It's very telling that the demise of Public Enemy in the mid 90's coincided with my complete dismissal of hip-hop. They were among those within the genre who laid the groundwork for my interest in the highly conscious and politicized end of the genre. So they split off to do solo projects in much the same manner as Arrested Development,another hip-hop group of a similar bent that I enjoyed. Of course this isn't about me is it? Its about Chuck D,the most powerful voice in Public Enemy and therefore its patriarchal figure. But this was 1996. Tupac was gone,The Fugees were ascendant and Biggie Smalls would soon be gone. In short hip-hop was at a critical juncture in its evolution. And since Chuck D is someone who I'd musically describe as a total funk artist in hip-hop dressing? He was more than qualified by the time of his solo debut to comment on this situation,
The title song starts out the album in with DJ's and MC's jiving about Chuck's new solo project,debating its pros and cons while,even in the song itself Chuck gives them some rhymes to really debate about: his manifesto on this whole project. The song takes on a very clear cut James Brown influenced funk sound led strongly by rhythm guitar riffs,always at the foundation of PE Bomb Squad but presents itself here without any moderating elements. "No" takes that sound and clearly states what Chuck dislikes about hip-hop. "Generation Wrekked" is flat out brilliant-an out and out re-imagining of The Payback where he declares that the apathetic youth of the time consider that "if I can't change the people around me/I change the people around me". "Free Big Willie" and "Horizonal Heroin" have more of a soul-jazz flavor about them while "Talk Show Created The Fool" takes on the media's psychic numbing of its viewers with the accompaniment of Curtis Mayfield vocal samples.
"Underdog" and "But You **** The ****** In You?" are both very Isaac Hayes Movement style cinematic soul/funk-with Black Moses himself making a guest appearance on the later where,in his fine preacher man style,he tells the listener to continue bettering yourself even when your told all odds are against you. "Endonesia" focuses on the irony of the glorification of thuggish attitudes,especially a midst the black community. "The Pride" is a sweet cinematic groove again,this time with Chuck giving a literal autobiography of his early life-year by year and showcasing how Huey Newton,Woodstock,Kent State,Motown and the slaying of MLK were all parts of the connective thread of his life and message. "Paid" again offers a better solution for the thuggish members of the black community of the time to put their abilities to better use than violence and,if you skip a few minutes into it,you hear Chuck D give a distorted,Sir Nose/P-Funk style diatribe about the exploitation and mistreatment of black people in the current era.
There seems to be a general feeling across the eight others who apparently reviewed this album that this album wasn't as well received as it should be. In fact,what I first heard about it inR & B: The Essential Album Guide with CD (Audio) (Musichound Essential Album Guides) is so sarcastically mean spirited that it doesn't even merit mention in this review. Fact is? This album is very very different from a musically busy,often edgy soundscape you'd tend to find on a Public Enemy album. Also Chuck's call and response raps and emotional level with Flavor Flav is obviously stripped out. So you hear Chuck D's strong sociopolitical messages uncensored and uncut. What he also does here is give the album a very strong instrumental and lyrical narrative-illustrating the social problems he views around him and their possible solutions with music that begins very direct and spare to dynamic and more heavily arranged. It shows a future for conscious hip-hop that goes somewhat past PE's innovative sound,towards hip-hop's roots in late 60's/early 70's funk thematically. And for a solo debut? Chuck D couldn't have done very much better than that.