Public Enemy sticks to its lyrical guns on Man Plans God Laughs

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      Public Enemy
      Man Plans God Laughs (Spitdigital)

      Built on a familiar foundation of politically charged lyrics and heavy-handed breakbeats, Public Enemy’s 13th LP, Man Plans God Laughs, isn’t much of a departure from the signature sound that Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and crew are known for, despite Chuck’s best efforts to catch up to modern hip-hop. But when you’re over 50 and forced to compete with artists like Kendrick Lamar, can you really blame them?

      Prior to the album’s release, lead MC Chuck D was vocal about younger artists that he wanted the group to emulate: the aforementioned Lamar, Kanye West, and Run the Jewels. These mentions alone prove that, for PE, wisdom truly has come with age; they’ve acknowledged that the standards have been raised and that today’s rap is measured more by polished production and refined rhymes than politically charged manifestoes.

      But let’s commend the veterans for sticking to their lyrical guns: Public Enemy’s mandate of using hip-hop as a podium to speak out about political unrest and police brutality hasn’t been lost on Man Plans God Laughs. The album opens with “No Sympathy From the Devil”, a track with a subtle beat and rhymes that touch on some tough issues. (“Most dem history pages/Comes in all stages/Colors, genders, and ages/Devil/Black, brown, yellow, red but/White supremacy/Tendency in currency.”)

      The title track combines Chuck D’s existential reflections with the classic sound that die-hard PE fans will know all too well. Featuring Cassandra “Half Pint” Jackson’s commands to “Do it for the culture/do it for the youth,” the track is a softer, more politically correct version of “Fight the Power”.

      The album’s flow is rudely interrupted midway with the gimmicky “Honky Talk Rules”, a diss track directed at white artists ripping off black blues musicians. Sampling the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” might have seemed like a good idea in the studio, but on the album, it just feels out of place.

      The energy fizzles out as the record comes to a close, with only “Earthizen” standing out with a half-unique set of lyrics that slowly progresses through the letters of the alphabet.

      It can’t be easy for Public Enemy to live up to its legendary status, and it’s obvious that the group won’t ever again reach the heights of the ’80s glory years. But for men on the verge of qualifying for seniors’ discounts, Man Plans God Laughs is a solid effort at creating music that is both politically and musically relevant, even with the poorly placed classic-rock samples.