Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back [Def Jam, 1988]
Chuck D is so full of shit Chuck E can dis him: "You know Public Enemy are punk rockers, 'cause they bitch about rock crits and airwaves so much." To which I'll add: "And make art about conflicts with the law that as a scion of the middle class (albeit an Afro-American and a second-generation leftist) D's avoided in real life." That said, the leader gets points for oratory, political chutzpah, and concealing his own asininity. If I'd never encountered him and Professor Griff in the public prints, I'd still figure them for reverse racists--last cut boasts that "Black-Asiatic man" got here first as if he should therefore inherit the earth. But their "freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude" wouldn't in itself have clued me to their contempt for the black audience, because these dense, hard grooves are powered by respect: musically, no pop in years has reached so far while compromising so little. Bill Stephney, Hank Shocklee, and Terminator X juice post-Coleman/Coltrane ear-wrench with the kind of furious momentum harmolodic funk has never dared: the shit never stops abrading and exploding. Yet it holds fast, a revolutionary message D's raps have yet to live up to--which isn't to say that isn't a lot to ask or that they don't sometimes come close. I mean, me and Chuck E like punks--D's not the first talented asshole to front a great band. In fact, he's in a grand rock and roll tradition. A+