Public Enemy is a rap supergroup that is renowned for their revolutionary efforts in the late 80s and early 90s for birthing modern conscious hip hop to a mainstream audience. After their illustrious run under Def Jam that ended in 1998, the group would stay relevant by releasing a handful of albums through the 2000s and 2010s. With all of the chaos in the world this year, the powerhouse thought it would be the perfect time to return and release their 15th studio album What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down. Releasing albums through five different decades at this point, will Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and the rest of this legendary crew be able to unite the people with their powerful messaging?
Group frontman Chuck D proves that age is merely a number as even at 60 years old, his lyricism, microphone presence, and subject matter have only intensified from his previous works. Cuts like “State Of The Union” and “Beat Them All”, exemplify this as the Long Island MC puts our leaders, government, and laws under examination as he rebukes them for all of the damage they have inflicted on our torn up nation. Public Enemy’s hypeman, Flavor Flav, also deserves his flowers as at 61 years old, his chaotic hooks and monologues further their systemic takedown. The song “Yesterday Man” was a definite standout as Chuck, Flavor, and Daddy-O look at all of the changes in the music industry and world, making them ask the question “what happened”. Bringing the flare of classic hip hop back, the remains of the Beastie Boy’s, Run-DMC, EPMD, and Cypress Hill give whatever they have left in the tank to help. Adding to this list, legendary singer George Clinton and the original gangster rapper Ice-T steal the show on songs like “When The Grid Go Down…” and “Smash The Crowd”. In all of its glory, the records defining moment is the “Fight The Power: Remix 2020” as Nas, Black Thought, Rapsody, YG, and Jahi assist Chuck D in delivering one of the most politically charged songs of the entire year. Overall, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and the plethora of hip hop hall of famers make What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? one of the most well thought out political albums all year.
While staying true to Public Enemy’s roots, the record slightly modernizes the group’s flagship style. The dramatic sound of “R.I.P. Blackat” pulls at listener’s hearts while “Yesterday” shows there ability to experiment with a rock-oriented beat. The DJ Premier produced “State Of The Union” continues Premo’s hot streak this year as he continues to bridge classic boom bap with modern conscious hip hop. With all of its sonic expansion, many songs like “GRID” and “Public Enemy Number Won” sound straight out of the 80s. While the “Fight The Power: Remix 2020” contains the same baseline it did in 1993, the additional drumming from The Roots very own ?uestlove adds a whole new level of emotional tension. Behind the boards, this record’s production can feel dated at times, but it hardly takes away from the strong narrative being pushed.
In conclusion, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down is Public Enemy’s best record in over a decade. Chuck D doesn’t just lead the charge on one the most conscious record I’ve seen all year (next to RTJ4); he brings together hip hop legends from the past and present to make this a living almanac of the cultures collective thoughts. At this point, I don’t know what the future holds for Public Enemy, but they are undoubtedly one of the best hip-hop groups ever, as well as Chuck D being one of the greatest MC’s of all time.