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New Whirl Odor (Slam Jamz)

Public Enemy

By Kory Wilcoxson

Longevity is not one of the trademarks of rap artists; raise your hand if you remember Young MC (now put it down, you're embarrassing yourself). That's what makes Public Enemy such an anomaly. They've been dropping rhymes since the mid-80s and have somehow managed to remain players on the rap scene.

OK, maybe "players" is too generous; they are closer to animatronic figures in the Rap Music Hall of Fame: "Look, Mommy, it looks like Professor Griff is really spouting anti-Semitic hate language!" The hard truth is that Public Enemy hasn't been culturally relevant for a decade now and the rap game has gone through several metamorphoses (Hammer pants, gangsta rap, gettin' crunk) that have left PE behind.

But that doesn't stop them from making albums. "New Whirl Odor" is good, but not great, disc (with a stupid title). It's more of what you'd expect from lead rapper Chuck D: angry social commentary against the powers that be and brothas who ain't trying to work it out like they should be. Unfortunately, PE's senior status makes a lot of Chuck's raps sound like a curmudgeonly Seinfield routine: "Can you believe kids these days? What's up with the media, anyway?"

But what really hamstrings "New Whirl Odor" from rising up is what's missing. First of all, Flava Flav, the comic relief to Chuck D's somber rhetoric, is barely noticeable. Other than a slick 30-second freestyle, he's reduced to shouting monosyllabic affirmations while Chuck D takes a breath. Sure, Flava is a big goof, but "Odor" would benefit from a little pointed levity.

The other absence is less obvious. Gone are sound masters the Bomb Squad and long-time DJ Terminator X. They provided the thumping foundation for PE's signature sound, giving the beats multiple layers that sounded fresh every time you heard them. "Odor" is much more banal by comparison, offering nothing in the sound department that hasn't been heard umpteen times before.

The world needs Public Enemy right now to stimulate political dialogue and provide the voice of social consciousness from the music scene (Bono can't do it alone, you know). The problem is, unless PE replaces a few warped boards in the soapbox, no one is going to be listening.