PE - History of the Rolling Stones of Rap Their revolutionary grouping of groundbreaking soundscapes with decidedly political lyrics made Public Enemy, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the most controversial, influential, and authoritative hardcore rap formation of the late eighties, early nineties. For many, Chuck D. and his crew to this day remain the most definitive rap group of all time, as they have not only made a massive, cultural impact on black society, but had an almost equally significant, conscience-rousing effect on all people of different colors and backgrounds across the planet.
In 1982, college DJ Chuck D., whose real name is Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, formed Public Enemy at the Adelphi University on Long Island, New York. He met Hank Shocklee at the student radio station WBAU, where the two were mixing tracks under the supervision of Bill Stephney. All three shared a love of hip-hop and politics and together, they created a collection of cuts, called the Super Spectrum Mix Show, named after their DJ outfit, Spectrum City. William Drayton, a friend of Chucks and one avid fan of the program, began hanging at the radio station relentlessly until Bill Stephney made him host of his own show. When they began mixing their own tapes for broadcast on WBAU, Drayton developed an alter-ego named Flavor Flav, eventually functioning as absurdist comic sidekick to Chucks forceful vocals and somber rhymes. All this was developed while working as truck drivers on their day jobs!
In 1987, Chuck D. signed on to Def Jam Records, two years after Rick Rubin, the companys co-founder, had initially approached him about a recording contract. Recruiting Shocklee as his producer and Stephney already there as an early Def Jam executive, Chuck D. formed the group, with DJ Terminator X (Norman Lee Rogers) on the turntables and Professor Griff (Richard Griffin) heading the backup militaried look Security of the First World aka the S1Ws. Members were assigned functions and given titles, such as Minister of Information or S1W Guard. The latter name referred to members of Public Enemys backup stage squad, who were sort of the groups bodyguards at the same time. Wearing black berets and camouflage gear, somewhat reminiscent of the Black Panthers, they were performing martial arts inspired movements with fake uzis strapped around their shoulders. Known as the Bomb Squad,
Public Enemys production team masterminded a pioneering style of music-making, applying seemingly chaotic cut-and-paste techniques: pieces of political speeches, piercing police sirens, and scratchy turntable sequences were combined with barely recognizable funk samples, razor-sharp guitar riffs, and relentless, dense drum beats. In its structure, the group took on features resembling those of a substitutional political party. It was then, at the very latest, that one thing became unmistakably clear: this was not your run-of-the-mill rap group!
Especially at the outset, Public Enemy, commonly hailed as The Black Sex Pistols, were misunderstood as an alarmingly radical phenomenon, thought to be preaching hateful, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and misogynist beliefs because their street-oriented rhymes talked about the very real problems the black American from the ghetto underclass was faced with every day. Calling for social activism and condoning revolutionary tactics were all part of the endeavor of leading hip-hop in the direction of an explicitly socially critical, self-aware, pro-black consciousness. Chuck D. frequently likened rap to a Black CNN,relating what was happening in the inner city with a rhetoric, mainstream media would never make use of. The facts were: masses of black people in the US were poor, jobless, hungry, without shelter. Public Enemy werent hateful, they were telling it like it is, from their point of view. And they were beginning to ask uncomfortable questions.
Before Public Enemy appeared on the scene, most rappers would use the mic to fly their own kite and boast about expensive cars, parties, and girlfriends, turning a blind eye on the ruthless reality, many of them had previously experienced themselves. Then, along came this group who sounded new and knuckle-bare, articulate and aggressive.
In 1987, Public Enemy released their debut album Yo! Bum Rush the Show, which was still largely ignored by the rock and R&B mainstream. The following year, however, their second album was hailed as revolutionary. Its accurate militant and musical vision of urban chaos could no longer be ignored and The New York Times even ranked It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back on its list of 25 albums of the last century that shaped music. Fear of a Black Planet hit the stores in 1990, garnered equally rave reviews, and produced three Top 40 R&B hits. Their next album featured a recording of Bring The Noise with thrash metal outfit Anthrax. Apocalypse 91, The Enemy Strikes Black debuted at number four on the pop charts and was greeted once again with overwhelming praise. As Public Enemys popularity and influence increased and their profile was raised, the controversy and debate surrounding them multiplied. Everything they said and did was painstakingly dissected by ardent critics. Public Enemy is your enemy became just one of a number of slogans with which they tried to get record stores and radio stations to boycott the group. Public Enemy even appeared in an FBI report to Congress examining Rap Music And Its Effects On National Security. More than once, the groups lyrics caused an uproar. But despite their seemingly hostile stance, Chuck D. proved reactive to some of the criticism, when comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made by Professor Griff spawned anti-Semitic accusations. In the aftermath of the now infamous Washington Post interview, Professor Griff left Public Enemy to record four conscious-based albums during the rest of the 1990s. Professor Griff returned to the group in 1997 at a PE reformation concert with KRS-ONE and RUN-DMC and has since continued to contribute to Public Enemys pioneering efforts in song, image, and structure.
In 1992, the then innovative remix collection Greatest Misses was released to less than favorable reviews and Public Enemy began to lose momentum for the first time since the bands inception. Chuck D. felt it was too early to put out a greatest hits piece. In 1994, Muse Sick - Hour Mess Age, their first new album in three years, was bashed by Rolling Stone Magazine. Nevertheless, it still debuted at number 14, was widely accepted by much of the music press in the US, and became DEF JAMs number one international release around the earth. Added to the fact of what in essence was a trade of Def Jam from Sony to Polygram Records, Chuck D. felt that the merger systematically lost the record into the cracks so to speak. Yet, during the following year, the crew toured extensively throughout the world, easily becoming the most toured rap band on the planet. The latter two records although knocked in certain US gangsta converted rap circles proved to be benchmarks everywhere else around the globe. Flavor Flav was repeatedly in trouble with the Bronx-NY-law, several band members took a shot at solo careers, and Chuck D. temporarily severed ties with Def Jam to develop his own record label SLAMjamz as well as a publishing company, in an attempt to rethink Public Enemy. He published his first solo album, The Autobiography of Mistachuck, on Mercury Records and the book Fight The Power: Rap, Race, and Reality, which was a national bestseller in the US and has been reprinted in seven languages across the world.
It wasnt until 1997/98 that Chuck D. reassembled the original crew and Public Enemy returned with a vengeance. The motion picture soundtrack to Spike Lees He Got Game received the best reviews of any Public Enemy album since Apocalypse 91. It was the first time a rap group headed a film soundtrack by itself. Still, the relationship between Public Enemy and its record label turned increasingly sour. A series of disagreements ensued, culminating in the termination of the 12-year association with Def Jam, after they refused to support Chuck D. in his efforts to bring free music to the masses via the Internet, amongst other artist freedom issues. In an act defying the suppression of creative thinking and freedom of expression, Public Enemy posted their new single on the web: Swindlers Lust was an open attack on all those major corporations which controlled the music industry. In 1999, Chuck D. and his crew signed up with the independent Internet-savvy label Atomic Pop, which made Public Enemy the first mainstream band to put MP3 files of an entire album on the web. There's a Poison Going On hit record stores only after it had been made available for sale on the Internet.
Since the turn of the new century, Public Enemy has innovated new areas, where rap and hip hop had never gone before. 53 countries. 51 tours. Public Enemy has redeveloped their live performance with a backing band called PE and steadfastly became a jam band like the Hip Hop Stones rolling across the world, expanding the genre playing to television, festivals, and clubs alike. www.publicenemy.com was one of the first websites ever for a rap group and has attracted thousands of PE fans from across the planet who visit the site to communicate, find the latest news, hear and get new music, and best of all - check this out - to participate in the making and remixing of songs! Thus, in 2002, Public Enemy released Revolverlution, which featured remixes from a virtual contest of participants, live cuts, and new songs, on the SLAMjamz label, distributed by KOCH/through SLAMjamz new distribution and manufacturing deal through REDEYE in the USA and NOCTURNE and PROPER distribution internationally.
After touring extensively in 2002 and 2003, Public Enemy brought a few other innovative projects to life in 2005: The turn of the century showed an addition to the Public Enemy show on a suggestion by Professor Griff inspired by touring hip hop groups with musicians like Cypress Hill, The Roots, and Wyclef Jean the act added a 3 piece set ( called 'PE') to their DJ arrangement. This in essence put their already incendiary show on aural steroids. In essence they became the closest thing to a hip hop jam band , being that Flavor Flav and Professor Griff are also musicians. PEEPSVinyl has been instituted as their own label for new material ,two new albums New Whirl Odor collaborating with fellow ingenious musician Moby, Chuck D. and company make an appeal for universal peace. The title of their single Mklvfkwr leaves no questions open. Make Love Fuck War was part of the soundtrack to the Olympic Games in Athens (Unity). In October 2006 and PARIS' Rebirth Of A Nation on his Guerilla Funk label. To cap things, 2006 will also see 'Bring That Beat Back' , the remix project distributed through KOCH, and the upcoming 'Beats and Places' How You Sell Soul To A Souless People Who Sold Their Soul slated for spring 2007 release and Flavor Flavs production label and company KwanaMan Productions has been formed, spawning the explosion of his highly rated television broadcasts Flavor Of Love and others on VH1.
The Public Enemy Archive Series has been established, delivering classic songs, videos, and data in a seemingly endless stream of CD/DVD releases through Universal and other distributors. And as of the new press, according to Chuck D., this record once again exemplifies the potential, the importance, the power of music in getting an important message out to the people. A jump-off to a busy period ahead, leading into 2007, this series of releases, tours, and public messages will be a positive addition to hip hop, rap, and all music from Public Enemy, heading to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2012. Until then, minds, bodies, and souls of folks across the world will get a taste of the best that ever did it. Yes, the Rolling like the Stones of the rap game and hip hop goin on and on past the break of dawn . - Pascale Mayer with Chuck D