Tanner Babcock

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Public Enemy

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Year Title Rating
1987 Yo! Bum Rush the Show 6.5/10
1988 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back 8/10
1990 Fear of a Black Planet 7/10
1990 Professor Griff - Pawns in the Game 6.5/10
1991 Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black 7.5/10
1992 Professor Griff - Disturb N Tha Peace .../...
1994 Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age 7.5/10
1996 Chuck D. - Autobiography of Mistachuck .../...
1998 Professor Griff - Blood of the Profit .../...
1999 >>There's a Poison Goin' On .../...
2001 Professor Griff - And the Word Became Flesh .../...
2002 Revolverlution 6.5/10
2005 >>New Whirl Odor .../...
2006 Flavor Flav - Hollywood 5.5/10
2007 >>How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? .../...
2012 >>Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp .../...
2012 >>The Evil Empire of Everything .../...
2015 >>Man Plans God Laughs .../...
2017 >>Nothing Is Quick in the Desert .../...

Review last updated: April 20, 2020

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Public Enemy is hip hop. They were unarguably the first hip hop group to elevate the then-adolescent genre of hip hop to artistic status, to create hip hop and rap that was not simply a trend or a fad, not materialistic or shallow, but righteous, inspiring, violent, and provocative. They originated in Queens, New York. Their albums do not belong on the Billboard charts, but rather in museums and academies. The group: Chuck D, Flava Flav, and initially Terminator X and Professor Griff, have more than articulately and eloquently lamented many of the rages, frustrations, detriments, and prejudices burdening black youth. They have channeled the centuries-old pain, anger, sorrow, and rage of the black community into something inherently positive, life-affirming, and supportive of their community, yet confrontational, "controversial" (according to white people who don't think black people should have rights or feel good about themselves), and aggressive.

These are not thugs. These are not gangsters recording diss tracks and mixtapes in a studio. These are social provocateurs, bold and extremely brave artists, bugling a call to arms to their community, and vowing to protect their own people by any means necessary (Malcolm X's phrasing, not mine). They are not condoning blind violence, but self-defense, and self-preservation - in a racist, prejudiced, and downright unfair world that is stacked against them, young black measures of self-defense are often misunderstood as blind violence and aggression (gee, I wonder who is calling it that, and why...?), and fantastic community-boosting groups like Public Enemy are called controversial and racist. I think failing to recognize actual racism is one of the most obvious symptoms of racism. Public Enemy are not racists, they are reacting to racism. Their beliefs are very strong, and these beliefs make them stand out among hip hop groups: they don't endorse gang activity ("Give It Up", "So Watcha Gone Do Now?"), they don't call themselves "nigger" and don't call others "nigger" (you can hear Chuck say this in the pregap song "Ferocious Soul", but the same message is in the Flav cut "I Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Nigga"), they're not misogynistic and don't call women bitches, they're heavily against drugs, alcohol, self-medication, and crime in general ("In 33 years I never had a beer", "put the buddha down", the song "1 Million Bottlebags").

This music is raucous, aggressive, and confrontational, yet soulful, heartfelt, and positive all the same. You have crisp New York 808 beats, old school funk and R&B guitars, record scratches, samples galore including various horns and sound effects, vocal manipulations, and often vocals from previous Public Enemy albums. Chuck D's unique rapping voice comes from generations of black preachers and Black Panther activists, and Flava Flav often serves as the jelly to his peanut butter, or the sugar to his spice: contrasting his indignant sermon with Brooklyn jive and shenanigans, raising the roof and bringing the hype to maximum levels. The concepts and ideas range from vicious satire ("911 is a Joke", the skit with the KKK redneck in Apocalypse, "Get the Fuck Out of Dodge"), to prison yard threats ("Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos", "By the Time I Get to Arizona"), savagely attacking the status quo, the racist establishment, the ignorant white liberal political sphere, and the fascist police state whose officers murder with impunity.

The group's most substantial work is easily It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - I believe this to be one of the best, if not the best, hip hop albums of all time. This album has wildly innovative vocal manipulations, elaborate scratch work, and the vocals finally have the confidence they lacked on the previous album. The sampled material ranges from jazzy horns with "Bring the Noise", to heavy metal guitars with "Party for Your Right to Fight". This album especially has a theatrical flair that not a lot of albums in general have. The opening with the 1987 Def Jam Tour introduction, and Professor Griff saying "This time around, the revolution will not be televised. Step" just brings so much excitement and adrenaline to the minds of listeners. You can't hear it, but at this actual performance, they had their Security of the First World running military drills in army fatigues, complete with tornado sirens and helicopter search lights. They manage to create catchy hooks with purely sampled refrains "Don't Believe the Hype" and "Cold Lampin' with Flava".

While I think Fear of a Black Planet is a bit of a dud with no momentum, it does have its moments. "Incident at 66.6 FM", where some white guys bitch about having to watch Public Enemy open up for the Beastie Boys, and how it was the most appalling thing they've ever seen, "911 is a Joke" (I once read an internet comment about how some kid used to call 911 when he was in grade school and sing this song to the operators and thought it was hilarious, and the police actually showed up to the school to have an assembly about why you shouldn't call 911 unless there's an emergency), the Spike Lee ultimate black power anthem "Fight the Power", the sample collage "Welcome to the Terrordome", and the posse cut with Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane "Burn, Hollywood, Burn" are the highlights of this one. Even though I think It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is technically their best, I still am very fond of the subdural hemotoma Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black and the crazier and more elaborate yet Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age.