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Album Review: What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? (September 25, 2020) – Public Enemy 

By Evan Cardinal, Albright '21

Oct 09, 2020

The Context – With constant tumult unfolding around the globe, it is difficult not to feel that the trite expression “history repeats itself” is at full force. If there were an album to encapsulate this echoing feeling (at least in the American context), it would certainly be the What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?  record released by the Long Island-based rap collective Public Enemy.

Political provocateurs, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Kahri Wynn, and DJ Lord of Public Enemy revolutionized East Coast hip-hop in the late 80s and 90s, especially finding mainstream success after their 1990 single “Fight the Power.” Thirty years later, the trailblazing group has released a whopping seventeen combined studio, collaboration, and soundtrack albums notching an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 and most recently earning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the 62nd Grammy Awards.

The Content – Funk legend George Clinton kicks off the record in a Vincent Price-type growl on the “When The Grid Go Down” prelude. This intro leads into the full-length opening track “GRID,” where Chuck D, the boys from the 90s West Coast collective Cypress Hill, and George Clinton sgrittily remark on this generation’s preoccupation with technology and the subsequent downfall of society if the electrical grid is to be compromised. The in-your-face-style that put Public Enemy on the map is on full-display in “State Of The Union [STFU]” with patented record scratches, cynical bars concerning the current presidential administration, and Flavor Flav’s curse-laden talk rap. Mike D and Adrock of the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, and Public Enemy formulate a  80s/90s rap dream team in “Public Enemy Number Won,” where the rappers take a break from socio-political commentary to reminisce on the glory days of Def Jam records. The mix sounds like a time 90s timepiece for certain.

“Toxic” is a slow-churning banger that shows Chuck D still has the aggressive bars in his repertoire Flavor Flav continually brings up present NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to which Chuck playfully dismisses the superstar for famed 90s and 2000s shot blocker Dikembe Mutombo. “Yesterday Man” is a fun-loving track with hell-raising guitars akin to glam rock that prompts Public Enemy to question “what happened?” regarding the current state of rap, politics, and urban America. I am not a huge fan of the autotune chorus, but “Yesterday Man” is still a notable track.

The 2020 remix to “Fight The Power,” something rap fans all needed, is an epic mix consisting of features from industry legends and rising stars such as Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG & Questlove. The updated commentary on the state of American police brutality is fresh, but doesn’t distract from the original message of the 1990 single. Ultimately, “Fight The Power: Remix 2020” is an exciting and powerful addition to the album. To follow is “Beat Them All,” yet another slick and rocking mash-up with the rapping of Chuck D and the scratching production, which transitions well into “Smash The Crowd” that has a notable feature from the legendary Ice-T. “If You Can’t Join Em Beat Em” and “Go At It” continue the genre mashing as well. The record then concludes on the somber reflections of Public Enemy’s fallen contemporaries in “Rest In Beats” and “R.I.P. Blackat.”

The Skinny – Public Enemy’s fifteenth studio album transports its listeners to the heat of NYC summers in the 1990s. However, we are reminded that the musical era is not bygone with the 2020 lyrical update. From the emotional lyricism, strong supporting features, the top-notch production, and the leadership of Chuck D and Flavor Flav position What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? as a superb record.

The Rating – 8.1/10

What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?

  1. When The Grid Go Down…(feat. George Clinton)
  2. GRID (feat. Cypress Hill & George Clinton)
  3. State Of The Union (feat. DJ Premier) [STFU]
  4. Merica Mirror
  5. Public Enemy Number Won (feat. Mike D, Adrock & Run-DMC)
  6. Toxic
  7. Yesterday Man (feat. Daddy-O)
  8. Crossroads Burning
  9. Fight The Power: Remix 2020 (feat. Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG & Questlove)
  10. Beat Them All
  11. Smash The Crowd (feat. Ice-T & PMD)
  12. If You Can’t Join Em Beat Em
  13. Go At It (feat. Jahi)
  14. Don’t Look At The Sky
  15. Rest In Beats (feat. The Impossebulls)
  16. I.P. Blackat
  17. Closing: I Am Black

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