Just because Public Enemy are no longer bigger than Jesus doesn’t mean they’ve gone soft. Quite the opposite: the main thing that separates their Clinton-era work from their incredible four-album run out of the gate (including 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, still the greatest hip-hop album of all time) is how brittle it is. Chuck D’s hectoring can be hard to take for an hour at a time regardless of the backdrop; when he waved bye-bye to the Bomb Squad and the production slipped (though not nearly as much as has been claimed), he started sounding like a grand old man or a boring old fart, depending on who you ask. If you ask me, he’s the former: though they might not own the hip-hop landscape the way they once did, or even fit into it comfortably, Public Enemy have yet to make a bad record. Though the new There’s a Poison Goin On (Atomic Pop) is probably their weakest to date, it’s still more provocative than a truckload of Ruff Ryders releases, with the hard-swinging “Here I Go” (“I’m the reverse of jiggy”), the hoarse-voiced antiradio rant “Crayola” (“Give the baby anything the baby wants / But that’s how them bastards / Get us up in them caskets”), and the controversial but Twilight Zone-funky “Swindlers Lust” (“Profit off the soul of black folk / Turn ’em into bitchez and niggas and stupid-ass jokes / Laugh wit’ us or laughin’ at us?”). Some people talk for a living because they have something to say. Wednesday, 10:45 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212. Michaelangelo Matos
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Angelo Chester.