In the past 20 years, there have been many artists and groups to come and go, but only a select few have managed to change the terrain of music across all genres. One of these groups, one that has refused to sit silently and become a flash in the pan is Public Enemy. Chuck D. and Flavor Flav, have managed to influenced group after group, spanning not just hip-hop, but punk, metal, and mainstream pop. Public Enemyâ€šÃ„Ã´s legendary production work from Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad has influenced electronic artists such as DJ Shadow, Tricky, and many others.How is it that a group, one that is so raw, so verbally intense, make such a mark in a music culture where the norm is to candy coat and make everything pretty? Public Enemy has never limited themselves to the hip-hop genre, they have always been willing to span genres to spread their message, one of unity, of black consciousness, of education. Refusing to be limited to their own style of music, PE even teamed up with the metal group Anthrax in 1991 and re-released â€šÃ„ÃºBring Tha Noize.â€šÃ„Ã¹
Even now, their current efforts span and break genre borders, including songs such as â€šÃ„ÃºWhat Good Is A Bomb?â€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºSon of a Bush.â€šÃ„Ã¹ By refusing to limit themselves, Public Enemy has become legendary without compromising their intentions. Chuck D.â€šÃ„Ã´s outspoken views and support of the digital distribution of music and MP3 downloading have also been monumental in changing how people acquire and listen to music.
Even with their large amount of success, PE has not been without their share of problems. Former members of PE, including Sistah Souljah and Professor Griff (who is now back with them as of 2002), have been quoted as saying anti-white and anti-Semitic remarks, which, for a group that talks very much about unity, is a major issue. Also, Flavor Flavâ€šÃ„Ã´s addiction to cocaine, and proceeding lockup, did not help them purport their message either.
One of the major problems seems to be is that most of PEâ€šÃ„Ã´s fanbase tends to be older, fans who have been following them since they started. While band loyalty is a great thing, PEâ€šÃ„Ã´s positive message needs to reach the younger generation. Why is it that fansites and such tend to be not from 15-17 year olds, but from people in their mid to late 20â€šÃ„Ã´s? Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s not because they are too old (although Flavor Flav is pushing 45, and Chuck D. is around 40), or because they are boring to listen to these days. More than likely, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s their lyrical content, and their outspoken, messages that these days limit who listens to them. When PE was on the top of the world, the other artists out there were KRS-1, the Beastie Boys, NWA, and many others. Each one of these hip-hop groups was extreme in their own way, and at that time (late 80â€šÃ„Ã´s to early 90â€šÃ„Ã´s), Public Enemy fit well, being the positive political message in, at that time, a very intense hip-hop renaissance. These days though, hip-hop on the whole tends to be devoid of a positive message, with rappers spouting about killing, getting high, and how much money they have. Public Enemy, on the other hand, says to work hard, stay in school, and learn how to be a part of your community, of society as a whole. Public Enemyâ€šÃ„Ã´s message, while positive, is the long hard road, in a society where people tend to want the easiest way to get what they want.
In spite of this fact (or maybe because of it) Public Enemy pushes on, releasing album after album that causes the listener to listen actively, with beats that donâ€šÃ„Ã´t fit the traditional hip-hop mold, and lyrics that are as extreme as Flavor Flavâ€šÃ„Ã´s outfits.
The Bomb Squad, Public Enemyâ€šÃ„Ã´s original production team, was led by the legendary Hank Shocklee, and managed to come up with sounds on their 1st 4 albums that changed the face of hip-hop forever. In 1987, while most hip-hop was using the same repetitive beats over and over again, the Bomb Squad would sample from sources that werenâ€šÃ„Ã´t nearly as common. Sounds that by themselves were boring, possibly agitating to the ear, had now found a home.
With the Bombsquad and Rick Rubinâ€šÃ„Ã´s amazing production, Public Enemy had managed to change the face of hip-hop, making it a whole new ball game. Besides this, Public Enemy changed the formula for hip-hop that was so standard. With Terminator X on the turntables, wit his large sunglasses hiding his eyes, and never talking or showing any emotion while scratching, helped to make their stage presence a real spectacle. In addition to X, PE also had the S1Wâ€šÃ„Ã´s (Security of the 1st World), who would stand on stage in full military regalia, holding fake uziâ€šÃ„Ã´s while standing in cages, gave the stage a more sinister, empowering appearance. Add this to Flavor Flavâ€šÃ„Ã´s insane style of dress and Chuck D.â€šÃ„Ã´s smooth, yet politically charged vocals, and they had something totally different from anything before it.
A quick rundown from 1987 to 1991 gives listeners some amazing songs, including â€šÃ„ÃºSophisticated Bitch,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºMYUZIWEGHSATON,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºWelcome to the Terrordome,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºFight the Power,â€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºHow To Kill a Radio Consultant.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Tracks such as these, and many others, have managed to make Public Enemyâ€šÃ„Ã´s influence on current music easily seen, even in the liner notes of current albums from other artists.
Albums from Dead Prez, Downset, Rage Against the Machine, Chemical Brothers and the Suicide Machines all have thank youâ€šÃ„Ã´s out to PE, showing how far their influence has gone. Even groups such as NOFX give odeâ€šÃ„Ã´s to Public Enemy, â€šÃ„ÃºIâ€šÃ„Ã´m watching Michael Moore expose the awful truth/Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m Listening to Public Enemy and Reagan Youth.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Flavor Flav even worked with Taking Back Sunday on their one track, â€šÃ„ÃºYouâ€šÃ„Ã´re So Last Summer,â€šÃ„Ã¹ which helped kick off their tour in mid 2003.
Over the past few years, one of PEâ€šÃ„Ã´s main focusâ€šÃ„Ã´ has been the usage of digital music, and how people get their music. In 1999, Public Enemy broke all the rules, eliminated the middle man, and basically gave a large middle finger to the record industry when they released Thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s A Poison Going On online, two weeks before it went in stores. Many retailers even today refuse to stock this album because of this act of disobedience.
On publicenemy.com, Chuck D. has writings approximately twice a month, which deal with various topics, from the government and various problems in it, to the current states of hip-hop and popular music in general. Chuck D. is also a recognized speaker at many high schools and colleges, going over his background and experiences in college, as well as promoting a positive message to stay in school, work hard, and stay intelligent.
Of all the groups that I have listened to since I was 12, Public Enemy has always been one of the top on my list. If the world was going to explode, Public Enemy would be the soundtrack, if not the driving force behind it. Even now, putting on It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back gives me a certain feeling in my stomach, not one of nostalgia, but one of a needing of change, one of anger for the injustices and inequalities in our society. If it wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t for PE, I probably wouldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t be the person I am today, and for that I am thankful.
Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s been 16 years since the Hard Rhymer (Chuck D.) and the Juice (Flavor Flav) came out on the music world. 16 years of hard, intense lyrics and genre-defying songs. Public Enemy has done so much for the music world, and for the world in general, that it seems insane to pick anyone else as one of the most influential groups in the last 20 years. While many acts are just a flash in the pan, PE has managed to stay true and honest, not caring what the critics wanted or said, spreading their message in as many ways as possible. Hopefully the influence that Public Enemy has made on the music world will always be recognized.