Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Don't Call It A Comeback

"The revolution will not be televised . . ." said Chuck D of Public Enemy, the voice of a generation of rap, once upon a time. Turns out, the revolution whereby rock was replaced by rap music -- at least as the music designed to keep the generation gap alive -- was highly televised, with ubiquitous gangsta videos brought to you by everyone from N.W.A. to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre to Tupac to Jay-Z to 50 Cent and shoved down the throats of the youth of America. This is not what Chuck D had in mind.

That point is made, loud and clear, on the new offering from Public Enemy, who are celebrating their 20th anniversary with the release of How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? Chuck D once accurately called rap "the CNN of the streets." (Personally, I always loved PE because I saw them as rap's version of The Clash). But things have changed over the last 20 years, and PE were not able to sustain the incredible level of scorched earth creativity they established on the classics It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet. And, like the rest of the news, rap has gone from reporting from the streets to highly predictable sensationalism.

On How You Sell Soul, Chuck D expresses his frustration and disappointment that rap's message went from "Fight The Power" and "Don't Believe The Hype" to "Gin And Juice" and "Big Pimpin'". Fortunately, that frustration has been poured into a new mix that allows Chuck D to capture a little bit of the old magic. Not surprisingly, PE's got plenty to say about the current administration, but most of the shots are fired back at the community.

Gone is Chuck D as the slick MC. He's been replaced by an older, angrier Prophet of Rage whose voice is a little more ragged and lot more in your face. Flavor Flav returns from the embarrassing reality shows to provide comic relief that's somewhat less novel after watching him swoon over a garish Brigitte Nielsen on The Surreal Life. Terminator X's blips, beeps, and sirens have been replaced by more traditional grooves, and the typical plethora of sound bites from Malcolm X, etc., have given way to self-referential samples from PE's rich history.

No matter. For my money, nobody does it better than Chuck D, and while How You Sell Soul may not quite reach the heights that PE attained years ago, it's still way better than 99% of the shite that rap has become. Bring the Noise indeed.

MP3: Public Enemy - "Harder Than You Think" from How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?