For fifteen years, Public Enemy has unyieldingly placed substance above style. They are one of the few hip hop acts around who are not concerned with diamond encrusted platinum medallions, rollin’ on 20-inch rims, or how much they make in a year. Yeah, there is that so-called “underground” movement, but it seems that these hip hoppers are often just as eager as P.Diddy (or whatever moniker he has chosen this week) to go platinum — Wu Tang Clan and The X-ecutioners are both fine examples. I concede there are some anomalies (All Natural, Aceyalone, and Anti-Pop Consortium) to these shallow aspirations, however, they are the exception rather than the rule. With PE;s latest release, Revolverlution, there is an implicit determination to shift, if only momentarily, the pendulum of pop culture away from the style. The title alone is poignant and open to interpretation. Perhaps a call for revolution (musical, political or social) or maybe a re-evolution, a visitation to the group’s past. Yet, upon listening to the album, I am reminded of the trite maxim “don’t judge a book by its cover” (or title, for that matter). While it is a re-evolution, a full circle return to PE’s roots through re-mixes and live performances of old favorites including “Fight The Power,” “Welcome to the Terrordome,” and “Gotta Give Them What They Want,” this album is by no means the soundtrack to revolution.
As I write this review I not only feel compelled, but obligated, to write good things; to proclaim that Revolverlution, like most of PE’s material, is a brilliant reminder that hip hop does indeed have a pulse, that hip hop has the potential to be a viable cultural expression and mustn’t be reduced to the inane and narcissistic buffoonery that it so often seems to be. This, however, would betray the role of an honest critic. Revolverlution is an assemblage that lacks the formidability and innovation expected of PE. Gone are the challenging soundscapes laid down by the Bomb Squad that once forced the listen to embrace the chaos and find music in noise. In place of this post modern take on Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” are hackneyed heavy metal guitar rifts that make one wonder if PE is attempting to crossover by catering to the sensibilities of the MTV generation who are force-fed the notion that white boys rhyming over cacophonous guitars is indeed hip hop. Chuck knows that this is unnecessary, for his cultural significance is the result of not making concessions to the mainstream. As our political and social climate begins to resemble that of the era in which PE emerged, we again need an honest and uncompromising voice. With “Get Your Shit Together” (a song that reminds one of the Last Poets’ “When the Revolution Comes”) PE comes closest to making sense of America’s grim reality: “I guess 9-1-1 ain’t no joke/Wall Street crying broke/ Was it God or the Devil who spoke?” Beckoning back to the production of It Takes a Nation of Millions and Fear of a Black Planet, they trade the prosaic heavy metal guitar for a haunting soundscape consisting of menacing beats underscored by ubiquitous scratching and media snippets from 9/11. But this track is an exception, as even the trenchant indictment of “Son of a Bush” is anemic and even a little predictable.
Despite its many shortcomings, Revolverlution is refreshing at a time when hip hop has become utterly insipid. It testifies that there remains creative thinkers willing to transcend convention, to offer a voice and some beats that begin to make sense of what’s going on. Though this album may falter, there remains little doubt that when the revolution arrives, PE will provide the theme music.
Public Enemy: http://www.slamjamz.com