Chuck D was barely two lines into the opening manifesto of Public Enemy’s new album when he already had me scratching my head. “Terminator’s back!” he shouts in ‘Do You Wanna Go Our Way?’, a simple reference to DJ Terminator X. But then the self-proclaimed Hard Rhymer finishes the lyric and seemingly pulls the rug from under his own feet: ” – on some old fool’s track!”
Several runs through There’s A Poison Goin’ On put the lyric in sharper focus. If Chuck D aligns himself with fools here, then they are fools in the tradition of Da Mayor, the discarded elder in the 1989 film “Do the Right Thing.” Or in the mold of Sly Stone circa 1971, the year that singer broke R&B ranks with the dark There’s A Riot Goin’ On.
That is to say, old fools only in the eyes of young Turks, but men whose convictions are borne out with time. Public Enemy have been considered wack in the eyes of hip-hop heads for several years and claim Chuck D’s out of touch with the changes that have filtered into the rap world since P.E.’s halcyon days at the turn of the decade. While Public Enemy’s eighth album includes its fair share of slamming beats and innovative aural textures, Poison is not likely to change heads’ minds. That’s their loss.
This collection stands as a welcome critique of both the music industry and the hip-hop scene, and its P.E.’s best collection since Apocalypse ’91 … The Enemy Strikes Black. As one of hip-hop culture’s most fervent evangelists, Chuck fires away at weak rappers:
“Shit is killing me softly with that same damn song”
“I’m the reverse of jiggy”
“Hear the crime rhyme created a lot of robots”
“It takes a nation of sell-outs to keep us back”
Hip-hop joker Flavor Flav steps to the plate and bangs line drives right into the outfield. Throughout There’s A Poison Goin’ On, Flavor spices up his counterpoints to Chuck’s baritone with dashes of melody and his solo rhymes find their mark, particularly “41:19”, a police brutality rap. Let the heads grouse that P.E. is out of touch. Maybe they are. But history will show that once again they’re out of touch by being ahead of the times, rather than behind them.