Public Enemy Ring in 30th Anniversary With ‘Nothing is Quick in the Desert’
Even after giving fans political rap classics like “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” and “Fear of a Black Planet,” it appears that Public Enemy still isn’t done giving back. In celebration of their 30th anniversary, the group just surprise released their new album “Nothing Is Quick in the Desert” several days early on Bandcamp. News of the release leaked late last week, with fans speculating that its auspicious 4th of July release date indicated that this album would be a clarion call against the current Presidential administration.
The album manages to keep the political rhetoric mostly pointed without losing the funky sway of Public Enemy’s beats. Even when the band rants against “45” and the culture of truth distortion that led to his election, they manage to drape these screeds in the funkiest finery. Trump salvos like “Toxic” and “Yesterday Man” feature sloganeering choruses to fuel the fist-pumping aggression that will get listeners up in arms, but in typical PE fashion it’s backed by banging bass and kick patterns.
Even though it’s business as usual, the pioneering band adds unique flourishes and fresh touches. “Smash the Crowd” is a master class in layering, breaks and rhythmic shifts, finding multiple pulses to flow over without ever disrupting the general groove. By the end of the song, samples are reversed, slowed down and oscillated out of control to create a psychedelic hip hop cacophony that envelops the listener. Likewise, the aforementioned “Yesterday Man” is covered in dense spider webs of atonal and aimless guitar wankery as two separate shredders are panned hard left and right, yet they somehow gel beautifully with the song’s message of information (and misinformation) saturation.
The guitar work on “Yesterday Man” feels appropriate, but the group lets the spidery guitars crawl over their album a little too much. Perhaps Chuck D was inspired by his work with supergroup Prophets of Rage — which featured the instrumental components of Rage Against the Machine — and decided to pair some headbanging riffs with PE’s body rocking beats. On tracks like “SOC MED Digital Heroin,” nasally, sped-up guitar samples are on a mission to do little more than pierce listeners’ eardrums, however. Public Enemy have always been out to shock and agitate, but the overabundance and misapplication of guitar samples only serves to distract from the lecture at hand.
The only other misstep of the record is when D turns his criticisms away from Trump and points his vitriol at Caitlin Jenner, Migos, and especially millennials. As he complains on “Rest in Beats (Part 1 & 2)”: “We lost real flows to mumbles and memes.” This is just a small taste of the hatred that he expresses about the rising generation of rappers and digital culture in general. The “get off my lawn” verses actually outnumber his criticisms of the Orange One, begging the question: Does he blame the consumers of digital media for society’s ills as opposed to the pied pipers leading them astray?
Curmudgeonly verses aside, “Rest in Beats (Part 1 & 2)” is a soulful elegy to the fallen luminaries of the hip hop scene. With an echoing drum kit and horn samples ripped off the dustiest of vinyls, Public Enemy write with their sonics planted firmly in the past, while their verses are grounded in the present. Similarly, PE are still just as fun and complex a listen as they’ve always been, but it’s just a little disappointing that the radicalism that made them so vital to hip hop’s growth has been tempered by time into little more than finger wagging. But, if you can get past the heavy-handed lyrics, you’ll be treated to a buffet of beats that’s well worth repeated listens.
‘Nothing is Quick in the Desert’ is available to stream on Bandcamp June 29.