Public Enemy: How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?

Why isn’t Chuck D. comparable to Reverend Butts or Sharpton?  Like collaborator KRS-One did with Hip Hop Lives this year, he stopped merely griping about Hip-Hop’s deterioration and has instead offered a compelling alternative to rap’s violent mainstream malaise.  How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? (Slam Jamz) is a funk laden dive into a joyous recovery of “soul,” but with dark twists toward the album’s end, endemic of troubled times.  Chuck goes from happily exclaiming, “Love life like I just don’t care/5,000 leaders never scared/Get up still a beautiful idea“ over Stax horns on early track “Harder Than You Think” to warning non-believers about the “Eve of Destruction” over psychedelic guitars, in cold distaste, as the disc winds down.The album may be a dieing format, but P.E. still makes them, meant to be soaked in and unlocked as a statement. Unlike many current artists and their audience, a mutual mental retardation is not assumed (see crib notes for T.I. Vs T.I.P. or Jay-Z talking about “Getting his grown man on”—as Chris Rock said, “It’s what you’re supposed to do”).  The early part of the album is indeed celebratory and the rhymes at times are notably deliberate.  On the rock throwback “Black Is Back,” Chuck sounds like a carbon copy of hero DMC, but it feels great.  On “Sex, Drugs, and Violence,” he and KRS paint chilling portraits of 2Pac and Jam Master Jay’s murders, and indict what’s happened in music and society in the ensuing years.  However, like the best P.E. music, the righteous medicine goes down easy because of twisting rhymes and a funk soundtrack that make giving in easy.How You Sell Soul then becomes authentically strange and urgent with tracks like “Long and Whining Road” where Chuck name checks his favorite Bob Dylan albums, enmeshed in a P.E. history lesson atop the riff from “All Along the Watchtower.”  “Eve of Destruction” and “How to Sell Soul (Time is God Refrain)” follow the same serious and dark-creative route, balancing out the earlier tracks.  Flavor Flav redeems himself in the middle of it all with “Bridge of Pain,” a first person account of his trip on a NYC Corrections bus to Riker’s Island.  Between that and the obligatory but refreshing Flavor as court jester moments, it makes one wonder whatever happened to that solo album (G Wiz should produce it) and if Flavor of Love was really that awful.      It’s difficult to write about Public Enemy in the present tense.  To the younger generation, discussion of their immense creative and confrontational magnitude sounds like overstatement. To former true believers, honestly, nothing may ever hit like It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or Fear of a Black Planet.  But as Chuck says himself, “With Fight the Power comes great responsibility.”  He’s never stopped caring about his art or his people, one in the same for him, and the results are still strong and interesting, heartfelt and worth feeling.SOUNDCHECK:

Public Enemy “Escapism” 

Public Enemy f/ KRS-One “Sex, Drugs & Violence”

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