The first generation of rockers who grew up in public faced their share of ridicule, a fact that does not escape Chuck D. A keen observer of history who also possesses a sly sense of humor, he raps over a sample of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" on Man Plans God Laughs, Public Enemy's 13th album. Like the Stones, PE have been around so long and their influence has been so thoroughly absorbed into the culture that it's easy to take them for granted, but where Mick & Keith played arenas, Public Enemy consciously shrugged off the majors and remained fierce insurrectionists, existing just under the radar. By the end of the 2000s, they may not have been regulars in mainstream music publications, but they still had underground hits, such as "Harder Than You Think," which surprisingly became the group's biggest-ever British hit in 2007. PE brings back that track's producer, Gary "G-Wiz" Rinaldo, to produce the entirety of Man Plans God Laughs, and he helps Chuck D create a hard, furious flash of a record that deliberately leans on Public Enemy's history while keeping a steely eye on the present. All the self-allusions -- samples from Nation of Millions, lyrical callbacks, horn stabs straight out of the Bomb Squad -- aren't a way to revive the past but rather to provide a context: this isn't music that came from nowhere, it is tied to history as well as the future. This is the worldview of a group that feels the weight of its years yet is unashamed -- Chuck admits at the outset that he's 55 -- and this sensibility lends gravitas to an album that's just shy of a half-hour. At this length, Man Plans God Laughs speeds by, but it also leaves a heavy imprint, both as politics -- it's a fierce, unflinching snapshot of the ravages of institutional racism, late capitalism, and cultural conformity in 2015 -- but also as music. Early Public Enemy was formatively innovative, but on this latter-day record PE explore and deepen that signature not unlike master jazzmen -- or the Stones, for that matter -- and that's not only worthy of an album, it's groundbreaking in terms of hip-hop.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine