In a more serendipitous time and place, "MKLVFKWR" would be regarded as one of the five best songs in the voluminously vibrant catalogue of hip-hop kingpins Public Enemy. Like most PE classics, the track roils in a dense, innovative sonic maelstrom that spits out blunt but searing political raps to create an anthem with such raw, ambidextrous power it can make you giddy.
But music does not operate in a cultural vacuum, and while "MKLVFKWR" is in many respects a worthy heir to, say, "Fight the Power," Public Enemy's moment of primacy -- while long and influential -- is past. Where "Fight the Power" keynoted Spike Lee's groundbreaking 1989 film, "Do the Right Thing," and the ascendance of hip-hop in mainstream culture, "MKLVFKWR" is a collaboration with Moby, a techno-pop artist also beyond the quickening stage of celebrity, performed in conjunction with the 2004 Olympics.
Like every record Public Enemy has made since its last absolutely essential disc, "Apocalypse 911 . . ." 14 years ago, the just-released "New Whirl Odor" is an uneven but ultimately satisfying triumph of integrity over hipness. Lead rapper Chuck D still lands in your ear with a husky-toned urgency, still favoring rapid-fire couplets that are often delightfully tagged by a third rhyme in the scheme. Chuck's longevity -- none of his peers among rap MCs bring as much to the table -- stems from his emphasis on message over ego. "New Whirl Odor" is simply the latest in a procession of horrible puns from this stone-cold propagandist, who is also not above making references to Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder on a tune entitled "Makes You Blind." (The guerrilla theme behind the title is how middle-aged adolescents are besotted by "McDonald's, MTV, and Microsoft.")
Anti-hedonism is an increasingly common theme for Chuck; there's no disrespect when he name-checks Bill Cosby on "Bring That Beat Back." But neither is there any self-pity or self-congratulation when he barks on the title track, "Don't ch'all know where my mind be at? / . . . I wanna know where's the rest of my cats?"
Meanwhile, fresh off his "surreality TV" romance with Brigitte Nielsen, Flavor Flav remains as gleefully unhinged as Chuck is industriously plugged in, deigning to drop one rapid-fire rap and otherwise heckling from the peanut gallery. While the seminal sonics of the Bomb Squad production team will always be missed from the PE mix, a live three-piece band, plus guest stars and turntablists like DJ Lord and Johnny Juice, make "Whirl Odor" one of the denser recent Public Enemy outings.
Is there filler here? Inevitably. On the closing, 12-minute "Superman's Black in the Building," Chuck and the crew chortle, "Black, black's in the building now / Superman! / Turn the damn thing up / Here we go again!" The lines kick off a sprawling funk-cum-jazz-cum-rock live music mix worthy of the Roots, but this filling is all about pride. And providing pride and energy long past the presumed expiration date of its career is PE's ongoing stock-in-trade.