Public Enemy: urgency returns on What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?

Public Enemy: Still fighting the power, with help from some famous friends on What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?

Public Enemy: What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?
(Image: © EMI)

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Veteran hip-hop heavyweights Public Enemy have followed an erratic, dispiriting career path in the 21st century. But their first album in 22 years for their iconic former label Def Jam is a meaty, starry affair featuring a pan-generational guest list including George Clinton, Questlove, Nas, Ice-T, Run DMC and more. 

Recycling several tracks from their 2017 download-only collection Nothing Is Quick In The Desert, Chuck D and Flavor Flav find themselves urgently back in lockstep with the zeitgeist in an age of rage, Trump, pandemic paranoia and escalating police brutality. 

The boorish, sweary piledriver polemic State Of The Union (STFU) is the most overtly anti-Trump statement here, verbally battering America’s current clown-in-chief with sledgehammer subtlety. But elsewhere a more nuanced, tender, self-referential nostalgia prevails, from the Beastie Boys-assisted Public Enemy Number Won to Flav’s heartfelt tributes to lost comrades on Rest In Beats

Between propulsive rap-metal guitar riffs and booming foghorn sermons, the killer cut here is a new collective remake of PE’s immortal 1989 anthem Fight The Power, updated and rebooted with references to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.