Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first: yes, the mighty Chuck D and his cohorts STILL offer a fantastically visceral alternative to the gangsta stereotypes of East vs West Coast/bling/ and even the so-called 'intelligent' egotism of Kanye West. Yes, the band still addresses the political and sociological subjects that would tax the flows of 90% of other rappers. And yes, this HAS to be the best album title of the year.
HYSSTASPWSTS (to give it its due abbreviation) is all the above but also has, as its central premise, the notion that perhaps the USA has lost its ability to send music straight to the people's hearts. Good point, and all backed-up with a fierce rhetoric spat over beats and funky loops that are so in-your-face as to feel like they've lodged themselves inside your sinuses.
Starting in a remarkably upbeat mood, HYSSTASPWSTS turns darker when the state of modern R'n'B gets its come-uppance on tracks like 'Sex Drugs And Violence ' (featuring the conscious rhymes of a guesting KRS-One), 'Frankenstar' or 'Amerikan Gangster'. The days of Hank Shocklee's Bomb Squad may be gone, but Gary G Wiz's production incorporates enough funk, psychedelic rock and rib-crushing beats to make Public Enemy's sound almost as insistent as their halcyon days.
Even the man who seemingly single-handedly tried to destroy his band's legacy, Flavor Flav, reins in his japery and turns in two absolutely fine self-promotional tracks as well as an compelling autobiographical tale on 'Bridge Of Pain'. By 'The Long And Whining Road' (where Chuck even namechecks his favourite Dylan tracks) the whole vibe's turned slightly surreal. 'Eve Of Destruction' - Barry Maguire's protest song updated for today's middle eastern conflict - should convince any doubters that PE still have plenty of thought-provoking moves left.
The sleevenotes address the age-old concerns of any artist who's suffered at the hands of an industry bent on restricting the output and distribution of musicians' work. This may obscure the deeper message of PE that resides in the grooves, but in the end this album speaks for itself. A whole generation may just now pay lip service to the legacy of Chuck D etc. but HYSSTASPWSTS stands tall on its own terms. --Jerome Blakeney
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