THERE'S A POISON GOIN ON
There's A Poison Goin' On (by David Kelly)
Chuck and co, re-energised and ready to fight the powers that be - and that means the music industry.
There is a strong comparison to be drawn between Public Enemy and Prince. Both trailblazed their way through popular music, finding their commercial and critical peak in the '80s. Both spent the '90s releasing patchier work, still imbued to some degree or other with their own individual genius, which was cared for by a devoted but ever dwindling audience. Both grew restless, reassessing their earlier material: drawing up plans for compilations of recordings taken from their more successful years, and making new music with the musicians and producers from their 'classic' periods. Both became uppity with their record labels, demanding a creative and contractual freedom the corporations were unwilling to permit. "If you don't own the master, the master owns you", says Chuck D on '...Poison...'s closer, the music industry assault 'Swindler's Lust', making precisely the link between corporate culture and slavery for which Prince was derided in 1994. Both have turned to the Internet as an alternative means of distribution (this album is, for now at least, only available on-line, via www.atomicpop.com). Both have been musically fired up by their struggles. And both, as a consequence, may have to watch their finest music in years reach the smallest audiences of their careers.
There is, of course, a significant difference. Prince believed that, having made millions of dollars for his record company (of which he received a very small slice), he deserved to be cut some slack, to be able to explore areas that interested him, whether or not they might interest MTV. His position is personal; the point behind his reformed Revolution is almost certainly more sentimental than commercial.
Chuck D, on the other hand, is making a political point, taking a moral stand - who has the right to own the music of Public Enemy if not him? "What am I", he asks on 'Crayola', referring to his major label past, "another number and a ho?" And, of course, the very notion of 'ownership' is, in America at least, a racially sensitive issue.
There is a powerful argument here, and it is laudable that artists of their stature should take such stands. But that's less important than the fact that, for the first time in a good few years, ol' Mistachuck sounds angry - and powerfully inspired. As he raps in 'LSD', "Rather try at 37 than die at 26", and over some of the most spare, least cluttered tracks they've ever constructed sit words of passion and eloquence, like a PE manifesto for 1999.
'Crash' rants at the complacent (us) who allow their lives to be run by computers - and the dark fate that will befall them come Y2K. '41:19' - a reference to the 41 bullets New York police felt obliged to discharge in the direction of unarmed Amadou Diallo earlier this year, and the 19 that found their target - is a protest laced with dark, deadly wit. 'I', a powerful highlight, sits a fine old funky R&B track behind Chuck's in character meditations on poverty and homelessness; sensitive and insightful, a typical day in this guy's life is brought to a terrible end - and Chuck's message hits home.
But his main theme is hip-hop and the music industry - and, frankly, he doesn't approve. 'Do You Wanna Go Our Way???' (to hear a sound clip from this track, click here),'Here I Go', 'LSD', 'Crayola' and the wonderful 'Swindler's Lust' all lash out at the industry, and those acts prepared to collaborate for commercial gain. "Radios getting sucked by labels under the table" is a typical line, as is his Fugees/Puff Daddy sideswipe, "Shit is Killing Me Softly with that same damn song". And just to prove the point, some of the album's finest P-Funk squelchy basslines, melody traces and rhythmic invention accompany these diatribes - this is not sour grapes.
Flavor Flav also deserves credit here, both for the intense '41:19' and the album's light spot, the self-produced 'What What'. But it's Chuck who stands out, rapping with surprising aggression, and back on form.
God, he's livid. God, it's good.
Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, Professor Grif, and the S1W's have returned. Of course, if you're a web head, then you know they never went anywhere but away from Def Jam. PE has been busy.
Atomic Pop (www.atomicpop.com) explodes with "There's A Poison Goin On....." from the Rhyme Animal himself, Chuck D and crew. Chuck has been lighting up the web for quite a little while now. Check him out at RapStation.Com (www.rapstation.com), Bring The Noise.Com (www.bringthenoise.com), and of course Public Enemy.Com (www.publicenemy.com).
PE is the Last Action Hero of Hip-Hop. While this isn't Nation of Millions, it's still mad exciting and more raw than anything else out today. The Enemy it knows how to make songs, not just 3 verses over a loop.
There's a Poison Goin On
THE ROLLING STONE REVIEW
A decade after they reinvented hip-hop, Public Enemy no longer bring the media noise the way they once did. But after a falling-out with their longtime label, Def Jam, P.E. are now once again wearing redwood-size chips on their shoulders. There's a Poison Goin On. . . . initially came out as an Internet-only release and rails against the usual cast of hapless subjects: the record industry, Uncle Sam, black radio stations, hip-hop itself. "I'm the reverse of jiggy/All that prettiness," human howitzer Chuck D spits on "Here I Go," while Flavor Flav, still the freshest second banana in hip-hop, ducks in and out like rope-a-dope Ali. Actually, there is some jigginess on this record: Chuck's sometimes self-righteous bitterness is tempered by R&B melodiousness on "World Tour Sessions." But the emphasis is on sparser, more spacious mixes -- less claustrophobic and dizzying than Bomb Squad-era P.E., but still gripping. The stoner metal of "Do You Wanna Go Our Way???," the Last Poets-like agit-rap of "Crayola" and the cold-sweat horn bleats of "First the Sheep Next the Shepherd?" suggest that a little midlife crisis is just what P.E. needed. (RS 818)
Whether you're dealing with the biological catastrophe waiting to happen known as cloning (First the Sheep, Then the Shepherd?) or the blatant attack on Ahmed Diallo (41:19), Public Enemy doesn't disappoint. Chuck spits razor-edged subtlety blended with bludgeoning blunt objects to deliver lacerations and concussions all within 52 minutes.
So young or old, support Chuck D if you're a Hip-Hop head. After all, he's supporting you. Bring The Noise.Com gives your tracks airtime. If you're recording, and indie or unsigned, check it out.
Willie H. Freeman
Opening with a sonic collage straight out of Fear of a Black Planet, There's a Poison Goin' On... comes out of the gates sounding like classic Public Enemy, which is exactly what Public Enemy intended, since their slight sonic change-up on He Got Game didn't result in a hit. In a way, PE's feud with Def Jam over downloadable MP3 music was a good thing, since it brought them media attention, which is rare for a veteran hip-hop band. Such increased exposure also brought a minor controversy over "Swindlers Lust," which some perceived as anti-Semitic, but this outrage was isolated because Public Enemy was now at the margins of hip-hop.
They were no longer considered cutting-edge, and younger kids never picked up their records, so the only place for this controversy to reside was among the rock critics and aging fans who remembered when It Takes a Nation of Millions changed the world ten years prior. Chuck D must have known that they would be the only ones paying attention to the album, since it consciously copies PE's past and never really breaks from that blueprint. In some respects, that's a disappointment, since He Got Game showed that PE could subtly incorporate modern hip-hop and do it better than some modern acts.
But There's a Poison Goin' On is nevertheless a strong album, even if it is doggedly classicist. It's also dogmatic, with Chuck preaching to the converted about the evils of the record industry and conformity in hip-hop, which does become a little trying by the end of the record. But he delivers lyrically and PE delivers musically, in a manner that's entirely familiar to fans of Public Enemy, offering a solid continuation of Apocalypse 91. Ultimately, it's their most satisfying record in several years - which is a subtle difference that only the converted will notice. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine