80s Music

Artist Profile: Public Enemy

Formed in 1986 in Long Island, New York, Public Enemy is a hip hop group that consists of Flavor Flav, DJ Lord, Keith Schocklee, and Chuck D. Keith. They are popularly known for their politically charged music, their active interest in the concerns of the African American community, and their criticism of the American media. Throughout their career, Public Enemy had gold and platinum records and they have been hailed as one of the most influential bands of their time. In this article, we are going to know more about Public Enemy and their contributions in the music industry.

Formation and Early Years

While he was studying graphic design at Adelphi University in Long Island, Chuck D or Carlton Ridenhour formed the group called Public Enemy in 1982. He had been working as a DJ at the student-operated radio station called WBAU when he met Bill Stephney and Hank Shocklee. The three of them noticed that they all shared a love for politics and hip hop which made their bond even stronger. Hank Shocklee had been arranging hip-hop demo tapes where Ridenhour rapped over a song entitled Public Enemy No. 1. And during that same Ridenhour appeared on Bill Stephney’s radio show under the pseudonym Chuck D. Fortunately for them, Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin heard the tape Public Enemy No. 1 and immediately liked the song. He then asked Ridenhour to sign a record contract with his fledging label.

At first, Chuck D was reluctant to accept the offer but he eventually thought and developed a concept for a revolutionary hip hop group. That’s why he accepted the offer and enlist Stephney as his publicist and Shocklee as his chief producer. Chuck D also teamed up with DJ Terminator X and a choreographer Richard Griffin or popularly known as Professor Griff. Chuck D also asked his childhood friend, William Drayton or Flavor Flav to join the group as a fellow rapper.

In 1987, Public Enemy released their debut album called Yo! Bum Rush the Show under Def Jam Records. The album featured powerful rhetoric and spare beats which was recognized by hip hop aficionados and critics. However, despite the positive reviews, the album did not quite make it to the hip hop and R&B mainstream scene. But their second album called Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was just impossible to ignore. The album had a dense and chaotic mix that match Chuck D’s rhetoric rhymes and Flavor Flav’s wild and funny raps. Their second album was named as a revolutionary album by both rock and rap critics. It also changed the hip hop music scene because Public Enemy showed that hip hop could be a force for social change. 

Mainstream Career

As Public Enemy’s career rose, they were also bombarded with controversies especially when it comes to the lyrics of their songs. There were incidents such as Professor Griff making anti-semitic remarks on stage claiming that the majority of the mischief that happens around the world were caused by Jews and Chuck D claimed that rap was the black CNN. Surrounded by a major crisis, Chuck D panicked. First, he fired Griff then brought him back to the group. However, Professor Griff attacked Public Enemy and Chuck D in an interview that led to his permanent exit from the group.

Public Enemy carried on and spent the rest of 1989 making and recording their third album. They released the single called Welcome to the Terrordome in early 1990 which became a hit single. In spring of 1990, the group finally released their album called Fear of a Black Planet which featured the top ten hit songs Brothers Gonna Work It Out and Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man. In 1991, the group released their album called Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black and for this album, Public Enemy collaborated with thrash metal band Anthrax and re-recorded the song Bring The Noise.

That was the first sign that Public Enemy was trying to reconcile with their white audience. Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Back received overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its release and it debuted on the fourth spot on the pop charts. But when 1992 came, Public Enemy began to lose their momentum, because as they toured with U2 on their second leg of their Zoo TV tour, Flavor Flav was reportedly involved in a handful of trouble with the law. And in the fall of 1992, Public Enemy released an album called Greatest Misses that featured remixes of their song. However, their attempt to keep their name viable failed because the album received a lot of nasty reviews.

Hiatus

In 1993, Public Enemy went on hiatus as Flavor Flav tried to get himself sober from drugs. After a year, Public Enemy returned and released their album called Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age. Before the album was released, it was exposed to a lot of negative reviews coming from The Source and Rolling Stone which affected the people’s perception of the album. Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age managed to debut at the 14th spot of the albums chart but it quickly lost its spot because the album failed to produce any hit singles. After this, Chuck D decided to retire Public Enemy from touring in 1995 and he also cut ties with Def Jam records. The following year, Chuck D released his first solo album called The Autobiography of a Mistachuck this was also the same time when he announced that he has plans to record a new album with Public Enemy.

Comeback

in 1997, Chuck D gathered the original Public Enemy member and they began to work on three albums. The following year, they kicked off their major comeback with the release of the soundtrack to the film He Got Game to which received a lot of positive reviews. After attempting and failing to bring Public Enemy’s music straight to the audience via the internet, Chuck D signed the group to the independent and web-savvy record label called Atomic Pop. That’s when the group released their album named There’s a Poison Goin’ On in MP3 format on the internet before releasing it physically on record stores in 1999.

Public Enemy took a break from recording for almost three years. During that time, they decided to switch record labels and move to the In the Paint record label where they released their album entitled Revolverlution. The album featured live cuts, new songs, and remixes of their songs. In 2005, they released the CD, DVD combo called It Takes a Nation which contained an hour-long video of their live performance in London in 1987 and rare remixes of their songs. That same year, Public Enemy released their eighth studio album called New Whirl Odor. And in 2007, they released their follow up album entitled How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul???

After the release and promotion of their album, Public Enemy entered a quiet phase in terms of recording. They only released a remix and rare compilation album called Beats and Places in 2011. The next year, Public Enemy came back with a bang and released two new full-length albums called Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp and Evil Empire of Everything. The group also embarked on a tour throughout 2012 and 2013. And in 2015, they released their 13th studio album entitled Mans Plans God Laughs. Chuck D eventually joined a supergroup named Prophets of Rage. In 2017, Public Enemy celebrated the 30th anniversary of their first album with the release of the free and self-released full-length album called Nothing is Quick in the Desert.

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