I'm writing this Public Enemy primer off the top of my head, because I was there and I remember.
You thought I was strictly a rock guy, didn't you? The fact is that I've spent a pretty good percentage of my music listening life focusing on the rap and hip-hop genre. I thoroughly enjoy a lot of hip-hop, but no act can match the overwhelming excellence of Public Enemy, without a doubt the greatest hip-hop group of all-time.
If you hate rap, I've already lost you, and that's okay. As a teenager I had a Public Enemy poster on my wall next to Nirvana. I know every line Chuck D rhymes on both It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet. In fact, for six months in 1990, the only artist in my Sony Walkman was Public Enemy. Here's your PE primer, if you're still here...
Watching Rap City on MuchMusic one afternoon, I saw the video for "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos." Wow. A wonderful hardcore beat complemented by the best rapping voice I had ever heard and it wasn't about scoring chicks, getting high or boastful, it was saying something. There was substance, thought-provoking rhymes over glorious samples and scratching. Here's the track that introduced me to Public Enemy.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is a play-through, but it was the second release from Public Enemy. I had some catching up to do, so I bought 1987's Yo! Bum Rush the Show which had this little gem called "Timebomb." I still drop lyrics from this sucker all the time.
Returning to the amazing It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, every tune is jammed with wicked samples, usually complemented by a whack of intelligence. One of my favourite songs on the album is "Night of the Living Baseheads".
How do you follow-up the greatest album in hip-hop history? With another play-through gem, that's how. Fear of a Black Planet had "Brothers Gonna Work It Out", "Welcome to the Terrordome" and arguably the greatest hip-hop song in history, "Fight the Power". Here's the extended version of the "Fight the Power" video.
Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black was another excellent album, and it included a new version of "Bring the Noise" with Anthrax. I first heard this version of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back's "Bring the Noise" on Anthrax's Attack of the Killer B's. I love it when rock and rap merge, and that likely explains why this tune still makes my iPod's head banger mix.
I love so much of Public Enemy's extensive catalogue, I'm not sure how to close. I'm going out with "Rebel Without a Pause", another track from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. This song shows off Terminator X's scratching and the Bomb Squad's samples and beats. It's also chock full of awesome lyrics I can drop on command. This is the essence of Public Enemy, voicing their opinions with volume.
Others in this series: