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Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (Def Jam)
Public Enemy

In a field of music where longevity is about as rare as a shout-out to Jesse Helms, Public Enemy is an unlikely anomaly.

Not unlikely because they don't have the skills; few people will doubt that Chuck D and Terminator X are now the standards by which rappers and DJs are measured. They are an anomaly because they have survived the type of political turmoil —both internally and externally — that would have easily submarined other groups.

From the dismissal of Professor Griff to Flavor Flav's numerous run-ins with the law to the never-ending controversy about PE's views and the means in which they choose to express them, the group is still around and still making music.

Their latest is Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age, only their fifth full-length release (Greatest Misses, a mixture of new songs and remixes, came out last year). And once again, the album is a cauldron of controversy waiting to be stirred.

The question is: will anyone do the honors? In years past, critics of rap, mainly middle and upper class whites, have been quick to bash Public Enemy, using the group as an example of why all rap is bad.

At the same time, Public Enemy was blaring from the bedrooms of those people's lilly-white, acne-faced teenagers.

The major appeal of the group to its listeners has been its willingness to stand up to the system and expose it for what it is and to be a voice for anyone, no matter what color, who feels the same way.

The problem is, they've been doing that for four albums now. It's not that that is not important; but when does the message get old or start sounding the same? When do people start listening to a Public Enemy album and say, "There they go again"?

It could happen here. Muse Sick has a lot of new material to offer, but the rhetoric has not changed much. The group is still taking on the government, challenging the leadership and blaming the white race in general (which can be disturbing, especially for the group's white fans who truly believe that racism sucks and believe just as strongly in what Chuck D says as anyone else).

Musically, PE has never sounded better. Terminator X lays some of his best beats yet, as on "Race Against Time" and "Hitler Day." But Chuck D and Flavor Flav are in top form vocally.

Chuck can still drop some potent lines, like on "Ain't nuttin Buttersong." his tirade against the Star Spangled Banner, where he says: "Land of the free, home of the brave / and Hell with us niggas, we slaves/that should have been the last line of a song / that's wrong from the git / so when everybody stand I sit."

But the fact has to be faced that PE's audience has changed and what they pumped their fists to a few years ago may not spin their bottle anymore. Blame it on Dr. Dre and Snoop and all the others who have given rap fans other styles to listen to. Public Enemy is not where it is at anymore.

That won't stop their fans from buying albums and it shouldn't. "Muse Sick" is possibly the group's best album yet. But the majority of fans don't want ' Are you tired of fighting the power,' they'd rather bow-wow-wow-yippee-yo-yippee-yay.

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