Release Date: 25/09/20
Record Label: Def Jam
For Fans Of: Run D.M.C., Beastie Boys, N.W.A.
In late August, some of England and France’s most iconic landmarks, including the British Parliament, Tate Modern and the Eiffel Tower, were all subjected to a rather unusual display of subtle anarchy. When the infamous Public Enemy logo was projected onto these national institutions it could only mean one thing: the New York natives are back with another new album. And What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? shows Public Enemy haven’t lost a single step when it comes to producing first-class music.
There’s always a chance when an iconic band or artist releases new music that they’ll try to update their sound and reinvent their identity to move with the times. Public Enemy have stuck firmly to their roots and steered well clear of the EDM backdrop that characterises modern hip-hop. Choosing to favour the ‘real instrument’ sounds that create such infectious grooves and feel-good vibes feels a stark contrast to the aggressive vocals and movingly powerful lyricism.
For fans of old-school hip-hop it probably couldn’t get much better than experiencing a Public Enemy and Run-DMC collaboration. Throw Beastie Boys into the mix for good measure and you’d be left with a trifecta of bona fide hip-hop legends. That’s exactly what you get with ‘Public Enemy Number Won’ as the trio of rap-rock icons put on a display of sheer brilliance that puts most modern rappers to shame.
The dream collaborations don’t stop there as What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? seemingly acts as it’s very own hip-hop Hall of Fame with a plethora of legends and future stars featuring throughout the album, including George Clinton, Ice-T and many more. The standout track on the album from a features perspective is ‘Fight The Power: Remix 2020’ as one of rap’s most celebrated songs is revamped with input from Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG and Questlove. With updated lyrics on police brutality and Breonna Taylor, Public Enemy are clearly keen to show their message is just as important now as it’s ever been. The group also refuse to hold back on ‘State of the Union (STFU)’ as they call out Donald Trump and his destructive reign. Not backing down in the face of controversy is one of the many reasons why Public Enemy are held in such high regard, and the fact they’ve continued that tradition in their latest album proves their genuine passion for using music as a platform to shed light on real issues.
Such an extraordinary collection of featured artists coupled with untouchable lyrical bravado would be enough to consider What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? a triumph. However, what shouldn’t be taken for granted is the awesome musical backdrop behind the aforementioned brilliance. There are subtle shifts throughout the record that take it from the smooth, calming, almost jazz-like beats in opening track ‘When The Grid Go Down’ and ‘R.I.P. Blackat’ into soaring rock songs with the distorted guitars and epic riffs in ‘Yesterday Man’ and ‘Go At It’. There are also a few tracks that lean on the more anthemic element of hip-hop as ‘Beat Them All’ and ‘GRID’ provide the guaranteed earworms that cement Public Enemy’s place at the very top of the hip-hop world. It could be fairly argued that there is a lack of musical complexity to the songs as the shifts in beats and sounds are very subtle. However, the poignancy of the lyrics transcends the music itself and is such a focal point on the record that any similarities in the beats are hardly noticeable.
From start to finish What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? is a masterful display in hip-hop brilliance. Any artist that can combine such profound, poetic lyrics with soaring guitar riffs, grimy synth-bass and classic hip-hop beats is fully deserving of being considered not only one of the greatest of their own era, but of any era.
Rating – 10/10
Recommended Tracks – ‘Fight The Power: 2020 Remix’, ‘R.I.P. Blackat’