Monday, September 03, 2007

Public Enemy:How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?

I think it’s the truest thing to say that this hip hop generation, which was born when Public Enemy first came out in 1987, looks at Public Enemy the way that people my age (I started college when PE’s second album came out) used to look at the Last Poets. Despite Flavor Flav and his antics on the VH1 channel, I think the kids today would listen to PE and have that reaction when I first heard the Last Poets and think “What Is This?” I couldn’t accept this brand of rap at first even though it was a major influence on Public Enemy and many other artists of the time. Rap has changed in many ways, but when you listen to this album you realize that Public Enemy has not changed.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I started listening to Public Enemy back in 1987 when their classic album Yo! Bum Rush The Show came out. At the time, this album and the group was the cutting edge of hip hop. Chuck D is quick to remind people on this album that they have been 20 years in the game. In 1988 they dropped the bomb on the Hip Hop nation, “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back”. This was hands down the most influential record in rap history. So much changed after this record came out, and it ended a lot of careers of artists who came before. Of course I had to buy “Fear Of A Black Planet” the day it came out. That was in 1990, and I remember they did a memorable concert that year for the Howard University Homecoming.

Then along the way PE started trying to “expand” their audience. They had always put rock music in their music like Chuck D’s favorite rap group RUN DMC, but with the record Apocalypse ’91, they took things to a whole other level. I like rock music, but I think going on tour with Anthrax was okay, but they just got swept up in all the commercialism that went with that. Also, the crowd that liked PE started to change, and a bunch of people wearing “X” caps to advertise the Malcolm X movie would’ve sat well with me if I knew that these kids really knew who Malcolm X was and weren’t following some fashion trend. It was starting to look bad; the fall of PE was inevitable.

After Apocalypse ’91, shortly after I graduated from college; and moved on to focusing on buying into some of the newer stuff that was coming out. I didn’t buy the next album; I hated the title and the first single. I didn’t bother buying the next album, or the one after that. I got the “He Got Game” soundtrack from a friend who gave it to me. So this album is the first PE album I have brought(through Emusic) in like 15 years.

This is my impression of this album. It sounds like PE was in a time capsule for like 10-15 years, came out and released an album. The old days of the Bomb Squad production team and their layers of sound on top of sound is long gone. Now, the production that is used includes simplistic funk music sampling used by rappers in the early 90s, rock guitars (of course!), generic rap beats and tracks and even some techno/industrial sounding stuff. Maybe the emphasis is their message, or maybe it comes down to the simple fact that anybody who is still listening to PE doesn’t really care about the production; and it’s a given that PE wont be calling Timbaland or Jazze Pha for ideas! My problem with this approach is that for me, it simply doesn’t work!

What about PE’s politics? PE has not strayed at all from what they used to say in the old days of rap. The black male is still under attack, black men are still part of the prison population, and PE is still harassed by the Feds. Maybe there is some things I don’t know about this album, but why does PE seem so oblivious to the realities of 9/11 America? Why say the same old things when its not the same time or the same situations? Then there’s Flavor Flav. He raps as though “Flavor of Love” never happened. Maybe this album was made before “Flavor of Love” #1, but I thought before I listened to this that Flav had some explaining to do, but I heard nothing. Flav is a very good rapper, and he has some classic songs under his belt, like “911 Is A Joke” and “Can’t Do Nothing For Ya” from the House Party soundtrack. I would’ve loved to hear something like that on this record.

But on a lighter note, one thing can be said about PE’s aging pro-black message. Even if you’ve grown and you aren’t thinking about these type of issues PE addresses like you did in the past, PE is still here to say that all this is still relevant and important. That’s why I could stick with PE; despite the mistakes Chuck and Flav have made, you will still have to respect their conviction. Some might say that especially Flav is phony and a one man minstrel show, but I really think that these guys are for real.

So who will buy it? I think that there will always be a market for PE; aging rap fans who remember when listening to PE was “cool”. Most of these people can’t like today’s rap no matter how much they try; for them T.I. might mean “Totally Ignorant”. There’s many other types of PE fans, and there will always be PE fans all over the world who, despite the simplicity and inconsistency of their music, message and actions, will always want to hear PE remind everybody how messed up things still are for black people in America.

Favorite songs: "
How You Sell Your Soul...
" sounds like that ol'school PE I was used to, one of the better songs on the album
"Black Is Back"great to hear a James Brown sample being used, and its great to hear a rapper say Black Is Back; I havent heard that in a long time.
"Harder Than You Think" I like the guitar and the soulful feel of this one
"Amerikan Gangster"liked the guest rappers flow
"Escapism"-like the funk sample in this, Chuck does a spoken word routine where he touches on the Iraq War, black males being under attack, and knowing your history.
"See Something, Say Something"-favorite beat on the album, Chuck raps about the Panthers and black politics of back in the day and how PE fits into that and its relevance for today. He also gives an interesting twist on what a "snitch" is.
"Eve of Destruction"-great song that wraps up the album; kinda sounds like a techno/industrial/rock spoken word piece.
Download off EMUSIC, or buy from Amazon. Check out Public Enemy's site.

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