It's not the blast from the past a fanatic might hope for--1994's Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age had plenty more kick than this return from the grave, and that record's considered by all but the most weak-kneed apologists to be the softest, wackiest of all the PE records on the shelf. Nor is the new record the stumbling disappointment it should have been, could have been, from a rebel without a pause-turned-elder statesman and his hooked-on-phonics sidekick fresh out of the slammer on crack and weapons charges. In the end, it's no more or no less than a soundtrack album, 13 Public Enemy tracks built around a Spike Lee movie about basketball; the future will be better judged come fall, when the real comeback, There's a Poison Goin On, hits stores. No, sports fans, this is not It's a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back; this is no call-to-arms, no bellowing from the prophets of rage, no dense, breathless siren-screaming from the Bomb Squad--it's just the sound of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and Terminator X trying to keep pace in a cruel and harsh world that makes forgotten martyrs out of yesterday's heroes.
This is probably a record the former Carlton Ridenhour always wanted to make; he's the man who admits he stole his delivery from Marv Albert and who once boasted he was about to "crossover like a Hardaway dribble." So what he gives us is an album about putting the rock in the hole, about the "sneaker pimps" who turn basketball shoes into commodities worth killing for and dying over, about "super agents" who sell their prized athletes like slaves on the "auction block" with the winking permission of NBA commissioner David Stern, about the high price of doing business with Ted Turner and NBC. It's a love letter to the game--and a warning aimed square at the "high-priced Adonises" Chuck loves and loathes in equal doses; he's torn between The Game and the hustle, feeling a little guilty about getting floor seats to a million-dollar slave-trade shootaround.
He Got Game has its moments; every PE record does. The almost unrecognizable Who sample on "House of the Rising Son" is bested only by the use of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" on the title track; there's a little peace-love-and-understanding beneath all that right-on indignation. But it's also far from a perfect record: Its beats are too slow, too generic (by design, no less), too deliberate--the greatest rock and roll band in all of hip-hop seems to have been caught a little off guard, unsure of whether it wanted to throw down like it was yesterday or move forward into a Dre New World. It's no foul shot, but it ain't no buzzer-beater either.
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