Public Enemy – “No Sympathy From the Devil” (Singles Going Steady)

Public Enemy has just released a video for "No Sympathy From the Devil" from their 13th album, Man Plans, God Laughs. Our writers weigh in.

As a Canadian it’s disheartening to see our best friend America go to hell in a handbasket, but just like my country’s own problems with mistreatment of First Nations peoples, they brought it on themselves and it’s up to them to fix it. If ever there was a time for some eloquent and pointed social commentary from Public Enemy it’s now, and Chuck D arrives like an authority, his generation’s Langston Hughes or Amiri Baraka, and speaks some very hard truths. Atop an arrangement that echoes the murky doom of “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”, Chuck tells the listener things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better, and that no one should expect any sympathy from those in authority. — ADRIEN BEGRAND [8/10]

“I’m 55”, Chuck D comes right out and says on “No Sympathy From the Devil”. The more he embraces this, the better this latter day Public Enemy persona will be. There’s no understating how important P.E. are to the hip-hop story, nor how vital their brand of firey rhetoric is in the #BlackLivesMatter age. But it’s also important for any act to know their limitations. D doesn’t sound at all out of place being angry and disgruntled over a thoroughly modern epileptic beat by G-Wiz, Public Enemy’s latest Terminator X. There’s some great lyrics of fury and an instrumental worth a rewind or two in this cut. However, when the momentum gets too intense and D gets caught off guard or when his voice drops to make a very silly incantation to the devil, those age marks begin to show, which can be brutal signifiers in the cutthroat, competitive, and eternally youthful game of hip-hop. The group may still be militarized against the appropriate targets, but they’re not quite agile enough anymore to be on the front lines. — TIMOTHY GABRIELE [4/10]

There are certain musicians, artists that is, who after so many years and accumulated work there is no need to question. Mark E. Smith has recorded a triple album of traditional atonal Himalayan goat-herder laments? I want to hear that. Ian McKaye is publishing a colouring book for dogs? Sign me up and pass the crayons. Public Enemy are in that category, and whether their every new release is your favourite thing or not, it must be heard. “No Sympathy From The Devil” lacks the crowbar-across-the-cranium violence of their most famous work, but it’s no easy listen either. Consider it an update on that classic chaos. And then there’s Chuck D. There’s no update there: On this evidence he’s still hip-hop’s greatest ever voice. — PAUL DUFFUS (9/10)

Chuck D does his schtick again. He invokes history in the search for meaning and comes up with confusion. That’s what the world is today, hey-hey, but admit it Chuck. You throw out bread crumbs of significance: disproportionate jail time and police brutality towards black America, but you do nothing with the info except maybe to say life has always been hard for African Americans. Duh, this is news? Public Enemy sounds like it is saying something but it says the same old thing–and things do change. Maybe not always for the better, but time changes everything. Chuck D should know, the devil is in the details. — STEVE HOROWITZ [6/10]