Arts, Music, Review

Public Enemy Takes Aim at Society in New Album


Public Enemy is back and as hard hitting as ever. The legendary hip-hop group hasn’t missed a beat with its new album What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? This marks the third album that Public Enemy has released in 2020. It’s tempting to think that this sudden burst of inspiration has come from this year’s craziness, especially considering that the group’s first album in 13 years, Loud Is Not Enough, was released in April 2020.

A lot has changed in those 13 years, and Public Enemy wants to talk about it all. From Donald Trump to social media, no topic was safe from derision on this album’s hit list. In the past, the group has vocalized its opinions about the treatment of Black people, as well as its thoughts about the current state of the government and society. Any fan of Public Enemy will feel right at home listening to What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?, as the group continues to share its hardcore truths with the world.

The group wastes no time getting straight down to business. The opening song, “When the Grid Goes Down…,” immediately creates a sense of chaos, with heavily distorted political lyrics and a dystopian bassline. This sense of chaos flows directly into the next two songs of the album, which happen to also be the two most memorable songs, “Grid” and “State of the Union (STFU).” “Grid” has no shortage of stanzas to make your head spin. The group focuses its anger at social media, with lyrics such as “Socially engineered anarchy induced chaos” and “Digital mental health clinics worse than the pandemic.”

The distaste in “Grid” melds well with the outrage expressed in “State of the Union (STFU),” which can best be described as an anti-Trump protest song. Public Enemy rattles off line after explosive line, including “End this clown show for real, a state bozo / Nazi cult 45 Gestapo” and “Operation 45, yeah it’s the same thing / Sounds like Berlin burnin’.” Throughout the album, the group never refers to Donald Trump by name, only as “45” or “president.”

The album reaches an interlude with “Merica Mirror,” which shifts the focus of the project to the treatment of Black people in America. 

The following songs “Public Enemy Number Won,” “Toxic,” and “Yesterday Man” tackle this subject head on. In “Yesterday Man,” the group dig emphasizes the importance of rap to Black culture. It also takes shots at mumble rap and disses current artists including Migos.

As the album progresses, so does Public Enemy’s reflection on the current state of the Black community. In the heavily anticipated remix of the song “Fight the Power” (featuring rap royalty Nas, among others), along with “Beat Them All,” “Smash the Crowd,” and “Go At It,” the group advocates for increasing the number of Black people in places of power and highlights injustices in the Black community. 

The interlude song “Don’t Look at the Sky” marks another transition in the album. Public Enemy takes a moment to express gratitude for how far it has come. With songs “Rest in Beats” and “R.I.P. Blackat,” the group reminisces about the past and its roots, and honors those who came before them.

The final song is perhaps the best possible way to end the album. “Closing: I Am Black,” featuring Ms. Ariel, is a self-affirming statement of pride. “I am Black, woman, beautiful, magic,” Ms. Ariel says, listing off a series of adjectives in a confident tone.

In a world full of mumble rap and meaningless beats, Public Enemy has once again gone against the grain. If you want to hear a hardcore, slap-in-the-face take on the state of America, there’s no better option than Public Enemy’s What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?

Featured image courtesy of Def Jam Records

September 28, 2020