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Topic: 2002 reviews (Jul.-Sep.)
[this review was originally posted to the BSOTS website in august of 2002. i love reviews like this: so full of life and passion about the music. by the way, if you ever get a chance to hear Chuck D on the college lecture circuit, run, don't walk. he's brilliant. -jrs.]
Considering that most rap fans would rather raise the roof than raise their fists, you really have to wonder how many younger heads would care that there's a new Public Enemy album out. Those curious to know what made (and still makes) PE relevant should start with this album. Revolverlution is the best release from these brothers since Apocalypse 91. Realizing that hip-hop fans are not only fickle but overtly age conscious to boot (you'd think a 13 year-old rap listener had brought back the old slogan "don't trust anyone over 30"), this album caters to both the tried and true fans as well as those new to the noise. Revolverlution contains new songs and live versions of classics as well as a few remixes. It's also the first of a triple album set. And before you start having Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump flashbacks, have no fear: PE comes bangin' right out the starting gate.
Everyone's present and accounted for: Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X (more in spirit than a physical presence, but still down with the crew), even Professor Griff is on the joint. Serious props go to DJ and producer Johnny "Juice" Rosado for bringing the funk back into PE's sound. While distinctly different from the hip-hop cut-and-paste techniques of the Bomb Squad, Rosado updates the noise to keep things bumpin' and your mind alert. The lead-off cut "Gotta Give The Peeps What They Need" is probably the strongest track they've made since "Fight The Power." (The remix version featuring Paris, self-proclaimed Black Panther of rap and "Bush Killa" when George Sr. was in office, makes for a sweet bonus.) "Get Your Sh*t Together" furthers Johnny Juice's position as the future of PE's production, and also proves the group's relevance in terms of lyrical content. Chuck D has much to say about 9/11, and best believe that George W. doesn't escape the wrath either (see "Son Of A Bush" for the full rundown). Even in an ultra-patriotic America, Public Enemy refuses to stay silent and continues to "fight the powers that be." The snippet of the "Post-Concert Arizona Interview," where PE only played two songs on U2's Zoo TV Tour in protest of the state's refusal to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday, serves as a reminder of how long they've been in the struggle.
The most noticeable change is the larger role that Professor Griff plays on this album, showing off some able production skills. When it comes to his rhyming chops, brotha man's kinda rusty. But even back on his earlier solo works (what, you didn't know?), it was understood that he cared more about the message than its delivery. Behind the boards is where he does damage; the spirit of the Bomb Squad lives on in him. From "Son Of A Bush" to the title track to his solo cuts "Now A'Daze" and "What Good Is A Bomb," Griff's tracks are heavy and noisy, knee deep in head bangin' hard rock. Guitars aplenty. On the flip side of the mood, Flavor Flav does what he does best: make no sense whatsoever. Actually, "Can A Woman Make A Man Lose His Mind?" makes more sense than "Cold Lampin' With Flav" - at least he's not making up words anymore - but it's Flavor, so it'll still make you shake your head and laugh. (Wanna get your laugh on for real? Check out some joints on his solo album. Words fail me…)
Probably the best aspect of this album is all the extras. The live versions are dope, especially the joints taped in Switzerland and DJ Lord Aswod gettin' ill on the tables on "Miuzi Weighs A Ton." Those Public Service Announcements are a trip, too. (Quote Flavor: "If you don't wanna be a goner, stay away from the drugs on the corner!") While the remixes certainly won't overshadow the originals, it's cool that they were included. All four remixes were winners of a contest on Slam Jamz, Chuck D's online music label. He got his fans to play an active role with the album, something that never would've happened while he was on Def Jam, so the digital music revolution has its benefits. (While I'm thinkin' about it, big ups to Moleman - your remix of "By The Time I Get To Arizona" has been growin' on me.) Most of all, these remixes remind us that PE have never shied away from incorporating rock or odd sounds (electronic or otherwise) into their audio assaults, which makes the hip-hop nation's accusations of them being "sellouts" after re-recording "Bring The Noise" with Anthrax even more puzzling. (YES, I'M STILL MAD ABOUT THAT.) Lastly, I owe Gary G-Wiz a huge apology. Back when Apocalypse 91 and the Greatest Misses album came out, I kept comparing his style to Hank and Keith Shocklee and saying that he came up short. Now he's got me head noddin' to the point of whiplash on cuts like "Put It Up" and "54321…Boom." I just realized how long I slept, brother. Respect.
It's albums like these that make me wonder if Public Enemy ever really fell off. Seems as if they started a whole other life after the noise died down and people decided to get back to the party and bull. Even after they stopped moving units, they turned to the Internet and became champions of the MP3. Matter of fact, an earlier album of theirs was released on the 'Net first. They embraced a controversial format at a time when most major music artists wouldn't…and those that wanted to, couldn't. (Major labels don't swing that way.) For that alone, they prove themselves relevant to today's youth. Include everything that they talk about on this album and they're about five seconds away from being blacklisted, possibly even deported. It's cool, though: what some may suppress on a mass media level can always be let loose throughout cyberspace.
Revolverlution is a surprisingly good album for a hip-hop group that has been around for 15 years. Not a bad way to celebrate their anniversary. Considering that there's so much turmoil in the world and so little being said about it in today's rap music, it's a damn good thing they're still here. Chuck says it best on "Put It Up": "Somebody's gotta communicate beyond the beats."
this album can be purchased at emusic.com.