A Week’s Worth Review: Public Enemy’s “What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?”

By Daniel Paiz

Welcome to another addition of A Week’s Worth review, and this one is very unexpected. 2020 really is the return of rap groups and old school artists in the spotlight. I can honestly say when 2020 started, I did not expect to be listening to a Public Enemy album, but What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? is frankly something I’ve pondered for years now. Somehow Chuck D and Flavor Flav have been captured in a bottle, and periodically released into modern day without losing their original sound or purpose.

I guess that’s what happens when you make timeless music that manages to also be timely. I too side-eyed the supposed dismissal of Flavor Flav from the group back in March and thought maybe PE had finally hung it up. That proved to be a marketing stunt that had their names everywhere, which can be hard to do with all of the viral sensations out there. Kudos to them on learning how to grab attention in 2020.

Public Enemy appears to have plenty left in the proverbial chamber.

What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down is a good question

I think what’s most impressive to me about this album is the number of veteran artists contributing to it. George Clinton, DJ Premier, Run DMC, Mike D, Ad-Rock, Rapsody, Nas, Black Thought, Ice-T and more all contribute just enough. The instrumentation also feels like a simultaneous snapshot of 2020 and a throwback to the height of the Boom Bap era. Perhaps that’s the point, when the grid goes down artists will have to revert their sound.

Another well-balanced aspect is the reliance on the nostalgia factor. I’ve mentioned numerous times how focusing on a bygone sound or idea is detrimental on a project, but PE doesn’t do that. Other than the Fight The Power 2020 Remix, the other tracks don’t replicate previous songs. They do replicate that PE sound, but that’s kind of hard not to do.

Getting to the question at hand, figuring out how to survive without the grid doesn’t seem possible. People take for granted the interconnectedness of today’s world. It would be both terrifying and refreshing to most of us who utilize this thing on the daily. For Public Enemy, this mixed bag might just be what we all need:

If the GRID goes down you better be ready

Emotional effects may be deadly

Masses to run steady

The depression hits like a Tyson blow

Isolation on another level

Who’s responsible? I don’t know

I gotta theory if you hear me but you wanna fear me

Dumb us down then divide us up I see it clearly

Pit one against the other even though we’re brothers

Make us hate each other while they keep their asses covered

-Cypress Hill verse, GRID

Cypress Hill makes a good point in the division planned with what’s out there info-wise. It’s not exactly new information, but rather a reminder that the new generation of web users might want to reflect on. “Make us hate each other while they keep their asses covered” reminds us that divide and conquer is and will remain the name of the game until further notice.

What were you expecting, though?

A lot of criticism I’m seeing online about this album are how predictable this album is. There are two points to that which I need to address. First off, after a career spanning three decades that’s based in questioning the status quo, what other direction would Public Enemy possibly follow? Secondly, the reason why Public Enemy doesn’t have to change their sound or delivery is because over thirty years, little has changed.

As long as the United States operates in its current format, there will be plenty to criticize. There will be discrepancies, lack of equal opportunity, and the like. Chuck D will keep questioning those in power, Flava Flav will keep showing his disgust about it, and guest emcees will add their two cents. If you’re going to expect Public Enemy to drop anything outside their expertise, than I don’t know what to tell you.

Back to the album, the infatuation people today have with technology seems like it’s not going anywhere. I’m fully aware you are reading this on your phone or laptop also. These are necessary evils, so to speak, but tools that you and I need more breaks from. Public Enemy I think says it best with the aptly-named track Toxic:

[Chorus: Chuck D and Flavor Flav]

Toxic, see em

Sell it and box it

Savage, they

Say we can’t stop it

Flav, PE, rock it

Antetokounmpo

No, Mutombo I blocks it

[Verse 3: Chuck D]
Hindsight 57
So I’m stayin’ in my lane
As the young think in hell
And the old prey to pain
This shit is classic like the resurgence
Of the dope on plastic
Vinyl bats backin’ the tracks
The millennium’s drastic
Synthetic bullshit smokin’ up the hood
Bear witness cause y’all know the government’s up to no good
You can’t drift away from the problems of today
If you’re grown 21 and over, tell me where the hell you goin’
Suicidal with an open Bible
Lockdown friendly fire
Or HBO, Home Boys Only, I really never really dug the Wire
They do no hirin’
He keep on firin’
We keep dyin’
The aftermath
Do the math
Toxic!

Chuck D knows what he’s about. He understands what experience has taught him, and how it’ll teach those in youth likely have to learn the hard way. Knowing your lane and delivering your message is what Public Enemy keeps doing. Don’t be upset that their message has stayed true to its original intent, be mad that in thirty years very little has changed.

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