The last time we heard from PE was in 1992 with their half new material-half remixes album Greatest Misses. I thought it was almost a complete waste of wax (read my thoughts on the album here), but it was clearly just a little something to wet the mouths of PE fans and hold them over until the next full length project was ready. It took them three years, but Public Enemy would return in 1994 with their 5th full length release, cleverly (or ridiculous, depending on your point of view) titled, Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age.
The new Shocklee-less Bomb Squad (although Keith would help with a few tracks) would handle most of the production work on Muse Sick, with Chuck D holding down the vocals and Flava Flav playing court jester. Although Muse Sick was relatively successful, numbers wise (it earned PE a gold plaque), it received mix reviews and left fans and critics questioning the legendary group’s relevancy; including Def Jam, as this would be their final release on the monumental label.
As Posdnuos once said “Everybody cools off from being hot, it’s about if you can handle being cold or not”.
Whole Lotta Love Goin On In The Middle Of Hell – Muse Sick begins with a series of vocal samples (including a snippet from the hood classic, The Mack) before a male voice (maybe Tet, since the liner notes give him credit for “background vocals”) comes in to give an almost inaudible monologue about the year 2000 and the president of The New World Order declaring war against the last attempt to unite African people: “crackers and devils who are programmed on a superiority complex aimed to make game of the righteous and turn them into niggatrons” (“niggatrons” is hi-larious!). Then the stripped down Gary G-Wiz/Carl Ryder produced instrumental drops and Chuck D spits one verse in his signature preacher’s voice, rebuking his contemporaries and spreading his conscious gospel. The songs over before you can pronounce the full song title, but this was a dope way to kick things off.
Theatrical Parts – Interlude that bleeds directly into the next song…
Give It Up – This was the lead single from Muse Sick and the only song I remember from the album. G-Wiz and Carl Ryder are credited for the backdrop, which is built around a twangy guitar loop that Chuck continues to spew his anti “niggatron” rhymes over. I didn’t like this one at all back in the day, but it’s almost passable today.
What Side You On? – Over a decent up-tempo backdrop, Chuck’s asking the listener to choose a side. My favorite parts of the song are the thumpin’ bass line and the dope drum solo near the end.
Bedlam 13:13 – Bedlam: a scene of uproar and confusion. I’m not sure what the “13:13” part is about, but whatever. Over an eerie backdrop that sounds like a demonic force clashing with an angelic choir, Chuck D talks his shit (“Give Up Gotta Live up, to my name, triple double in the rap game”) and keeps it conscious (“I’m tearin’ down the house that Jack built, cause he killed whoever he wanted, and hunted, and taxed the backs of the environment macks, who plan, in the silence of the scams”). I didn’t care much for this one the first few listens, but it definitely sounds better the more you listen to it.
Stop In The Name… – Chuck spits one quick verse in his booming vocal over a hard drum beat with dark undertones.
What Kind Of Power We Got? – Flavor Flav gets his first solo joint of the evening and it’s a doozy. I’m sorry, I meant snoozy. Flav has never been a great emcee (or should I say rapper, because I don’t think he ever really wrote his rhymes), but at least on past PE albums he was actually entertaining (see “911 Is A Joke”, “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man, “A Letter To The New York Post”). He sounds absolutely horrid on this one, and his self-produced instrumental (with a co-credit going to Sleek, who also received a co-production credit for “What Side You On?”) is godawful.
So Whatcha Gone Do Now? – G-Wiz and C. Ryder create a laidback very unPE-like instrumental for this one. Chuck D uses the melodic backdrop to denounce black on black crime and the worship of guns, drugs and money in the black community. Easily my favorite song on Muse Sick.
White Heaven/Black Hell – Sticking with the mellow vibes from the previous song, PE slows thing down even more with this mellow instrumental. Chuck delivers his bars in an almost nursery rhyme-like fashion, as he dedicates this one to the plight of the black man in America. I dug it.
Race Against Time – PE ramps the BPM’s and the energy level up from the previous song, as Chuck D matches its intensity with bars full of substance.
They Used To Call It Dope – Chuck spits a quick spoken word piece over very subdue drums.
Aintnuttin Buttersong – Tridash.
Live And Undrugged Pt 1 & 2 – Chuck and Sleek come together to create this rough instrumental that’s reminiscent of PE’s classic late eighties-early nineties records. Chuck rides the groove to perfection on part one and then spits a spoken word piece on the same beat for part 2. Dope.
Thin Line Between Law & Rape – On this one Chuck’s addressing the white man’s obsession with stealing shit from the black man, from his freedom (see the African Slave Trade), to his musical stylings. I love Chuck’s message, but the uninspired instrumental and Flavor Flav’s sloppily delivered hook, sink this ship very quickly.
I Ain’t Mad At All – Another very bad Flavor Flav solo joint. I’m still in shock that Keith Shocklee (hee…hee…hee) produced this embarrassingly bad instrumental.
Death Of A Carjacka -Chuck and company build the ill instrumental around an Isaac Hayes loop. I’m still trying to figure out if this is about an actual carjacking or if Chuck is speaking metaphorically. Either way, this beat bangs.
I Stand Accused – They smile in your face, all the time wanna take your place. Chuck’s addressing these backstabbers on this mid-tempo backdrop (with a co-production credit going to the underrated Easy Mo Bee). “Paybacks a crazy ass message, sent to the writers who criticize, they’re fuckin’ with a freedom fighter”. I like this one.
Godd Complexx – The third and final Flavor Flav solo joint, and probably the worst of the three.
Hitler Day – Now that’s a song title that will grab your attention immediately. Chuck goes after Columbus and his absurd claim to discovering America, because, how do you discover a land where people already live? Another strong message from Mr. D, I just wasn’t crazy about the rockish backdrop.
Harry Allen’s Interactive Super Highway Phone Call To Chuck D – All these years and I thought the Media Assassin, Harry Allen was a white dude. Thanks to Twitter, the other day I discovered he was a brother. Anyways…on this interlude Harry leaves a voicemail for Chuck discussing his theory on where the music business is headed, and he turns out to wax prophetic as a lot of the things he mentions have come to pass, which gave me goosebumps. He also mentions Q-Tip in his voicemail, so you can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.
Living In A Zoo (Remix) – The original version of this song was released on the CB4 Soundtrack in 1992. This remix sounds way more emptier than the o.g. mix.
Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age definitely has more to offer than PE’s previous “hold you over until our next real album is ready” release Greatest Misses. But even with it having more enjoyable songs than their previous release, it’s the first full length PE album that showed chinks in their once impenetrable armor. There are a few great production moments, but the majority is lackluster, Flavor Flav is annoying as shit, and even the head of the militant monster, Chuck D seems to have lost a step, or maybe just ran out of new ground to cover. To make matters worse, the 21 track count makes Muse Sick almost indigestible in one sitting. And if one were to sit and digest the entire album at once, he’s sure to become a… sick muse.