Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and Run The Jewels have been cited as Chuck D’s influences for Public Enemy’s newest album. The socio-political commentary and the trademark harrowing, bellowing rap make for a discussion-worthy 27 minutes. Plus, with attributes like the characteristic heavy bass in ‘Corplantationopoly’ and hype man Flavor Flav’s alphabetising chant on ‘Earthizen’, the album is evocative of PE’s Golden Age.
They are relentless, chaotic and headache-inducing; a style they use to represent the never-ending struggle for black Americans. Kendrick Lamar made headlines with his BET Awards performance of ‘Alright’, a track filled with hope for young black men and women rising above police brutality. Public Enemy are going in a similar direction, except with further critique of the age of the hashtag and the viral video; how things are going to be seen to get worse before they improve. Considering the trendsetting outlaws they once were, the corporate, digitalised world is easy for Public Enemy to pick on. However with the overproduced feel of these tracks, this important message is drowned in slightly awkward, ominous, post-apocalyptic-sounding electro-beats.
Hip hop is a youthful, aggressive and often controversial world. Public Enemy make reference to their 50+ age on ‘No Sympathy From the Devil’ and ‘Me To We’, hence being no strangers to delivering harsh blows. Lines on ‘Give Peace a Damn’ like “Dad would you please read me a bed time story… Yeah you gon’ grow up and die” make you wince, like you cannot believe what you just heard. Public Enemy make direct remark to The Rolling Stones and the wide use of black music for white profit on ‘No Sympathy’ and ‘Honky Tonk Rules’. The latter is bumbling and artificial, but the former is certainly a highlight. A music video for ‘No Sympathy’ was released August 5th, depicting a race-torn America. It is a ‘Clockwork Orange’-style hypnosis of mangled images intercut with Chuck D marching through a dimly-lit hallway (a visual representation of the entire album, almost). The mugshot appears of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old arrested last month without cause and found hanged in her jail cell, and is gone in the blink of an eye. The video is tough, gruelling, and does not let you breathe.
‘Mine Again’ details Chuck D’s wish to “give back to the Motherland…. to clean up this mess / Left by the west / My duty to the African”. It’s a heavy rap, curtly painting pictures of injustices, but it still feels like an extended muddled thought with no real artistry – like the polished final product cannot connect to the original message PE set out to give.
18-year-old Michael Brown, killed almost one year ago to the day, is a posited figure for protest against racial inequality in the US. The last year has seen a string of relentless news reports detailing unjustified deaths of black men and women, and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ and Vince Staples’ ‘Summertime ’06’ are just two examples of recent albums that cry out heavy, poetic verse in retaliation. ‘Man Plans God Laughs’ should be the platform to aid the protest, but seems to fall short of the genius of these two albums. There is nothing revolutionary here, and there ought to be.
‘Man Plans God Laughs’ is out now on SPITdigital Recordings