After more than 20 years, Public Enemy show no signs of slowing down. Their messages are as urgent and compelling as ever, their performances just as electrifying. A group whose musical style and incendiary delivery have earned them critical acclaim and millions of fans throughout their career, Public Enemy continues to blaze musical and technological trails with new songs and new media, pulling rap music into the future, all while keeping its musical roots firmly intact. Public Enemy transcends the confines of rap and pop music, remaining one of the African American community’s most important messengers, digital music’s greatest champions, and a rare rap group who’s lyrics are dedicated to analyzing, uplifting and empowering all of humanity.
The group burst onto both the rap and pop music world in 1987 with their first single, “Public Enemy #1,” a startling combination of Chuck D’s commanding orations and Flavor Flav’s show-stopping antics to keep the message entertaining. The song is not only known for introducing a whole new sound to the rap genre, but for giving the group their name. A month later, Public Enemy released their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show.
Shortly after, they recorded “Rebel Without A Pause,” which would herald a new era of rap – Public Enemy’s trademark ‘noise’ – layers upon layers of samples, sirens and general chaos. Production was handled by Bill Stephney, Hank Shocklee, Carl Ryder and Eric ‘Vietnam’ Sadler – the nucleus of the Bomb Squad, which later included Keith Shocklee and Gary ‘G-Wiz’.
The world responded, and Public Enemy took Europe by storm and continues to be one of the continent’s most popular acts. Then came the classic It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988, which resonated with America in a way no other album had ever before and is considered to be one of the most important records ever released. Spin magazine named it to their “100 Greatest Albums (1985-2005)” list, coming in at #2 (sandwiched between Radiohead and Nirvana).
With back-to-back, non-stop world tours, the group did not release another album until 1990’s Fear Of A Black Planet. The inclusion of Big Daddy Kane and Ice Cube on “Burn Hollywood Burn” only added to its depth and message. Add to that the lead-in single, “Fight the Power” (from Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing), which became the group’s signature song.
Around the same time, fans and the media started speculating on whether the creative intensity within the group was breaking it into pieces. To fuel the fire, various members were working on solo records. As an answer to these rumours, PE released Apocalypse 91 – The Enemy Strikes Black, one of their most important albums, featuring “By The Time I Get To Arizona,” a fiery message aimed at the state’s refusal to honor the new Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Another seminal PE song,”Shut Em Down,” grew out of Chuck D’s anger at having his voice used in a beer commercial, and chronicled the way he saw black neighborhoods being exploited by big corporations who put little back.
Before the year was out, the home video Tour of a Black Planet was also released, including videos and more serious commentary than its predecessor and surpassed Gold sales. All the while, Public Enemy’s incessant touring didn’t stop, and in 1992 they joined U2 on their Zoo TV tour.
While on tour, the group recorded their fifth album Greatest Misses. Comprised of six new songs and six remixes of PE classics, the album was meant to be a gift for fans until a full-length album could be recorded. Greatest Misses was accompanied by the release of their third Gold-selling home video The Enemy Strikes Live, a recording of a free show they did at the famous Apollo Theatre.
The next studio album was 1994’s Muse-Sick-N-Hour-Mess-Age. By that time, the rap soundscape had changed dramatically. No longer in any mood to hold back, the group now felt that it was time to hold a mirror up to the black race and to the music industry – subjects they had touched on before but never to this extent. Producing a sound that Chuck D described as ‘ferocious soul’ using live instruments, bigger noise, and all sorts of chaos, the album was considered to be a radical departure from their previous albums. First catching their fans by surprise, the album is now considered by their fans to be one their best works.
In 1996, the group took an indeterminate break from their relentless touring and recording schedule, but decided to return in 1998 at Spike Lee’s request with a gripping soundtrack album to his movie He Got Game. This new Public Enemy record marked the first time a rap group created an entire soundtrack to a film. Many of the group’s original members returned for the recording, including various members of The Bomb Squad.
The album liner notes included a reference to www.publicenemy.com and www.rapstation.com, giving glimpse into the future of what lay ahead for the group. They also referred to upcoming release There’s a Poison Going On…, (1999) which was a groundbreaking album, being the first ever to be released in MP3 format and even as a zip disc. Their subsequent tour was webcast live from the House of Blues, and is now available on DVD.
In 2001, Chuck D launched his label, www.slamjamz.com, billed as an ‘Internet-first’ record company, releasing singles using MP3 technology. SlamJamz continues to release albums by underground hip hop artists personally discovered and nurtured by Chuck.
To celebrate 15 years as one of music’s most heralded groups, 2002’s Revolverlution gave us everything that Public Enemy stands for – the new songs covered politics, current affairs and race relations. For the first time ever, a group of their magnitude drew their fans into the recording process, inviting everyone to download songs off their website, remix them, then submit them back to the band. Four remixed tracks were ultimately selected for album. Three live tracks added to the album reminded fans of shows they’ve seen and provided new listeners with a sample of what they have missed.
In 2005, Public Enemy released their first full studio album since 1999, New Whirl Odor, an unapologetic message on behalf of the underrepresented, with jarring songs like “Revolution,” “What A Fool Believes,” “New Whirl Odor,” and “MKLVFKWR,” recorded with Moby for the 2004 Olympics. One of the standout tracks is the epic 11 minute “Superman’s Black In The Building,” whose sweeping jazz, blues and hip hop orchestration closes New Whirl Odor. Later that same year, a greatest hits album was issued, Power To The People and the Beats, reinforcing Public Enemy’s place in musical history. In late 2006, Beats and Places was released, a collection of songs and outtakes made during the recording of New Whirl Odor, as well as “Hell No, We Ain’t All Right” (originally released in 2005), Chuck D’s intense condemnation of the US Government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
In 2007, the group issued the bold How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?, which Rolling Stone magazine’s Robert Christgau included it in his “Best of 2007” and reviewed that they “still make terrific albums.”
At the close of 1999, The New York Times named Public Enemy’s music to their list of the “25 Most Significant Albums of the Last Century” and in May 2005 The US government’s Library of Congress included Fear Of ABlack Planet in a list of 50 recordings worthy of preserving in the National Recording Registry. Rolling Stone magazine called the group one of the fifty greatest artists of all time, and in 1999 Vanity Fair profiled the group in their Icons of Rock special section. Spin magazine chose two PE albums for their “100 Greatest Albums (1985-2005)” list, with It Takes A Nation of Millions… coming in at #2 and Fear Of A Black Planet at #21. When asked about upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame candidates, Bono recently replied, “Public Enemy, for instance, needs to go straight in,” Bono said. “That’s as important a moment as the Beatles. It changed popular culture for the next 25 years, and it was important as the Beatles.”
The numbers that reflect their extraordinary career are staggering: The band has embarked on over 56 tours, performing over 1300 concerts to fans in 45 countries. Three albums are certified multi-platinum, three more are gold, with four gold singles and a platinum-selling home video. Public Enemy has performed at Bonnaroo, Vegoose, Lollapalooza, Coachella, and the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Public Enemy, with many of its original members, including Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and the Security of the 1st World accompanied by a live band, embarked on a world tour in 2010, playing in South Africa for the first time.