Replacing Run DMC‘s proto-bling with Afrocentric articulateness, Nation of Islam references, and anti-racist ire, Long Island’s hip-hop revolutionaries Public Enemy turned rap from a novelty to “CNN for black people”.
Public Enemy didn’t just report on their environment, they explained it . . . then they petitioned the disaffected to rise up and change it.
Their forceful articulation of the black experience was intensified by crack production team The Bomb Squad’s obdurate sonic scapes built around samples of James Brown, Funkadelic, Big Audio Dynamite, Slayer, Bowie and The Bar-Kays.
When Public Enemy recorded Bring the Noise for the 1987 movie version of Brett Easton Ellis’ novel Less Than Zero, Chuck D wasn’t much of a fan: “I practically threw it out the window,” he said. Then they started playing it live, and “people went berserk.”
Jittery with screeching samples and cranked-up BPM, it answered critics dismissing the crew for their stridency with more of everything: more speed, more sound, and more proud references to their Blackness.
“If they’re calling my music ‘noise,’ if they’re saying that I’m really getting out of character being a Black person in America, then fine,” Chuck D told Rolling Stone. “I’m bringing more noise.”
1988’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back album made them hip-hop heroes, and their paramilitary trappings tantalised rock fans, but world domination seemed beyond their grasp.
That changed when Spike Lee instructed them to write an anthem for his movie Do The Right Thing (1989).
Flavor Flav’s ludicrous interjections provided a pressure valve. Rap would be forever changed.
After a 1994 motorcycle accident shattered his left leg and kept him in the hospital for a full month, Terminator X relocated to his 15-acre farm in Vance County, North Carolina.
By 1998, he was ready to retire from the group and focus full-time on raising African black ostriches on his farm.
Though still active today, their influence faded in the 1990s with their brand of polemic suffering commercially as gangsta nihilism took hold.
But their substantial catalogue is studded with songs such as Don’t Believe The Hype, Fight The Power and Welcome To The Terrordome that remain vitally important parts of hip-hop history.
Chuck D (Carlton D. Ridenhour)
Flavor Flav (William Drayton)
Terminator X (Norman Rogers)
Professor Griff (Richard Griffin)
Hank Shocklee (James Hank Boxley III)
Keith Shocklee (Keith Boxley)
Eric “Vietnam” Sadler
Sister Souljah (Lisa Williamson)
DJ Lord (Lord Aswod)