Long Island’s Public Enemy was born unto Def Jam! Chuck D designed the Public Enemy logo. It was originally destined for a crew called Funky Frank and the Street Force but was never used. Picked from the scrap-heap pile, Chuck put life into it. The main in the image was of LL Cool J’s man, E-Love with his arms folded from Right On! Magazine. Chuck had cut it out, silhouetted it and ran it through the copy machine and drew a gun-sight scope over it. After stenciling Public Enemy over the top of it, the group’s logo was born.
Public Enemy Number One
Like Boogie Down Productions, PE used their album covers to convey their expressed version of black radical rage through hip-hop. Their first Def Jam project was the 1987 release, ‘Yo! Bum Rush the Show’ which sported the cover of a rallying black militant group gearing up for Reagan’s high-noon showdown. PE had now labelled itself the “Black Panthers of rap”. Chuck D was noticeably dressed in all-Muslim-white while Professor Griff and his S1W’s closed into the frame, Flavor Flav stretched in to press the start button to their brand of audio-revolution. Discreetly under the album title in red, read the chants, ‘The Government’s Responsible… The Government’s Responsible… The Government’s Responsible…’ The photographer was Glen E. Friedman who would later be responsible for the majority of PE’s work.
Bum Rush was in all accounts as much a rock record as rap… The heavily Rick Rubin produced album with strong presence of guitars pushing out in front of nascent Bomb Squad’s rhythms and loops from a fairly primitive 8-bit Ensoniq Mirage sampler. Chuck D’s authority over the hyped-inciting rhymes bellows over anything instrumental with a strong impression of an MC revving up the neighbourhood with more pubescent excitement than structured focus on a world stage. Still dawning on their revolution in the industry, PE sounds like they own the airwaves with unanimous support. Flavor Flav kicks in with a sharp, somewhat-witty lyrical assault on some tracks to stamp his staying power in the group. The album opened with Chuck D and Hank’s demo track for Rick Rubin, "You’re Gonna Get Yours". Chuck D bragged about his old party crowd 98 Posse and their tricked-out Oldsmobiles over Dennis Coffey’s "Getting it On" sample. The following tracks included all four tracks from Chuck and Shocklee’s demo tape. The renamed, "Miuzi Weighs a Ton" featuring Aretha Franklin’s "Rock Steady" and Kurtis Blow’s, "Christmas Rappin’" samples was seen above water as yet another gun-glorifying gang rap but within the lyrics the Uzi weapon is described metaphorically as the weapon of knowledge using the mind. Simple analogy by most poetic genres but a process undeveloped in hip-hop lyrics. This new dynamic made Public Enemy a lyrical puzzle to decipher and a mass of confusion for scrutinising media.
Before the release of their début anti-American album they supported label mates Beastie Boys on a fifteen-city tour around the U.S. The "Licensed to Ill" tour. Def Jam had no time to organise instrumental recordings of their tracks and left P.E. to lip-synch their whole performance. Their first show opened in New Haven, stage complete with the S1W soldiers dressed in military-fatigues and carrying fake Uzis with choreographed step-moves modelled off old Stax and Motown moves and lightened up with Flavor-Flav goofing around the stage. Timothy White for Penthouse magazine when reviewing the Beastie Boys tour, mentioned Public Enemy as, “Featured rappers Flavor Flav and Chuck D spew boastful bile about gang violence… and the pleasures of misogyny… This is black rap at its grimiest, an invitation to stomp on tombstones and tenement corpses.”
Nation of Millions
A year later they upstaged their rudimentary rookie release by dropping the ’88 revolution, "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back". A performance which certainly over-toppled their previous in the charts. The sequel showed a monumental maturity in both production and representation in rap music. The album itself stretched the boundaries in hip-hop. Based off Run DMC’s rock-rap crew, the Bomb Squad had graduated to more advanced Akai S-900 and E-mu SP-1200 samplers which allowed them to explore more complex elements of free jazz, hard funk within their creation under PE’s hard-nosed rhymes. The improvement of Chuck D’s lyrical delivery posed strong foundations for any raised debate. Although Chuck’s topics were culturally abrasive as KRS-One’s and his rhyming was never as flowing as Rakim’s his persuasive tone and vocabulary galvanised his points of view to all who listened. Together with side-kick Flavor Flav and his comical add-ins contrasted with Chuck D’s sermon like yin-yang.
This album featured one of their most famous hit singles, "Don't Believe the Hype" and the rock-yielding "Bring the Noise". Both were considered classic PE anthems. "Don't Believe the Hype" served a whole generation with the right to question the government and the media’s propaganda in relation to racism, commercialism and capitalism. Chuck D took his platform on this record and from here he spilled his mind as his stage grew larger than the Black Belt. Public Enemy took hip-hop into a new rebellion.
The album was released April 19th, 1988 and peaked at number one on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It broke platinum status despite a lock-out by commercial radio. With this it also garnered much critical acclaim and was voted as the best album of the year in The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll. According to AcclaimedMusic.net (a site which combines several critics' polls and lists), it is the most acclaimed album of the 1980's and the 18th album of all time. By 2003 VH1 named Nation of Millions the 20th greatest album of all time as well as being ranked 93rd in a British television survey held in 2005 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time. Also the album was named the second greatest album in Spin Magazine's listing of the 100 greatest albums released since the magazine's founding in 1985 behind Radiohead's, "OK Computer". Rolling Stone's ranked it the top Hip-Hop album among a list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time at number 48.
(to be continued)