Title: What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down
Artist: Public Enemy
Label: Def Jam
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 25, 2020
Public Enemy is back! In yet another pre-election release by socially conscious hip hop icons, What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down is an explosive album of politically charged tracks from Chuck D, Flavor Flav and DJ Lord. With collabs from the likes of George Clinton, Ice T, Cypress Hill and Run-DMC, there’s plenty of nostalgia to arouse the interest of golden age hip hop fans, as well as tracks addressing contemporary issues, ranging from the Trump presidency and internet dependency to the killing of Breonna Taylor. Yet despite addressing weighty social-political topics, the infectious beats and off-the-charts production give the album a celebratory quality, with tracks maintaining a high energy level from beginning to end.
On the brief opening title track, Uncle Jam reports for duty. George Clinton’s reverb-laced monologue over a space funk jam with assistance from long-time PE music director Khari Wynn is a throwback to the era of old-school funk samples from the Bomb Squad. Rolling right into the next track, “Grid” addresses the pros and cons of modern technology, and how it can be used against us: “Socially engineered anarchy induced chaos / That’s how they gon play us / One against the other / Him against his brother.” On “Public Enemy Number Won,” a reworking of the 1987 classic “Public Enemy No.1,” Chuck D persuaded Run-DMC and Beastie Boys’ Mike D and Ad Rock to collaborate on the track as a 60th birthday present. Getting back to the topic of the election, PE’s “State of the Union (STFU)” is a rant against Trump, as well as a call for action in November: “Better rock that vote or vote for hell / Real generals now, not some usfl / Not a fkn game, I not mention his name / Operation 45.
The highlight of the album is “Fight the Power: Remix 2020,” an update of the 1989 classic featuring an all-star cast dropping new verses. After Chuck D slams the opening verse, he’s followed by Nas (“The Information Age got ’em seein’ what’s really wrong with these racist days”), MC Rapsody (“To the boys in the hood, duckin’ bullets and batons / from boys in the hood, triple Ks on they arm”), Black Thought (“Dear white people, you should take a course about me”), Jahi (“System designed to kill and unprotect / Worldwide, hit the streets just to get some respect”), and YG (Thought he had a gun and he was Black, that’s the combo / The police killed George havin’ a convo”), with Chuck D returning for the original closing verse (full lyrics available here).
Public Enemy has described “Fight the Power: Remix 2020” as “an unflinching statement about the destruction the current administration has unleashed on the country and its people. [It] speaks truth to power while urging people to fight against racism, injustice and oppression with their vote.” The same could be said of the album as a whole. What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down is no less than a wake-up call as PE urges listeners to fight the powers that be, even if the power grid fails.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss