If you say you're hip-hop, but never took the time to heed the sonic lacerations or the incite-a-riot rhetoric of Public Enemy, you'
re not. Public Enemy was the rap group of the late 80s and early 90s. They packed a punch like water cannons fired at full force and unleashed a militant assault on the minds of those stuck in the rut of political apathy. This collection wrests their revolution from yesteryear and condenses 12 years and seven albums into an 18-track manifesto of the sound that erupted from the underground.
Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987) hit hip-hop upside the head with its political gusto, but this album starts with corny ass MCs glancing up to catch the front end of a 98 Oldsmobile barreling down on them ("You're Gonna Get Yours"). It's four-plus minutes of squealing tires and lyrical bombast that explodes like a bomb blast over the staccato drumbeats that would define and dominate Public Enemys
raw aesthetic (as defined by the Bomb Squad).
From there, it's on to the futuristic tone drone of Public Enemy No.1 and choice cuts from the album that changed everything abruptly: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Bass! How low can you go? / Death row, what a brother knows / Once again, back is the incredible, rhyme animal, the thyme animal / The incredible D, Public enemy number one / Five-o said Freeze! and I got numb / Can I tell em that I really never had a gun?
Read it again. Bring the Noise was the rallying cry of the rebellion, siphoned through the angriest black man to hijack the mic since Huey Newton and the Black Panthers. Public Enemy was an Afrocentric monolith, a group of grim-faced, clock-wearing militant motherfuckers who, like the Panthers before them, used Americas obsession with guns to threaten revolution by any means necessary. They were a media conscious movement mobilizing a generation to fight the war for the future of Black America.
Songs like Don't Believe the Hype, Prophets of Rage, Rebel Without a Pause, and Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos prove it. They were revolutionary manuals, anarchists cookbooks for black folksthe educational key to fight the powers that be.
Chuck D was ruthless; he attacked the medias depiction of black and white, bludgeoning the tradition of American heroes in the process. Elvis was hero to most / But he never meant shit to me, you see / Straight up racist, the sucker was / Simple and plain, with Flava Flav chiming in, Mother fuck him and John Wayne!. But who knew Public Enemys attempts to condemn institutionalized racism, explored by Flav on 911 Is a Joke, would ripple across American televisions a decade later when Kanye West said, George Bush doesnt care about black people?
It took raps most hypocritical MC to see, in New Orleans, the promises of the present ring as hollow as those of the past. So, he vented.
This greatest hits album is channeled frustration, a disc that easily surpasses 2001s poorly compiled 20th Century Masters: Best of Public Enemy because it includes the groups most corrosive material (except maybe the incendiary Burn Hollywood Burn or Night of the Living Baseheads") and tracks Public Enemy as they developed, splintered, and found their message exiled to the fringes.
Public Enemy is not the kind of group that does compromise--either you own It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and its explosive follow-up Fear of a Black Planet in their entirety or you simply hate music. So use this all-too-brief primer merely as a map to find your way to the albums that actually shook the world, mixing blunt politics with hard-hitting beats and Chuck D's prophet-like zeal for affecting change. If nothing else, tracks like "Bring The Noise" and "Fight The Power" serve as timely reminders of how much power hip-hop can wield when not tripped up in name-calling and bitch-slapping (D famously dubbed the genre "CNN for black people"), while on "911 is a Joke" Flava Flav proves there's a fine-line between laughter and tears. --Aidin Vaziri