Public Enemy's been pioneers in combining verbal acumen with technological advances, performance artistry and theatricality, thematic integrity and artistic control. In an era where mega-national corporations dominate the marketplace and many rappers prefer being popular to being relevant, Public Enemy remain vibrant and topical. They've also forged and maintained a creative legacy that has a timeless quality, yet gives listeners intricate and compelling slices of life from the various eras in which these songs were conceived. They are not entertainers or performers but scribes and commentators providing insight and information through rhymes and music that has uplifted and still inspires legions of fans.
Another Public Enemy album is always good news for hip-hop fans, and How You Sell... carries the torch. Other than a few forgettable tracks pulled from a Flavor Flav solo record, highlights abound here. The rockin' "Black Is Back" and the horn-heavy "Harder Than You Think" serve heavy helpings of uplift mojo. "Sex, Drugs & Violence" features a chorus of kids and peerless verses from KRS-One. "Long and Whining Road," the album's most moving track, sees Chuck D's lyrics leaning heavily on Bob Dylan song titles and one-off references to U2, Snoop Dogg, Tom Petty, Beastie Boys, and more. Dramatic production touches include the muted metal riff of "Frankenstar" and orchestral flavors like chimes ("Amerikan Gangster") and vibraphone ("Bridge of Pain"). As always, though, the music is the message, and where this album is so musically eclectic as to court identity crisis, in the end the instrumental elasticity only mirrors Chuck D's vast grasp of the continuum of social ills that mainstream hip-hop long since gave up battling in favor of greed, fame, provincialism, or all of the above. So in answer to the indulgent question of this album's title, maybe--just maybe--this is how we do it. --Jason Kirk