Public Enemy Fight the Power With Passion on ‘What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?’

For their 15th album, Public Enemy are back on Def Jam, the powerhouse label they helped build with their golden-age hip-hop classics. It’s a well-timed return to the center of the industry. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has seen a reawakening of the protest radicalism that PE originally brought to rap, from Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” to Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” to DaBaby’s BLM remix of “Rockstar.” So when they ask, “Is rap still the black CNN?” — embodying the voice of the music’s traditionalist gatekeepers on What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? — the answer this time around is actually, “Yes, it sort of is.”

Being weirdly relevant yet proudly in their own world, passionately urgent yet resolutely ornery, has often been a PE hallmark, and here they nail a potent mix of “fight the powers that be” and “get the fuck off my lawn.” On “GRID,” featuring funk god George Clinton and Cypress Hill, Chuck goes off on techno overload and iPhone-zombie addiction (“No internet no text and no tweets/Will look like the Eighties with fiends in the streets”). It’s a great message in a time when internet-rabbit-hole deep-diving has turned suburban Republican moms into Pizzagate psychos, adorably delivered in a way that sounds a little like pissed-off parents trying their kids off TikTok: “Aww snap! No apps, just maybe perhaps/No grid is what we need for new human contact.” Elsewhere, the album is suffused with nostalgia for Public Enemy’s Eighties glory days; their old Def Jam label mates Mike D and Ad Rock of the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC all pop up on, along with Terminator X, a new version of their 1987 jam “Public Enemy No. 1,” (titled “Public Enemy Number Won”), while on “Rest in Beats,” Chuck turns a celebration of departed hip-hop figures into a demand for the music itself to live up to their legacy,

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