Pushing your boundaries

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A portrait of the artist as an agent of change is a portrait of Public Enemy.

Chuck D and Professor Griff, charter members of one of hip hop’s all-time greatest groups, have a new baby named Confrontation Camp, a rap-rock outfit in the spirit of Rage Against the Machine. It’s a fresh sound and a fresh start for the elder statesmen. But let the record reflect that. In reviewing this group’s album, it’s impossible to gauge Camp’s potential without considering the impact PE had on a generation. For the same fire and spirit that inspired all the Public Enemy albums lives in the Confrontation Camp. That’s the best news. It’s also the project’s biggest obstacle.

Contemporary ears don’t hear the same music they once heard. The majority of the conscious minds that pushed Public Enemy sales to platinum status in the ’80s have gone turncoat. They’ve become, as Chuck stated in a post-Source Awards column, “NIGGros.” The careers of KRS, Rakim and Public Enemy are discussed and measured in forums on hip-hop history now. Those who remain true to the progressive Nation of Millions spirit, enough to spend money on it, are fewer in number. Many will never know how much Confrontation Camp challenges hip hop’s current lack of daring and creativity, because they’re conditioned not to look for it.

It’s fitting when Camp vocalist Jason sings, “Everybody wants to be the boss/Everybody wants to go to heaven/Nobody wants to die,” teasing the delusions of grandeur running amok in pop culture. Guitars, drums and turntables provide a sound any rock fan can appreciate. The music slides from the hyperangst of “Brake the Law” to the melodramatic “Jasper,” which deals with the lingering spirit of old-South racism eerily illustrated in the dragging death of James Byrd. The Camp addresses all the rampant “isms” PE has refused to let the world forget exist. And though, by rock standards, this album is technically raw, it’s exactly what Chuck and Griff want. They’ve weeded the garden and now know who their true fans are. Confrontation Camp proves they’d rather rock with a few than front with a million.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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