The band I listened to the most in high school was Public Enemy. When grunge broke, Nirvana and Pearl Jam made a run at the title, but PE had a head start and finished first.
I had a Public Enemy poster on my wall and wore Public Enemy tee-shirts with that iconic logo on it. To this day, that logo hangs on the wall of my podcast studio. Somehow, I only learned yesterday that Chuck D himself designed Public Enemy's logo. I learned it here.
People say I studied art. I didn’t just study; I graduated with an art degree. There’s a big difference. When it came to be around that potential time of making logos, I wanted to make something that understood what a logo could do, you know? Look at the Rolling Stones. The tongue and the lips say it all without you looking at the font. I wanted to be able to make something that detaches. I don’t think there’s too many logos out there that don’t deal with a font, that you can detach and know what it is. Wu-Tang is still the W, but that kinda comes close. But Public Enemy… no font whatsoever. Circle with a man, you know what it is.
You know what it is.
A long-time fan, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when I bought tickets to see Public Enemy in concert at the Sound Academy last night. I've been listening to Public Enemy for almost 25 years, and with Chuck D 52 years old and Flavour Flav 55, how good could they be live?
Holy shit they're good! I had the best damn time. Their energy was amazing, the performance was better than I dared dream and there were so many highlights. My voice is still coming back after trying to keep up with the guys on songs I've loved for so very long.
Where do I begin with the highlights?
- Despite promoting this concert as Public Enemy playing It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back in its entirety, they played a great deal more - including cuts from Fear Of A Black Planet, "Can't Truss It", "Shut 'Em Down", "He Got Game" and a couple of new tracks.
- When Maestro and Michie Mee hit the stage, I almost lost it. And Maestro's spontaneous performance? A true joy for this Let Your Backbone Slide fan.
- I didn't think I'd survive Welcome to the Terrordome. EPIC! I'm glad they removed the crucifixion lines.
- Another highlight amongst many highlights was "Night Of The Living Baseheads". That might be the most underrated song in hip-hop.
- They opened with "Louder Than A Bomb" and closed with "Fight The Power". When I left the venue, it was 12:39.
I picked up my ticket for $15 on Groupon. $15 for over 2-hours of Public Enemy delivering real hip-hop. I still can't believe it...
I've always loved Public Enemy. I'm still infatuated with the first four Public Enemy albums. Those samples, those hardcore drum beats, Chuck D's rhymes... PE remains the greatest hip-hop band of all-time.
"Fight the Power", the last track on their third album, Fear of a Black Planet, recently turned 20. My favourite line in the song is probably the most repeated line after the title phrase.
Elvis was a hero to most
but he never meant shit to me you see
straight up racist that sucker was
simple and plain
mother fuck him and John Wayne
I've got several versions of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and most of them have the lyrics I posted above. The album cut, however, has Chuck D repeating "Elvis was a hero to most" three times. That's my favourite version of "Fight the Power" and I get very angry when I hear a version with Chuck saying "Elvis was a hero to most" once.
Back in '91, I rushed to Sam the Record Man at Yonge and Dundas to buy a copy of the Barenaked Ladies' Yellow Tape. Yes kids, the yellow tape was actually a cassette tape drenched in yellow. I actually ended up buying it twice I loved it so much.
The final track on BNL's yellow tape was a fun cover of PE's "Fight the Power". It was only 1:33 long, but it included a great spin on the repeat of "Elvis was a hero to most".
Elvis was a hero to most
Buddy Elvis was a hero to most
Buddy Ebsen was a hero to most
Buddy Rich was a hero to most
Buddy Hackett was a hero to most
Nutty Buddy was a hero to most
If anyone out there has BNL's cover of "Fight the Power", I'd love the MP3. My yellow tapes now live only in the confines of my mind.
I've written ad nauseum about my love for the music of Public Enemy. When I put on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or Fear of a Black Planet, I'm with Chuck and Flav word for word.
One of the more controversial and popular tracks from the aforementioned Fear of a Black Planet album was "911 is a Joke". "911 is a Joke" was a politically charged attack on the emergency phone number and had absolutely nothing to do with the events of September 11, 2001, a day that was more than eleven years into the future when Fear first dropped.
That wasn't so obvious to the Washington Post. In an article from November 26, they made the following statement.
Public Enemy has earned notoriety with more than 20 years of politically charged music about fighting the power, challenging racism and declaring that 9/11 was a joke. The group has joined forces with Virgin Mobile USA to combat youth homelessness as part of National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week.
The Washington Post has since put out the best correction I have ever seen.
A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.
And in case that correction disappears, here it is for all eternity.
And because I love the band, and this is as good an excuse as any, here's "911 is a Joke".
Has it really been twenty years since Public Enemy's "Fight the Power"? I must be getting old, because I remember wearing out my Public Enemy mix tapes on my Sony Walkman as a teen.
Twenty damn years... Here's your PE primer if you need one.
Here's the awesome Spike Lee produced video for what might just be Public Enemy's definitive
Here it is. WTF? Public Enemy gets the small font on line four?!?!?!??!
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:
After hearing It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back for the first time, I couldn't believe my ears. I had finally found music that got my heart pumping, my head banging and my mind racing all at once. A standout track on that phenomenal album is "Bring the Noise".
It only took me a few listens to memorize the lyrics and I've never forgotten them. A few years later, while flipping through the channels, I heard that beat again, only it was different. It was rocking hard. It was Public Enemy and Anthrax. It was awesome.
Every time I hear this, I rap along. It came on the radio this weekend and I treated James and Michelle to my Chuck D and Scott Ian. I brought the noize and they loved it.
I share an MP3 from my collection every Wednesday. You have seven days to grab this week's MP3. Please right-click your mouse and select "Save Link As..." or "Save target as..." so you can download it to your PC before playing.
Public Enemy - Bring Tha Noize
Here's a quick story about this tune. I loved "Bring The Noise" from Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. In fact, it was easily one of my favourite cuts on one of my favourite albums of all time. Then, in 1991, I was flipping stations when I heard a heavier, rockier version of the song on MuchMusic. Damn, there was PE and Anthrax doing it up and it was awesome!
"Bring tha Noize" appeared on the very cool Anthrax album Attack of the Killer B's and Public Enemy's own Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black. This version is from that album and it still rocks bells.
"My life is a stereo, turn me on and let's go. Turn me up louder, I'll scream as loud and clear as I can scream. And if you like what you're hearing, please hang on to me."
~ The Watchmen - Stereo
Different periods of my life have been defined by certain albums or bands or genres of music. I can trace this back almost 30 years. Let's start at the beginning...
The Golden Oldies - This period of my life started when I was about 6 or 7 and just discovering the joy of putting a cassette in the stereo and rocking out. I had a number of golden oldies cassette tapes, featuring songs from the '50s and '60s. My favourite song was probably The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" which was the first song on one such golden oldie cassette. I wish I could remember the name of this compilation...
The Stray Cats, Built For Speed - By 1982, when I was 8 years old, I was listening to AM radio. One song that I thoroughly enjoyed was The Stray Cats' "Rock This Town". It was a modernized take on those 50s songs I loved and I excitedly requested and received Built For Speed on cassette. The Stray Cats transitioned me from golden oldies to current rock.
Duran Duran - Another band I started to dig on the radio was Duran Duran. "Rio" and "Hungry Like The Wolf" sounded awesome to my 9 year old ears. I remember going to a used record shop on Bloor Street near Runnymede and buying Rio on vinyl. Rio was my favourite album, but I was equally into Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Needless to say, Duran Duran was my favourite band and in no time I was choreographing break dance routines to the song "Reflex".
Billy Idol - By the time I was 11 and 12, I was hungry for something a little edgier than Duran Duran. Friends in grade 5 introduced me to Billy Idol. When Vital Idol came out in 1987, I had a new favourite album. Billy Idol transitioned me from the pop of Duran Duran to the heavier rock that would follow.
Guns N' Roses, Appetite For Destruction - By the time I was 13, I was listening to a lot of Q107, tuning in nightly for the top ten at ten. That's where I first heard "Welcome to the Jungle" and I was hooked. I bought the cassette of Appetite For Destruction and played that thing until the tape eroded. My early teenage years included a lot of hard rock, everything from Alice Cooper to Cinderella, but it was always dominated by GNR.
Public Enemy - At the end of the 80s, my rock was losing its edge. Poison, Motley Crue and Extreme seemed too much like the popified hairspray music of Duran Duran. As a moody, angry white teenager, I was naturally drawn to Public Enemy. Public Enemy's first three albums supplied the bulk of music that would get me to and from high school. I could tap into what Chuck D was saying. His hard core rhymes over hard core drum beats kicked more ass than any hair band on the planet. PE was #1 in my books, and it stayed that way until a certain explosion in Seattle.
Grunge - In 1991 I was 16, going on 17. By this time, I was purely listening to CFNY, and that's where I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten become the staple albums, but they were nicely complemented by gems I'd discover from Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. They called it Grunge, and I loved it. That organic energy kept me riding high for years.
When Kurt Cobain died in 1994, I was almost 20 years old. I've been listening to music ever since, both new and old, but at this point the soundtrack map diversifies completely. The past ten years have been dominated by bands like Green Day, STP, The Offspring, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, The White Stripes, The Strokes, System of a Down and whatever else floats my boat.
You'll note The Tragically Hip is conspicuously absent. They've always just been there. From the first time I heard "Blow at High Dough on Q107 through the recent World Container, I've enjoyed every note and seen them live ten times. The Hip are one constant that's been there since the 80s and has never faded or disappeared.
Life ends in a stereo, pack me up and let's go. Put me anywhere, please don't think of leaving me behind. Whatever happens to you, I'll get on just fine.
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