Yo! Bum Rush the Show (Def Jam, 1987)
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam, 1988)
Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam, 1990)
Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Back (Def Jam, 1991)
Greatest Misses (Def Jam, 1992)
Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age (Def Jam, 1994)
He Got Game (Def Jam, 1998)
There's a Poison Goin' On (Play It Again Sam, 1999)
The Best of Public Enemy (Def Jam, 2001)
Revolverlution (Koch, 2002)
New Whirl Odor (Slam Jamz, 2005)
Power to the People and the Beats: Public Enemy's Greatest Hits (Def Jam, 2005)
It Takes a Nation: The First London Invasion Tour 1987 (Slam, 2005)
Rebirth of a Nation (Guerilla Funk / Groove Attack, 2006)
1/2 How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? (Slam Jamz, 2006)
Believe the hype: Public Enemy created as potent a musical and lyrical brew as any era or genre has ever witnessed, unleashing a coruscating sequence of revolutionary hip-hop albums. Carlton Ridenhour (aka Chuck D) was a student at Long Island?s Adelphi University when he rhymed over fellow radio DJ Hank Shocklee?s beat; that track became ?Public Enemy No. 1.? Shocklee became the head of the Bomb Squad, PE?s sound designers, while PE grew to include formidable DJ Terminator X, ?media assassin? Harry Allen, Nation of Islam mouthpiece Professor Griff, a plasticmachine-gun-toting step team called the Security of the First World, and, most importantly, Chuck?s manic foil, the clued-in jester and superb rapper Flavor Flav, who wore a giant clock around his neck. (Flav always knew what time it is—get it?) Their 1987 debut, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, heralded hip-hop?s great leap forward, placing listeners squarely in the crosshairs (as embodied by the PE logo) of bristling, defiant jams like ?You?re Gonna Get Yours.?
Nation of Millions is the band?s stone-cold masterpiece, and perhaps the first truly great hip-hop album. Basing their tracks on the noisiest James Brown samples they could find, Shocklee and his crew created beats that both screamed and rocked the boulevard. Tracks like ?Prophets of Rage,? ?Bring the Noise,? ?Night of the Living Baseheads,? and ?Rebel Without a Pause? were uptempo, banshee-like tracks that dropped names from Louis Farrakhan to black nationalist JoAnne Chesimard. The album inspired a generation of hip-hop and electronic producers, not to mention artists from Björk to Dead Prez. More than one critic has claimed Chuck D?s booming baritone to be as stirring an instrument as John Coltrane?s saxophone—heck, Chuck weighed in on the topic on ?Noise?: ?Writers treat me like Coltrane, insane/Yes to them, but to me I?m a different kind/We?re brothers of the same mind, unblind.?
Fear of a Black Planet was more varied stylistically and more downtempo (?Pollywannacracka,? ?Brothers Gonna Work It Out?), but its greatest tracks contain just as much lightning. ?Can?t Do Nuttin? for Ya Man? is a funky Flavor Flav showcase. ?Fight the Power? found PE in a fit of poetic, political pique, with Chuck?s intelligent opinions indivisible from the sonics (particularly the saxophone squeals of Maceo Parker, a Bomb Squad staple). The track begins in overdrive and never lets up. After dissing Elvis (while Flavor Flav takes out John Wayne), Chuck D lays it out: ?I?m black and I?m proud / I?m ready and hyped plus I?m amped / Most of my heroes don?t appear on no stamps.? Taking its tagline (?We gotta fight the powers that be!?) from the Isley Brothers? 1975 Number Four chart hit of the same name, ?Fight the Power? was the ultimate antiestablishment rallying cry by a group whose plentiful protests included ?By the Time I Get to Arizona? (about that state?s refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day).
Rocked by controversy in ?91 (Griff?s anti-Semitic remarks led to his expulsion), PE was losing ground artistically and commercially by 1994?s Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, but every PE release has something to recommend it. In 1999, Terminator X went on sabbatical to concentrate on his North Carolina ostrich farm and was replaced by DJ Lord Aswod.
During the 2000s, PE members stayed visible—Chuck D lectured on the college circuit and hosted a talk radio show, while Flava Flav became a reality TV superstar with Flavor of Love—but the group found time to put out four studio albums. Each one is strong in its own way, though the last two stand out: Rebirth of a Nation was a surprisingly solid collaboration with producer-rapper Paris, who wrote most of the material and made hammering beats that were straight out of 1990. The angry lyrics had a broader-than-usual focus—class and overseas events were prime topics—and Flav chipped in the jokey, catchy ?They Call Me Flavor,? an ode to his own griminess: ?I?m in your mouth when you wake in the morning/I'm the stink on your breath when you're yawning.? How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? also tanked commercially, but the revamped sound is heavier, tossing in all kinds of textures—including guitars—and Flav is even funnier than on Rebirth. Chuck goes after ganster rap and other shit that annoys him, and pulls off a neat trick: Sounding wise and righteous but rarely stodgy.
The CD/DVD combo The First London Invasion Tour 1987 is the most interesting of a handful of live albums, capturing a young Public Enemy on their first European tour. The best-of Power to the People offers a decent overview of PE?s career, but casual fans would be better off with It Takes a Nation or Fear of a Black Planet.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies