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PUBLIC ENEMY & PARIS, Rebirth of a Nation, Guerrilla Funk
At first glance, Chuck D's decision to hand the reins of a Public Enemy album over to an outsider seems like an odd move, maybe even a gimmick. But Paris, who handles the production and almost all of the lyrics, proves to be an inspired choice. Back from the underground, Paris' past albums are recalled in the liner notes as representing "an era when potent political commentary wasn't an exception to the rule in hip-hop." Well, on this album, P.E. and Paris bring political hip-hop back. Chuck D, on one of the four tracks he gets a writing credit on, says, "The Rhyme Animal, back to play the part again." And he doesn't disappoint. Although pleasantly surprised by last year's New World Odor, Rebirth of a Nation doesn't just leave P.E. fans satisfied. No, this is Public Enemy at their best, bridging the gap from their classic albums to the present. Paris knocks them up a level by tapping into their infinite archive of samples and familiar phrases while tackling today's topics. In an era in which Kanye West can be praised as a political icon for an offhand comment about Hurricane Katrina on live TV, P.E. reminds us what it really means to take a stand. Kanye goes back to saying he's "bigger than Elvis" while P.E., whose stance on the 'King' is well-documented, puts pen to paper and attacks the Katrina aftermath on wax in the form of "Hell No (We Ain't Alright)." And they get some help outside of Paris, reviving MC Ren, Dead Prez and Kam for fiery guest spots on tracks like "Can't Hold Us Back," "Raw Sh--" and "Hard Truth Soldiers." On "Plastic Nation," P.E. samples "Nip/Tuck's" signature line while skewering society's cosmetic surgery quick fixes. While waiting for this album to fall off halfway through, it soon became clear that it wasn't going to happen, and I was snapped out of an ice-induced trance and reminded of what I loved most about hip-hop. The intensity is maintained throughout, no doubt thanks to Paris' watchful eye. He knows P.E. and it shows as he guides them back on track, so much so that none of their albums should ever go without Paris again. (Keeping Ren and Dead Prez, who appear on two tracks each, wouldn't be a bad idea, either.) Ren at one point calls out today's MCs as "American Idol" wannabes. Amen. Speaking of reality shows, even Flavor Flav's solo, "They Call Me Flavor," is up to his previous standards, as is the instrumental, "Pump the Music, Pump the Sound." Nation is classic Public Enemy, with all of the elements of their greatest works. If New World Odor was a symbol of P.E.'s own new world order, then Rebirth of a Nation marks their return to greatness. Unfortunately, most people won't notice, but one can only hope that Flav's higher profile will introduce a new wave of fans to Public Enemy's important music.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

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