere of unrest with What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?
At its core, the new album is a vicious, extended diss record – as Public Enemy turn their famous crosshairs on Trump’s America, while revisiting several tracks from 2017’s Nothing Is Quick In The Desert, and reconceptualising classics with a cast of hip-hop legends. The appearance of Rapsody on ‘Fight The Power: Remix 2020’, the centrepoint of the project, helps to align the oft-controversial group with a new, inclusive generation – as she calls on the listener to “Fight for Breonna and the pain of her mother”.
Of course, America has changed since Chuck D and Flavor Flav, now in their sixties, arrived on the scene – from both a social and a musical standpoint. While they haven’t lost the knack for turning anything into an irresistible hook, and their scratch-heavy sound comes across as raw and impassioned rather than passé, their perspective is outdated at times, verging into dangerous territory on ‘Yesterday Man’: “Kanye marrying Kim – what happened? Bruce Jenner turned to femme – what happened?” Like other veterans of the genre, they also can’t help but dedicate a little too much time to shaking their fist at the current state of hip-hop – mourning what’s been lost to “mumble and memes”.
For the most part, however, What You Gonna Do... serves as an urgent rallying call in the run-up to a crucial presidential election – offering an unapologetic, back-to-basics approach in the face of chaos.