Public Enemy’s return to the legendary Def Jam label (their last Def Jam album was the He Got Game soundtrack in 1998) results in one of their best albums since the mid-90s. On What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? the urgency that characterized P.E.’s absolute classics It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988), Fear Of A Black Planet (1990), and Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991) is back in full force – obviously fueled by today’s incendiary political climate.
It has to be said though that not all tracks on What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? are new, about half of the tracks on the album are recycled from their 2017 Nothing Is Quick In The Desert album. Even the cover art is more than a little bit similar. But OK – the tracks that were revamped from Nothing… are all pretty strong, so it does in no way hurt the cohesiveness of this (semi)new album.
Even if the songs lifted from Nothing…, all are good enough, the 2020 singles from What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? are the strongest tracks. The powerful statement “State Of The Union (STFU)” with DJ Premier can be counted among the best tracks Public Enemy ever did, the same goes for the updated “Fight The Power”. “Fight The Power (2020 Remix)” is awesome and as vital as the first “Fight The Power” was back in 1989 – perhaps even more so in this year of almost unprecedented political idiocy and extreme societal unrest. Contributions from Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG, and Questlove complete this juggernaut of a track – one of the best and most important songs of the year.
Another standout new track is “Public Enemy Number Won”, which has Beastie Boys Adrock and Mike D doing a similar intro as Flavor Flav did on the original “Public Enemy No. 1” song from 1987, while Flavor Flav raps Chuck D’s original first verse and Run & DMC show up to leach do a verse too. Even if DMC’s voice is far from the powerful hardy baritone it once was, it’s good to hear Run and DMC on a track together with Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and the two remaining Beastie Boys in 2020. DJ Lord finished the song with a dope beat switch and good old-fashioned scratching.
Other icons that appear on the album include Ice-T, EPMD’s PMD, Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and of course the legendary George Clinton – the last two on “GRID”, another album highlight. The fact that What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? does not contain all new material is a bit of a disappointment, but the 45-minute record we have here is great nonetheless – this album shows and proves that after almost 35 years since their debut Public Enemy STILL is at the forefront of consciousness in Hip Hop. From start to finish, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down is a powerful record that can stand alongside some of Public Enemy’s strongest efforts.
Also read: The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2020