I reviewed Public Enemy’s last album, Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on no Stamp, two months ago, and with the group dropping its “fraternal twin”, The Evil Empire of Everything, a little less than three months later, I thought it’d be only right that I review this one, too.
Though technically a stand-alone release, Empire is meant to “talk to” Heroes (and vice versa) and make it clear that Public Enemy is just as culturally-relevant, socially-conscious and politically-challenging as it was twenty-five years ago.
Tracks like ‘Don’t Give Up The Fight’ (feat. Ziggy Marley) certainly demonstrate that the group is still capable of producing some really good fuckin’ music, which not only puts much of today’s struggle into context, but sounds fresh enough that it is capable of recruiting new listeners and sparking a musical evolution.
‘Riotstarted’ (feat. Tom Morello and Henry Rollins) blends rock and rap in similar manner to Rage Against The Machine, who did so innovatively during its heyday in the nineties; while ‘Icebreaker’ attacks the United States Immigration Customs Enforcement with a whole host of talented emcees (including the much-slept on Impossebulls duo from Chuck’s own label, SlamJamz).
Also on the ‘Icebreaker’ track is Professor Griff, who I expressed slight disappointment towards in my review of Heroes two months back. As a fan of his, I’m pleased to say he gets a few more bars to spit on this record than he did on last, with the pick of the bunch raising issue of “the same old race shit” and Trayvon Martin, a young man who was wrongfully shot and killed by a racist security guard, February, this year (‘Beyond Trayvon’).
Chuck assures us these are not left over songs from Heroes, and that would definitely appear to be the case, judging by the exceptional quality of the whole album. The production — particularly on tracks crafted by legendary Bombsquad producer Gary G-Wiz — is diverse and consistently hard-hitting, setting a real solid foundation for the frontman to “say it like it really is” (also the title of the excellent final track of the album).
As well as there not being a bad beat on here, Empire is also on point lyrically that it will make everyone sit up and take notice. “The foreign lands/ The descendent seeds/ Radiation is the world’s disease/ Bringing they shits down to the knees/ Mother nature/ She ain’t pleased/” spits Chuck (‘Don’t Give Up The Fight’), conveying a knowledgeable stance on world topics, which is present on the album throughout.
PE’s success and respectful following has primarily come through the group’s ability to make timeless protest songs and creatively fuse together a number of different styles, blurring the lines between musical genres, as well as paying tribute to the legendary artists that came before. Empire is no exception, and I have to say is right up there with the group’s best work.
Even Flavor Flav (who I’ve confessed my indifference towards a few times in the past) shines on this album. ’31 Flavors’ is an old-school sounding anthem that sees Flav doing what he does best: Hyping up the listener; and ‘Broke Diva’ seems like a response to the amount of negative criticism he received for Flavor Of Love, with the underlying message here being that money can’t buy sophistication, class or happiness.
Empire makes a real strong statement that PE is just as much a formidable force to be reckoned with as it was twenty-five years ago. Seriously, there’s not a bad track on here, and with the outlook of ‘Fame’ it would seem the band is still a million miles from watering down their message and selling out for pop-friendly radio stations (“Fame/ I hate it/ I HATE IT/” raps Chuck).
‘Everything’ even sees Chuck D participating in a strictly soulful number with the help of Gerald Albright & Sheila Brody, which works wonderfully well (and is my favourite track on the album). Overall, fan or not, this is a(nother) fantastic record from one of music’s most influential groups; and despite the two frontmen approaching their mid-50s, the music seems just as ageless and utterly relevant as it’s ever been.