Public Enemy

Bill Stephney enlarged his roster, bringing in another MC, Butch Cassidy and giving aspiring program director Andre ‘Doctor Dre’ Brown the job of directing the radio program for Stephney. He in turn recruited an eccentric piano-playing character dressed in all black and sporting Jheri-curls from Freeport. Enter William ‘Rico’ Drayton who called himself MC DJ Flavor to his own radio show at Adelphi University. He was a classically trained pianist and formerly part of Townhouse Three whom later dissolved into solo artist, Son of Bazerk. He met Carlton through their slots at WBAU and Shocklee got the pair together in a recording studio to cut a track, which eventually created the life-long professional bond between the black-super hero pair.

Spectrum City’s notoriety was growing rapidly within the black-belt and university campus to the point where Roosevelt’s Richard Griffin was brought in to handle crowd control and security. A friend of Ridenhour’s, Griffin was a martial arts school director and devotee to the Nation of Islam. For the security job he brought in a crew he called Unity Force. Ridenhour brought in 98 Posse consisting of hard-rock hardheads and hustlers from around the way who became a permanent fixture at every thrown party by Spectrum City. They arrived in tricked-out Oldsmobile rides. Dynamic crews who would clash heavily on open streets came together as one under a Spectrum City banner as mere fans of a new movement. By now their Saturday night Mix Hour show topped request lines at the radio station and Hollis, Queens super crew made their way down to the studio for their first New York interview with Spectrum City and left as huge fans of the Spectrum crew. Tapes circulated New York and were compared to Mr. Magic’s show and Eddie Cheeba’s. Spectrum increased their popularity onto TV when Bill Stephney hooked up a UHF space. Shocklee rented out a spot on 510 Franklin Street in Hampstead and erected a recording studio. Their vision was to represent Long Island in hip-hop and go up against the might of the reigning Boogie-Down Empire.

The group came across Anrei Strobert, a young African-American studies professor who took them into his lectures, ‘Black Music and Musicians’. Back-row rebels of rap music sat up front, wide-eyed and open-minded to his teachings. His new students were worried and expressed their concerns over critics’ opinion stating that rap music is a passing fad and record companies might lose interest. Strobert laughed it off and told them, “Don’t believe the hype.” This would be taken seriously and consciously used in later lyrics. After the release of Run DMC’s first single "It’s Like That/Sucker MC’s" dropped Queens into the spotlight, Spectrum City hoped to do the same with Long Island.

They put together "Lies/Check Out the Radio". "Lies" was a topical rap-off between Ridenhour and Butch Cassidy who both set out to debate the politics of Reaganomics, instead it was a generic dis-record over Arthur Baker and James Brown beats. Ridenhour’s voice bellowed out with authority and likened to the presence of Melle Mel. However the content was no matching for the legendary "The Message". The B-side, "Check Out the Radio" was hailed far popular by fans who recognized the hit as one of Ridenhour’s famous radio drops produced by Shocklee and his brother Keith who brought together b-boy beat, Juciy’s "Catch a Groove," decreased the tempo and turned up the bass for a new sound. Unfortunately the tracks did not sum up the awesome presence of a Spectrum City party and failed to sale well. Ridenhour later graduated from university and helped his piano-stroker friend, Flavor land a job with his father’s company delivering furniture while Ridenhour worked for a photo company as a messenger left to scribble raps on note pads and pat beats on his thighs during long trips into the city. The Spectrum City office and studio in Hampstead stood to collect piling unpaid bills. Their Mix Hour show faded into obscurity as their core audiences matured into other avenues of outlet and celebration.

Despite moving much of their core fan base, Ridenhour and Spectrum’s Shocklee did shake the ground beneath record industry upstarts, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin who, through Stephney’s Program Director, Doctor Dre had overheard Ridenhour rapping on the Spectrum City release cuts. Both Rubin and Simmons were heading up Def Jam record label out of Rubin’s NYU dorm room. By early 1986 Rubin approached the former WBAU Program Director, Bill Stephney and offered him a position within the label. He accepted and became Def Jam’s first full-time staffer. His first assignment was to assist Rubin in signing Chuck D to the label, who at first declined the offer. Rubin had pestered the Ridenhour family’s home phone with various lucrative offers for Chuck to rap on spots within his label’s outfits. Rubin had signed Doctor Dre’s BAU group Original Concept with T-Money and wanted Chuck to be their rapper. Rubin even tried getting through his mother to get at Chuck. Chuck would avoid the phone calls like an obsessive ex-girlfriend was on the other line. At twenty-six Chuck was shying out of the rap game, fearing another unsuccessful record drop. By the end of ’86 Rubin had jokingly delivered Stephney with an ultimatum, either he signed Chuck or he’d be fired. Stephney immediately arranged a meeting between Chuck, Hank and Rubin. The two had brought along a four-track demo tape with "Public Enemy Number One", "the Return of Public Enemy" (later renamed to "Miuzi Weighs a Ton") "Sophisticated Bitch" and "You’re Gonna Get Yours". The tracks were mixed and produced by Hank and his brother Keith at their Hampstead studios. Rick Rubin offered Chuck an album deal on the spot. He negotiated to form a group including Hank and Flavor. Hands shook and the group set out to find themselves a place for the new crew which had now stretched to include Chuck’s Long Island homie, Richard Griffin.

Chuck had assumed the leading role in the outfit and gone about seeking alter-egos for the members, Richard became known as Professor Griff, together with Eldridge Cleaver’s title within the Black Panther Party of ‘Minister of Information’. Griff’s security team for Spectrum City, Unity Force was renamed the Security of the First World (S1Ws). Hank assembled the production squad starting with himself and his brother Keith Boxley A.K.A. ‘Wizard K-Jee’ with Eric ‘Vietnam’ Saddler who, like Flavor was strongly influenced by the Long Island funk scene and was learning to program drum machines and synthesizers. Spectrum City’s DJ, Norman ‘Mellow D’ Rogers became ‘Terminator X’. Chuck gave him this name which meant he was terminating all the nonsense and the ‘X’ symbolized the unknown. Therefore he terminated the unknown things they believe but do not really know about. Rogers did not originally take to this name but it later grew on him and stuck. Paul Shabazz and the Kings of Pressure DJ, Johnny ‘Juice’ Rosado added ingredients as well. Hank’s production team was known as the Bomb Squad. Alls left was the concept and name of this entire blended outfit to label album covers, concert top billings, posters and F.B.I.’s most threatening list… Spectrum City was washed up by this stage. Bill Stephney envisioned a political tirade over dark-basement beats, as a way of separating themselves from the thug-life image that was staining hip-hop. Only Hank worried this approach might lose their core audiences. Previous black-fist rap groups were not being paid by their political points of view. Hank saw them falling into this pit. Chuck sat on the fence with this issue who wanted to write explicit rhymes using shock value to win over his audience with the occasional blunt political abuse to get the crowd amped. DJ MC Flavor was renamed Flavor Flav by Hank and was to round off the group to compliment Chuck’s overbearing presence. However Bill felt differently, as his vision saw this group being politically charged with the utmost serious brow, Flav’s comical court jester being served only to contradict their hardcore image. Stephney was overruled as the rest of the outfit felt the group needed a break from Chuck’s insistent rhetoric with the gag-factor brought on by Flavor Flav’s dress-code, swagger and witty rhymes occasionally thrown in. One night upon returning to the 510 Hampstead offices from Def Jam, Stephney saw "PUBLIC ENEMY" written on the bulletin board by Hank. He smiled and the name fit perfectly and stated, “Okay, I can spin this. We’re all public enemies. Howard Beach, Bernhard Goetz, Michael Stewart. The black man is definitely the public enemy.”

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