“MAN PLANS, GOD LAUGHS”

Mike Klarin

Public Enemy asks loudly for relevancy to be restored

“Be the change you want to see,” hip-hop legend Chuck D said in the newest offering from Public Enemy. Released in mid-July, as the thermometer was peaking along with public outrage from the #blacklivesmatter movement, “Man Plans God Laughs” is touted by some as a reawakening for the legendary hip-hop duo.re-ManPlansGodLaughsCOVSM

The longevity of New York natives Chuck D and Flavor Flav—three decades, to be exact—stands in stark contrast to the often-ephemeral nature of the hip-hop music scene.

They’ve been busy cutting records almost perennially since their first album debut, 1987’s “Yo! Bum Rush the Show.”

For the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, “Man Plans God Laughs” comes at a time when the political nature of their lyrics couldn’t be any more fitting.

With racial tensions spilling over in cities across America, Public Enemy’s “MPGL” is as much a social commentary as it is a sign of their desire to stay relevant with young listeners while keeping true to their roots.

“MPGL” is noisy. In an interview with Maxim, the 55 and 56-year-old musicians divulged that they drew a lot of their inspiration for the new album from Kanye West’s “Yeezus” and Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

At first listen, that becomes clear as you notice producer Gary G-Wiz’s artful combination of modern electronic beats with classic sampling reminiscent of the late eighties hip-hop scene that gave Public Enemy its signature sound.

Also in the mix is a distinct departure from their usual annunciated, in your face form.

The sixth track on the album, “Honky Tonk Rules,” which is built upon samples from the Rolling Stones, takes aim at the widening social gap between the rich and the common man.

Chuck D raps, “all you got is your money, only thing you can stand on / Shutting my culture down, it ain’t funny.” In an earlier verse he appeals to the millennial crowd who struggles with the frustration of not being taken seriously, urging them not to ignore what’s happening in the world with lyrics like “dig in that pocket, and go Google /Learn about truth, then we gonna raise the roof. It’s the time to salute the youth.”

“MPGL” is a short album, coming in at just under 28 minutes. You could listen to it on your lunch break—but it might not be as easy to digest as your sandwich and bag of chips, especially if you’re not paying attention.

The message is sometimes crystal clear, such as in the second track, “Me to We.” With the lyrics “here we come, from another time,” the group makes an appeal to the younger generations, as if to say “listen up, we’ve been through this before.”

Other tracks such as “Earthizen” serve up social commentary that is not so cut and dry, with the lyrics “Black lives matter? C’mon now, no lives matter unless we matter / Oh say can you see, planet Earth—Public Enemy.”

I found myself having to come back to this album several times to let it sink in.

Critical reception thus far has been a mixed bag, but I truly think this album deserves serious consideration among young listeners as well as those who’ve heard it all before.

The new school may be in session, but it’s not a bad idea to lend an ear to a few old dogs with some very slick tricks.