*Forgive the “Sou” in the title, it reached
the max characters* – Ed.
The year was 1988. South Africa was in ruin from the effects of apartheid.
Thanks to government-sponsored drug mules, crack had infiltrated the poorest
‘hoods, destroying all semblance of beauty like a flesh-eating virus. And
instead of being a voice of the distressed urban youth, Hip Hop music was
becoming its antithesis: a dance-happy, gaudy genre of bragging writes.
Leave it to Public Enemy to do something. With their seminal sophomore
opus, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, they righteously
put the rap world on its ass with a myriad of powerful messages,
conspiracy-ridden angst and political anthems, all backed by The Bomb
Squad’s blasting boom-bap. Suddenly, having the flashiest
four-fingered ring wasn’t exactly a top priority, as front man Chuck
D’s forceful tenor injected a much-needed breath of activism into Hip
Hop’s collective lungs.
For twenty years, the Long Island collective have continued to enlighten the
masses, influencing countless artists from all genres of music, leaving an
impact as dense as Pete Rock’s triumphant horns from their
instant vintage remix to “Shut ‘Em Down.” Now, after court jester Flavor
Flav’s recent resurgence through the “miracle” of reality television, Public
Enemy returns with their tenth album, How You Sell Soul to a
Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?
Obviously eschewing today’s Screamfest crowd for their (now)
old school, loyal fans, Mista Chuck still remains as powerful
as ever. On the album’s lead single “Harder Than You Think,” Flav
plays his trademark side role to perfection, re-hashing his lines from “Public Enemy Number One,”
while Chuck laments on today’s oxymoronic values: “Screamin’
‘gangsta’ twenty years later/of course endorse while consciousness faded/new
generations believe in them fables/gangsta boogie on two turntables”. “Sex, Drugs And Violence”
is a brilliant combination of deejay scratches, children’s chorus and a
hard-hitting verse from the reenergized Blastmaster, KRS-One.
Throughout the 19-song long player, Chuck D touches on a
variety of topics. Whether it is the atypically insistent history lesson (“All Along The Watchtower”),
the loss of Hip Hop’s heaviest hitters (the aforementioned “Sex, Drugs And Violence”)
or even his favorite non-rap albums (“Long And Whining Road”), Chuck’s
voice is an instrument unto itself, relenting enough to carry the beats, but
calm enough so that it does not overpower them.
Despite the notable absence of The Bomb
Squad’s chaotic-yet-commanding soundscapes, PE elects to
use the talents of Gary G-Wiz and Amani K. Smith’s
live instrumentation, giving the album an amalgamation of sloppy space-age
funk, head-banging rock and dark, dusty poetry in motion. While for the most
part the results are spectacular, the only misstep is Flavor Flav’s
Man.” But this stumble is easily forgiven, as he gives a
thought-provoking story on his bus trip to Riker’s Island on “Eve Of Destruction.”
How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? is yet
another in a long line of great albums from Public Enemy. And
while they will probably never be able to influence the masses as they did in
their heyday, the fans that have stuck with them throughout will not be