The Rap Game during the 80s like right now was going through a shift change. Hardtimes due to Reganomics was hitting the country and people felt powerless and were looking for a brother or a group of brothers to really speak the truth on the ugly conditions within the Country and a group of young militant black men would form step up to the plate in 1986 and “Fight the Powers that be” That group would be Public Enemy.
When Public Enemy released Fear of a Black Planet, It received critically acclaim as being a breath of fresh air but it was It Takes Millions to Hold us back is what captivated Public Enemy into Superstardom. With Chuck D’s aggressive hard-hitting in your face delivery mixed with Flav Flav’s humor to bring light to an aggressive nature of the album due to the Bomb Squad. It was the song Fight the Power that put Public Enemy’s Pro black message in a national stage. They urged the people to fight the system structure and even dissed American Icons John Wayne and Elvis Presley. It was something people were thinking and were happy to hear. The Fight the Power track was also selected to open up Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing which brought Public Enemy to hollywood.
Public Enemy’s hard-hitting political commentary while made them a commodity also made them a target. If it wasn’t their pro black content that urged young blacks to fight for themselves,take care of themselves and weren’t afraid of painting the dirty pictures of society’s ills. It was Public Enemy sideman Professor Griff comments that really set a lightning rod among the group. The comments Griff made in a impromptu interview were looked upon as Anti Semitic, homophobic, and caused a major uproar among the group.
Many protest groups wanted Griff kicked out of the group and even threatened his life by blowing up his house. Chuck was put in an uncomfortable position here. If he had kept Griff in the group, It would possibly led to more backlash or possibly Public Enemy getting their message blackballed from the Music Business. If he kicks Griff out, He would be looked upon as a sellout for throwing their group member under the bus. Facing label pressure and never-ending backlash for letting Griff back in the group, Chuck D made one of the toughest decisions of his life, He demoted Professor Griff’s duties as a member of Public Enemy. This caused a major rift between Griff and the group for a long time. Chuck D spoke on this recently:
Professor Griff survived the hit made my unknown assaliants and can be seen spreading his message about the corruption behind the music industry in lectures all over the world. Even though him and Chuck buried the hatchet a long time ago, Their relationship will never be as strong as it once was.
Even though Professor Griff’s departure from the group may have rubbed many people the wrong way, PE’s Pro-black Political message never went anywhere. If anything their followup album Apocalypse ’91…The Enemy Strikes Black followed suit with their aggressive hard-hitting message. Apocalypse 91 first singles Cant Truss It and Shut Em Down both contained controversal videos which showcased Slavery(Cant Trust it) and Shut Em Down which was a battle call for all media publications to shut down the machine who constantly portrays blacks in a negative light.
Cant Trust It
Shut Em Down
Both of these videos were something that literally scared middle America. Especially Shut Em Down which pays homage to black activists and revolutionaries such as Marcus Garvey, Huey Newton, Malcom X, Elijah Muhammad, Nat Turner and many others whom would rarely get acknowledged publicly. Chuck’s deliver contained fiery than before proving that despite the success or crossing over into the mainstream that he was a spokesman for the oppressed.
Muse Sick N Hour Message era
The rise of the West Coast Gangsta Rap scene started to emerge in the early 90s. Gone were the African Medallions, the pro black teachings, the 5% talk and dropping knowledge. The shift focus was mainly brothers embracing 40 ounces, lowriders, chronic smoke, and gangsterism. It was an era that forced many acts like Brand Nubian, X Clan, Poor Righteous teachers, and forced Ice Cube to become more G funkish to keep up with the times. Public Enemy fell out-of-place with Rap’s enviroment at the time. Muse Sick N Hour was a great album which showed PE still proving that they still have alot to say in spite of it going on def ears because people were so caught up in listening to Dr Dre’s The Chronic and Biggie’s Ready to Die. It’s clear that angered Chuck throughout this album and this video showed it:
Public Enemy’s legacy
Public Enemy would still release albums. Some of them were misses(Greatest Misses, New World Oder) along with some hits(Rebirth of a Nation and He Got Game). The Rebirth of a Nation album was one of PE’s strongest albums because it came at a time where the rap game was lacking political commentary due to the fascination of the club hopping bling blinging themes that dominated rap for a long period of time. Plastic Nation, Cant Hold Us Back, showed that PE still were a force to be reckoned with. This was the perfect album to reintroduce PE back into the rap game and it let people why they truly were a threat to the establishment
On Cant Hold Us Back, They teamed with MC Ren, Paris, Dead Prez, Kam, and brought Flava Flav from Cooningville to further their sound message. They may not go platinum anymore but you can see them still touring and selling out shows all over the world. Public Enemy should be acknowledged for the fact that they made being pro black and intellgent very cool.
What I loved about them were that they were never afraid to speak on the harsh reality of the mistreatment among blacks. They were the true voice for the voiceless and blessed us with many hip hop classics. People may give Flava Flav a bad wrap for shucking and jiving on VH1 or wifing up ugly white women(Bridget Nelson) but all of that is soon forgotten when you Flava hit the stage with his crew performing the classics such as Fight the Power, Bring the Noise, and Shut Em Down. All of that becomes a premier afterthought: