The group that changed Hip Hop forever when many in the industry were about to declare it dead by the end of the 1980’s. #publicenemy #hiphop #BHM2020
By the end of the 1980’s, it had almost seemed that the dream of a new type of urban music, Hip-Hop, had run its course. Albums by major artists at the time, including Run-DMC and Whodini, had been met with less than stellar sales and ever diminished expectations. Hip Hop was considered a minor genre, one that was about to run itself into history.
Part of this was due to the industry itself. Hip Hop, at the time, was by and large party music. After the ugly crash of Disco music at the end of the 1970’s, where major music labels lost truckloads of money on a scene that had experienced a less-than subtle racist, homophobic and misogynist backlash from white Rock fans, insiders were hesitant to spend money on music they believed could not “cross over”, especially from music that came from major cities by African-American artists.
Unlike today, where many Hip-Hop acts are attached to one of the three major labels left, the scene was birthed from minor, independent and regional labels, much like R&B and Rock and Roll were in the 1950’s. Within these labels grew entire new breeding grounds of sound that spoke to the very people in those regional areas: Hip Hop wasn’t just party music, but became, in the words of Public Enemy’s Chuck D., “Black people’s CNN.”
Leading the way was Public Enemy, started by Carlton Ridenhour (Chuck D) and William Drayton (Flavor Flav), who met while students at Adelphi University. Their first recordings stood out among the pack, not just being the traditional MC battles, but overtly political songs as well. They were signed to Def Jam, an independent, New York-based label founded by Rick Rubin, who had found fame with LL Cool J and distribution by one one of the biggest names in the music world, Columbia.
By the time of their second full-length LP, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, the template was set, the die was cast and all of a sudden, music journalists at major at influential media outlets took notice of this new band who were saying things no one had been saying for almost 20 years. Politics in music at the time was considered a career-killer, but this group, along with their DJ, Terminator X and the greatest production team assembled since Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, The Bomb Squad, they were making some of the most important and exciting music of any act anywhere.
After their career-defining single “Fight The Power” in 1989 and their career-defining LP in 1990, Fear of A Black Planet were released, the white power establishment were not just afraid, they were down right terrified. Here was a group of Black people speaking the truth to power and getting more and more people to not only listen, but openly support them. They endured a few major public embarrassments during this time as well, with the poor handling of Terminator X’s anti-Semitism, but rebounded in spectacular fashion. They even recruited a new member, Sister Soulja, the only woman in the PE family.
Even with momentum going full steam ahead, by and large, by 1992, Public Enemy would face internal strife and a sea change in Hip Hop. With the rise of West Coast rap and the Gangsta Rap sub-genre taking hold by that year, the message and power of Public Enemy seemed like that of conscious R&B and Funk acts two decades earlier, and a similar end result for the band happened. White audiences in the suburbs, now the primary record buyers of Hip Hop, were more comfortable in the sounds of laid back music where they could fantasize about being cool instead of hearing how their privilege decimates the lives of those not born with fair skin.
NOTE: This program contains language some may find objectionable.
- Welcome To The Terrordome, 1990, Fear of A Black Planet
- Don’t Believe The Hype, 1988, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
- Hazy Shade Of Criminal, 1992, Greatest Misses
- Can’t Truss It, 1991, Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black
- Public Enemy No. 1, 1987, Yo! Bum Rush The Show
- 911 Is A Joke, 1990, Fear Of A Black Planet
- Buck Whylin’, 1991, Terminator X & The Valley Of The Jeep Beets
- Night Of The Living Baseheads, 1988, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
- By The Time I Get To Arizona, 1991, Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black
- The Hate That Hate Produced, 1992, 360 Degrees Of Power
- Fight The Power [Soundtrack Version], 1989, Do The Right Thing soundtrack
- Bring The Noise (Featuring Anthrax), 1991, single release
Love to you all.
Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr.
Host, Producer, Researcher, Audio Engineer, Webmaster and Writer
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