Celebrating 25 years together by dropping their second album since summer, hip-hop game changers Public Enemy take a reflective step back on their latest record. If July’s Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp blazes like a classic PE take-to-the-streets protest rally, then the best of The Evil Empire of Everything simmers like the frank dinner table conversation afterwards—a dialogue that white America rarely gets to hear and one that gets cut tragically short on this record.
Chuck D has long been a vocal critic on race issues, corporate America, and the state of modern hip-hop, but rarely have Public Enemy grounded their music in a moment as universally known and incendiary across color lines as the Trayvon Martin shooting. On album centerpiece “Beyond Trayvon”, Chuck and Professor Griff share verses with newcomers NME SUN (comprised of sons of Public Enemy members) in a multi-generational dialogue revealing justifiable anger, deep wounds, and a steadfast determination to, as Chuck says, “Save our sons and daughters beyond Trayvon.” This pass-the-mic track puts into action the mentoring philosophy of Most of My Heroes’ “RLTK” and reminds listeners that Public Enemy still know what time it is after a quarter-century.
Other highlights include the chanting “Don’t Give Up the Fight” (feat. Ziggy Marley); Chuck putting life into perspective on the Otis Redding-inspired “…Everything” (feat. Gerald Albright and Sheila Brody); and some of Flavor Flav’s hardest rhyming since “Cold Lampin’…” on the kinetic “31 Flavors”. But listeners will likely skip over much of this album and gravitate back towards the record’s opening sampling of George Zimmerman’s infamous 9-1-1 call and the assembled reflections found on “Beyond Trayvon”. Maybe it’s due to the proximity of the shooting — less than a year ago — but this feels like the conversation that The Evil Empire of Everything really needs and wants to be having. Unfortunately, the subject changes just when the talk “gets real.”
Essential Tracks: ”Beyond Trayvon”