What would Hip Hop be like without Public Enemy? For many, Hip Hop would be a stale genre that died off a long time ago. Many like to reduce Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, DJ Lord and the S1Ws and the team to just being a ‘conscious‘ rap group that gave this culture political swag.
Yes, while it’s true there’s no denying Public Enemy broke ground as a politically minded group, it should be noted they were by no means the first to drop science. Nor were they the only ones to drop science, during the Golden Era in the late 80s, early 90s when they first hit the scene. Groups like KRS-One, Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan and Queen Latifah to name a few, all came to the table with message oriented raps. Prior to them we had groups like Grandmaster Flash, Whodini, Run DMC and Kool Moe Dee who gave us songs to grow on…
What often gets overlooked about Public Enemy is their innovativeness on a number of fronts. First and foremost they elevated the art of sampling and created a style called cram sampling. They made music that was built upon layers and layers of sound that was carefully curated. The group would spend hours hunting down obscure records and then chopping them up only to have them buried under other obscure records they chopped up and buried.
Group members like Professor Griff, the Minister of Information would spend hours combing through speeches and archival footage that would layer be woven into each Public Enemy song. This was on top of the cuts and scratches done by team members like Johnny Juice, Terminator X and now DJ Lord.
All that was complimented with the booming voice of Chuck D which cut through the noise and the well timed vocal punches, adlibs and quick verses of Flavor Flav. The group took sound in directions music hasn’t gone before.
The way they made records via their production team called The Bomb Squad which included brothers Hank and Keith Shockalee along with Eric ‘Vietnam’ Saddler was done so that you heard something different each time you listened to a song and album. Public Enemy made living breathing recordings which we havent seen the likes of to this day.
Once the industry evolved and put laws in place that curtailed sampling, Public Enemy flipped the script and started using a live instruments and to this day travel the world with a live band called The Banned which is headed up by Professor Griff.
Public Enemy broke ground by seeing the world as their stage. There were others who came before them that broke ground internationally, but PE took this to new heights. They have long called themselves global citizens with Chuck D constantly advocating for us to get passports and see the planet. The group has circled the globe on world tours over 100 times with no end in sight. Each country and city visited was never such in which the group stayed holed up in a fancy hotel, but instead these were grounds where they fostered strong relationships that have lasted over their 30 years as a group.
We haven’t even gotten into the major ground Public Enemy broke in terms of the internet. They pioneered recording and using the internet as a distribution platform. They been on the web long before most even heard of the word internet. On their 5th album Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, Chuck D and long time friend Harry Allen aka the Media Assassin recorded a song which was actually a phone conversation called ‘Harry Allen’s Interactive Super Highway Phone Call to Chuck D‘ where the two talk about the future of music and how it would play out over the internet. What was said in that song recorded in 1994 has since come to pass with eerie accuracy.
The show Public Enemy put on the other night during the Art of Rap tour in San Francisco was one to marvel at as they showed and proved the heights Hip Hop has and can continue to make. There’s is no wonder why the group has been inducted into the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame. Below are photos I took as they got busy. Enjoy