Out There

MP3 is a joke

There's a Poison Goin' On...
Public Enemy
Atomic Pop

Public Enemy's Chuck D used to proclaim hip-hop as black folks' CNN; too bad he changed the channel and stuck the remote on the Home Shopping Network. A year after the soundtrack to He Got Game, Chuck returns (again) as the spokesman for the MP3 Generation. Already two singles from There's a Poison Goin' On... have been released through the band's Web site and amazon.com's outlet mall; both songs received loads of press for being free to the download crowd (the whole disc can be yours for eight bucks and eight hours), but genius works they ain't--too much bitching 'bout the biz till Chuck sounds like every other musician who signed on the dotted line in disappearing ink. "Do You Wanna Go Our Way???" is the question; "Swindlers Lust" is the answer; and in between are 11 tracks dedicated to Public Enemy's return from the hip-hop graveyard like rap zombies, out to make the world safe from Russell Simmons, Def Jam Records, and lawyers--the latter of whom Chuck insists "should die."

Not a bad concept in all, but it's been-there-done-dat time with Chuck and Flav and Terminator X (and the returned Professor Griff, done serving time for his who-put-the-Jew-in-jewelry whacktalk). The big diff: Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age, the previous gangsta-bating blowout, was a thousand times more up in it than There's a Poison Goin' On..., which has all the immediacy of a demo. There's nothing wrong with the record a Bomb Squad couldn't fix. In fact, you can hear the siren-screams in their absence. Like the man says at the very get-go: "What you hear is what you lack."

Used to be P.E. went after The Man; now, they're after one man, Def Jam's Russell Simmons, whom Chuck likes to accuse of selling out for the quick, dirty gangsta buck with his "lawyers no loyalties accountants no royalties." Then, this is the position where P.E. always thrived: as the underdog, lashing out against "the goddamn white man" and all the other pale brothers keeping a righteous 37-year-old prophet of rage down. Too bad the targets are easy: Will Smith ("Shit, I'm the reverse of jiggy"), record-company execs ("Robbery A&R snobbery"), radio ("Eff 'em, turn it around motherfucka"), VJs ("That MTV honey is a faker"). Occasionally, he's old-school Chuck: "Last Mass of the Caballeros" is prime-time, pissed-off P.E., like something lifted off It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back--or at least a Wu-Tang side project. The politics of pop give way to the politics of race, rage, and your reality. You can only listen to a rich man bitch about getting screwed for so long before it all sounds like pops and clicks.

--Robert Wilonsky


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