Public Enemy - “What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?” Review

Story posted September 30, 2020 in Arts & Entertainment by Matthew McLaughlin.

The legendary MCs Chuck D and Flavor Flav reunite for another politically charged album, which is perfect timing. After over 30 years since the release of their biggest album “Fear of a Black Planet,” Public Enemy returns with their latest album “What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?”

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement perfectly sets up an opportunity to introduce a new generation to Public Enemy’s extensive catalog. Despite the bright spots and reunions on this album, “When the Grid Goes Down” falls flat in multiple areas including lyricism.

Chuck D still utilizes his booming voice that has somehow remained intact throughout the years. Additionally, Flavor Flav still brings some of the comedic value and energy that made Public Enemy’s past albums, such as “Fear of a Black Planet” and “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” but it is just past the point of putting out classic albums.

That is not to say Public Enemy cannot contribute to music at all, but “When the Grid Goes Down” sounds more like a mixtape than a fully fleshed-out album and it shows.

Throughout the album, Public Enemy criticizes the current generation’s addiction to screens while trying to somehow remain political at the same time.

“Public Enemy Number Won” reunites Public Enemy with labelmates Run-DMC in a Def-Jam nostalgia trip for 1990s rap fans, and there are some nuggets within the track.

On the third verse, DMC expresses his struggle with alcoholism, “I did not know how I had an enemy/In Jack and Gin and Hennessey,” but this reunion isn’t enough to overcome the lack of cohesiveness over the album.

The 2020 remix of PE’s classic “Fight the Power” brings together rappers from a wide variety of backgrounds, but Nas and Rapsody deliver the best lines on the entire remix.

Nas, one of the most celebrated rappers of all time from Queens, New York, delivers a noteworthy line: “Haiti beat France, a century, seventeen/Salute Toussaint and Dessalines,” which refers to the Haitian Revolution in the seventeenth century.

North Carolina rapper Rapsody graces the mic and drops a mind-blowing line as well: “You love Black Panther but not Fred Hampton/Word to the Howards and the Aggies and Hamptons,” referring to the film and leading member of the Black Panther organization while also shouting out historically black colleges and universities.

Both artists use incredible wordplay, but the best song on this album shouldn’t be a remix. Original and unique songs make the most impact on a listener, but instead Nas and Rapsody took some attention away from an already mediocre album, which hurts its value.

Is Public Enemy back to remind the world of its greatness? Is the album meant to inspire more political action?

The album doesn’t answer any of these questions. Compared to past works, “What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down” does not live up to the duo’s mythical status in the rap game and should have been released as a mixtape or collection of loosies, rather than pouring resources into a full-length album from a pair of rappers telling kids to get off their lawn.

Rating: 6/10

Reviewer’s Favorite Song: “Fight the Power: Remix 2020”
Reviewer’s Least Favorite Song: “State of the Union”

Matthew McLaughlin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mem6936@psu.edu.