Public Enemy returns at last

Issue 

Muse Sick-n-hour Mess Age
Public Enemy
Polygram
Reviewed by Jean-Paul Nassif

An attempted murder charge and a debilitating crack-cocaine addiction are what Chuck D's (lead vocalist of Public Enemy) clock-wearing comic relief sidekick Flavour Flav has had to deal with. Inevitably, such events were responsible for a lot of negative attention.

In 1992, Public Enemy (after the album Apocalypse '91: The enemy strikes Black) released Greatest Misses, an album containing mostly remixes of old songs. Even dedicated fans thought that their amazing rap career had come to an end. Fortunately, the release of Muse Sick-n-hour Mess Age" (music and our message) proves that PE is far from over.

The album peeks into the future, to 1999 as the masses of people continue to submit themselves to the programming of white supremacy under the leadership of ex-Klan member David Duke. It has as much revolutionary conviction as any of their earlier material, with 21 hard-hitting tracks.

This album is a 72-minute testimony of angry poetry and black rebellion. The usual style of various samples and hurling beats have been incorporated with new dialogue, powerful lyrics and occasional thrashy drums, as in the dooming track "Hitler Day".

Chuck D adopts an internationalist attitude towards racial oppression and crushes tokenism in the song "White Heaven/Black Hell". Without stooping to reverse racism, the song invalidates claims that there is no longer a need for black self-determination and emancipation. It emphasises that although some progress has been made in throwing off the second class citizenship status of African Americans and black peoples worldwide, capital and control are still monopolised by whites, predominantly white males.

"I ain't mad at all" is an attack on excessive materialism and consumerism while "Thin line between law and rape" examines the rape and pillage mentality/tradition bestowed upon the indigenous Americans.

"Bedlam 13:13" addresses the environmental issues which — despite the evident urgency — remain politically unaddressed.

Not many issues escape PE, and fratricide (black on black crime) is a high priority on their agenda. It is made clear that the system manoeuvres the under-class and less politically powerful groups into subordination to their oppressors. Black on Black crime is an example of divide and conquer.

"Race against time", one of the best sounding tracks of the album, discusses how black people are disproportionately affected by all the evils of modern society.

"Ain't Nuttin Buttersong" hits down on the USA's racist traditions. Public Enemy's description of the US flag is: "The red is for our bloodshed/ The blue is for those sad-ass songs we be singin' in church — the blues, while the white man's heaven is the black man's hell/ The stars is what we saw when our ass got beat/ The stripes are for the whip marks in our back/ The white is for the obvious ... There ain no black in that flag ..."

Although every song on this album has something to offer, both musically and lyrically, "Hitler Day" draws attention to US hypocrisy with biting irony. Chuck D explains: "Why are we as a people forced to celebrate days like Columbus Day, when it kicked off 500 years of genocide? That's as crazy as celebrating Hitler Day."

If you haven't heard Public Enemy's material before, this is a good album to start on. It may well be the best rap release this year. It's challenging, confrontational, very artistic and smooth to listen to. It was certainly worth the wait!

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