Power To The People & The Beats appears a very apt title for Public Enemy’s greatest hits collection. Irregardless of how many times one may have listened to Chuck D mercilessly reporting from the battlefields of black oppression and calling for public action something unquestionably powerful, positive, and sustaining emerges from their music.
Even as one listens to this amalgamation of hits and rekindles a liking for old famous favourites like Fight The Power (one that is widely known from the successful Spike Lee movie Do The Right Thing) there is still a resonance that rings true- albeit nearly two decades after the rappers from Long Island found themselves at the helm of a political and musical renaissance.
On listening to Shut ‘Em Down and Don’t Believe The Hype the social commentary – despite being in a different context for new listeners- and engagement with the negative effects of corporate business and the media still strike a very strong chord.
To a individual that does not hold hip hop music close to their heart, Public Enemy’s music, greatest hits album or otherwise, is still a hard pill to swallow. What with Zeppelin style guitar riffs, lengthy scratching, hard noise and strong drum beats it hardly makes for good bed-time listening. Yet this is still an essential album as they remain one of the most influential groups in their field.
Music has a timeless quality and it is possible to suggest that without Public Enemy’s gritty determination to pursue social awareness many other socially engaged bands from the late 1990s, such as Coldplay and Manic Street Preachers may never have formed. Although Coldplay’s commentary is subtler in approach the influence still exists.
Public Enemy’s albums don’t always settle easy on the stomach and this one, as you may expect, is no exception, but like Chuck D so aptly states in Brothers Gonna Work It Out, history shouldn’t be a mystery of stories. Given the current political blitzkrieg maybe it is time we all got a forceful reminder that actions and words when used simultaneously can be immensely powerful.
This album reminds that to do it loud is sometimes the only way.