Eleven years ago I saw Public Enemy open for Run DMC. PE had recently released their excellent soundtrack for (him again) Spike Lee’s “He Got Game” and they were pretty good. Flavor Flav hadn’t become a cartoon yet and Chuck D hadn’t become irrelevant yet but, and don’t get me wrong I don’t particularly care (my interest is on how it reflects on their music), did they really need to hang a white man in effigy? I mean even eleven years ago it was more, well, boring than shocking.
“Damn right I’m hostile,” as Chuck D. once put it, “my people are being persecuted”.
Still, it wasn’t Bush Senior, or Newt Ginrich, it was a generic white man.
When PE jumped out of Long Island in 1987 they were immediately the greatest political rock band since the Clash. Chuck D. was the poet laureate of part two of the black fight for equality. Twenty years ago it wasn’t over, twenty years ago Chuck and Terminator X and Griff and company were not asking for a fair shake, they were threatening the white establishment with an M16 if they don’t get what’s coming to them.
And they had the songs to back it up. Their second album, “It Takes a Nation Of Millions To old Us back” was the best album of 1988, their third album “Fear Of a Black Planet” debatably the best album of the 80 (well, the 90s). “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “Bring the Noise,” “911’s a Joke,” “Welcome to the Terrordrome.” “Elvis was a god to some,” Chuck D once noted. “But he didn’t mean shit to me. ” His heroes aren’t on stamps except of course they do now.
But drugs, controversy (Professor Griff’s racist comments about Jews), Farrakhan (Farrakhan will never have the cool Malcolm X had) and the times would knock PE on their ass. PE were serious and excellent but the last good album they made was TEN YEARS AGO and their quasi-segretationalist inversion of Jim Crow is sooooooo tired it barely breathes any more.
And say what you will they only had one subject matter: whites screwing over blacks. In 2009 that’s the moral equivalent of Jews condeming Germans: true but irrelevant and becoming more irreleveant with every day as the persecuters die out and a generation of middle class blacks watch on bemused.
And then they sounded old -four years after the seminal “Fear Of A Black Planet” N.W.A. won the argument and Puff Dady was just a coupla years away from bringing hip hop to the mainstream.
PE are so unique you can take out the vocals and still instantly recognize them.
PE have something to say.
Chuck D is one of the greatest rappers of all time, he is like an M16 cutting everything down and Flavor Flav is such a uniqur MC he can sell just his persona back to the people and people are still catching up to Terminator X.
But Public Enemy is an anomalie, the Dodo of hip hop, who needs Farrakhan when you’ve got Obama? Who needs PE to tell us we’re soulless, it doesn’t even mean anything. If the black fight PE brought to pop culture isn’t won, well, it’s a long, long way from lost. Remember, when a war is over the soldiers return to civilian life
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