Public Enemy in 1988 [Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]I'm not a purist (rock 'n' roll is a hybrid) and I don't care about who's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I have a blog that's allegedly about music and it's now "timely" to write about the one hip-hop group that every white, male rock writer hailed as the second coming back in 1988 and then jumped ship when their records got ignored. (Turns out we missed a few good ones in between the dumb ones.)
Considering one-hit-wonders are as important to Rock 'n' Roll as artists who release the same album for twenty years, a group like Public Enemy, who made two bonafide classic LPs (one more than GnR and the Sex Pistols!) at a time when they were inventing their music, surely deserve immediate induction. Charges of "not-rock" are silly. Of all the hip-hop groups to share the times and college radio airwaves with the likes of the sleepy R.E.M. and contemporary Christian strains of U2, PE had the closest ties to rock 'n' roll, both in Chuck D's steely baritone and the Bomb Squad's uncompromising beats. And that was before they teamed with Anthrax. (Their use of Slayer was smarter, tho.)
Here are 25 reasons Public Enemy belong in the Hall and, more importantly, deserve your attention.
25) Contract On the World Love Jam: Public Enemy had been in a media sh**storm with some dumb things Professor Griff, their Minister of Information, had to say and so the opening of their Fear of a Black Planet album was the sound of Sly Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On and all the weariness that comes from dealing with a bad trip.
24) Pollywanacraka: Who doesn't love the idea of Chuck D sounding like Isaac Hayes on Quaaludes?
22) Sophisticated B**ch: The Vernon Reid electric guitar part should make some rock 'n' roll people happy! See everyone! Vernon's gone to find his electric guitar! But the song isn't likely to win many kudos for its sentiment, which seem to involve a young lady who the fellas in the band think is gold-digging and only wants to go out with guys with a refined wardrobe and who doesn't speak in street-slang. In other words, she's not interested in anybody in this group. So, it's the Rolling Stones' "Stupid Girl" all over again but different, eh?
21) Revolutionary Generation: Oh, wait, did we say that? No, we meant to say this. Though even here where the gents try to give a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the ladies, they compliment by saying, "Understand it takes a woman to make a stronger man (as we both get strong)." Guys, it might be better to not saying anything at all.
20) Harder Than You Think: 2007's Which Witch is Watching The Witch Watcher Watch The Wicked Witch Wind Her Wrist Watch? or I mean How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? turned out to be an overlooked comeback that finally got its due in Britain in 2012 during that Olympics thing.
19) How To Kill A Radio Consultant: Does anyone actually listen to commercial radio anymore?
18) Black Is Back: Turns out AC/DC didn't want the riff to "Back In Black" used in this tune, so PE reworked the track to please all parties. The owners of the pentatonic scale will surely now sue AC/DC, right?
17) Long and Whining Road: Chuck D even writes like a rock critic, sometimes. Here he's name dropping Bob Dylan references from Nashville Skyline to "Shelter From The Storm" and even throws a nod to a 13th Floor Elevators tune in there!
16) Fear of A Black Planet: Well, anyone who's been following this Presidency thing here with Barack Obama knows that "Black Man, White Woman" means "Black Baby." While some people have moved past the color of a person's skin, others would still like Mr. Obama's to be a shade lighter. At least we're just sitting here arguing over whether a band should be in this goofy little Hall of Fame. Aren't we a wee bit silly?
15) You're Gonna Get Yours: Never doubt the opening cut on a band's debut album. This kicks it off in style! In a 1987 (?) Oldsmobile '98. Now if a band blows their opener, ignore them. They're idiots.
14) Terminator X To the Edge of Panic: Public Enemy knew the importance of graphic design and they understood a group is a group is a group. Let's put it in a way that won't scare baby-boomers: Chuck D is the lead singer. Flavor Flav is the other singer. Professor Griff must be the bass player because he doesn't appear to be doing anything. And Terminator X is the drummer and/or the guy who owns all the equipment.
13) Rebel Without A Pause: The screeching tea-pot whistle was a masterstroke and the fact that they stuck it all over It Takes A Nation of Millions To Turn Us Multi-Platinum is just the kind of cheekiness we here at List of the Day! truly dig! Music to annoy your neighbors by? Sign us up! Those these days a Rosemary Clooney anthology might annoy more people!
12) Burn Hollywood Burn: So, how are those intelligent, educated black couples doing in those Woody Allen movies?
11) 911 Is A Joke: Sorry to disappoint you, Fox News. The song was released in 1990, so it's not about 9-11. It's about the horrible response time in urban neighborhoods when you dial for an emergency.
10) By The Time I Get To Arizona: Arizona's had a long track record of being pretty jerky. The heat will do it to you. Chuck D just wanted to make sure its state employees got Martin Luther King, Jr. Day off and so he wrote this little protest ditty, just like his ol' buddy Woody Guthrie might have done. Woody ain't just for Wilco! This Sampler Kills Fascists!
9) Party For Your Right To Fight: The reason why so many white rock critics liked these guys has something to do with the sheer velocity of the music. I don't think that audience was completely what Chuck D had in mind when he put together this "pro-Black radical mix" and name-checked Newton, Cleaver and Seale (though I do think we were on his mind somewhere). But you sell records to the audience you have and not the one you want.
8) She Watch Channel Zero?!: This is great. The girl here annoys everyone because she doesn't want to watch the Super Bowl and wishes to stick to her soap operas. Everyone has their stories to watch and everyone's a critic.
7) Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos: The Isaac Hayes sample is key and true to the transformative powers of hip-hop. Hayes had his come-on and Chuck D has his (I got GUSTO!). Who doesn't love a Jailbreak/ Escape From Alcatraz getaway?
6) Cold Lampin' With Flavor Flav: Chuck D knew he was blowhard. It's what makes him an effective leader. But he knew the band could use some comic relief. Imagine if U2 or Radiohead had their Ringo? So, just as Peter Criss came out from behind his drums to warble "Beth" for Kiss, Flavor Flav comes out to tell us what time it is without ever telling us the time!
5) Brothers Gonna Work It Out: Just like self-conscious rock stars who knew their legacy from the start, PE make reference to their last album and slow things down to reflect their personal trials and the general hassle of being the target of so much controversy (no, you can't piss anywhere, sirs!). "Brothers" takes the full-speed euphoria of It Takes A Nation of Millions To Buy Enough Magazines To Sell Enough Records…and chokes it at the opening.
4) Don't Believe The Hype: I remember reading a critic saying when this single came out that PE had to be rock 'n' roll since they complain about rock critics. Sorry to disappoint you Chuck, but the reason radio doesn't play you in the daytime isn't because radio's scared of you in the way you think but because radio never plays anything good during the day. You think we were rolling in Replacements tunes in the 1980s?
3) Bring The Noise: "Beat is the Father of your Rock 'n' Roll." "Roll with the rock stars, still never get accepted as." "A magazine or two is dissing me and dissing you." Chuck D was lining up his Hall of Fame credentials right from the start for those who would say he and his lads didn't belong in the same company as the Eagles, Billy Joel and Heart.
2) Fight The Power: The video never did much for me, though it worked better in Do The Right Thingy. I didn't want to see this music actualized. I wanted to imagine it as I heard it. One friend unintentionally gave the song a huge compliment when he criticized it as sounding like two guys arguing while a stereo blasts in another room. Who wouldn't want to hear a record like that?
1) Welcome To The Terrordome: The measure of a greater than great song is one that kicks off at a high level and then finds that next gear when it doesn't seem possible things could get more intense. Written as a press release to address Professor Griff's messy words, "Terrordome" bobs and weaves until it's made a mess of its own and you're not sure if Chuck's made things worse. But if you're not out of breath by the end of its 5 minutes and 26 seconds, then maybe you should stick with oldies radio or something. You're older than you think.