Public Enemy rewrote the rules of hip-hop, becoming the most influential and controversial rap group of the late '80s and, for many, the definitive rap group of all time. Building from Run-D.M.C.'s street-oriented beats and Boogie Down Productions' proto-gangsta rhyming, Public Enemy pioneered a variation of hardcore rap that was musically and politically revolutionary. With his powerful, authoritative baritone, lead rapper Chuck D rhymed about all kinds of social problems, particularly those plaguing the Black community, often condoning revolutionary tactics and social activism. In the process, he directed hip-hop toward an explicitly self-aware, Pro-Black consciousness that became the culture's signature throughout the next decade. Musically, Public Enemy were just as revolutionary, as their production team, the Bomb Squad, created dense soundscapes that relied on avant-garde cut-and-paste techniques, unrecognizable samples, piercing sirens, relentless beats, and deep funk. It was chaotic and invigorating music, made all the more intoxicating by Chuck D's forceful vocals and the absurdist raps of his comic foil Flavor Flav. With his comic sunglasses and an oversized clock hanging from his neck, Flav became the group's visual focal point, but he never obscured the music.
Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) formed Public Enemy in 1982, as he was studying graphic design at Adelphi University on Long Island. He had been DJing at the student radio station WBAU, where he met Hank Shocklee and Bill Stephney. All three shared a love of hip-hop and politics, which made them close friends. Def Jam co-founder and producer Rick Rubin heard a tape of "Public Enemy No. 1" and immediately courted Ridenhour in hopes of signing him to his fledgling label. Chuck D initially was reluctant, but he eventually developed a concept for a literally revolutionary hip-hop group -- one that would be driven by sonically extreme productions and socially revolutionary politics. Enlisting Shocklee as his chief producer and Stephney as a publicist, Chuck D formed a crew with DJ Terminator X (born Norman Lee Rogers), Professor Griff (born Richard Griffin) and Brother James (James Norman), Brother Roger(Roger Chillous), Brother Mike(Michael Williams) and James Bomb known as the Security of the First World or the SIW’s. He also asked his old friend William Drayton to join as a fellow rapper. Drayton developed an alter-ego called Flavor Flav, who functioned as a court jester to Chuck D's booming voice and somber rhymes in Public Enemy.
Public Enemy's debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was released on Def Jam Records in 1987. Its spare beats and powerful rhetoric were acclaimed by hip-hop critics and aficionados, but the record was mainstream. However, the second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, was impossible to ignore. A Nation of Millions was hailed as revolutionary by both rap and rock critics, and it was -- hip-hop had suddenly become a force for social change. Public Enemy spent the remainder of 1989 preparing their third album, releasing "Welcome to the Terrordome" as its first single in early 1990. Despite controversy, Fear of a Black Planet was released to enthusiastic reviews in the spring of 1990, and it shot into the pop Top Ten as the singles "911 Is a Joke," "Brothers Gonna Work It Out," and "Can't Do Nuttin' for Ya Man" became Top 40 R&B hits. Their next album, 1991's Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black was greeted with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Apocalypse 91 was released that fall and debuted at number four on the pop charts. In the fall of 1992, they released the remix collection called Greatest Misses. Public Enemy was on hiatus during 1993 returning in the summer of 1994 with Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age. Chuck D reassembled the original Bomb Squad and began work on three albums. In the spring of 1998, Public Enemy kicked off their major comeback with their soundtrack to Spike Lee's He Got Game, which was played more like a proper album than a soundtrack. Upon its April 1998 release, the record received the strongest reviews of any Public Enemy album since Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black. The group signed with the web-savvy independent Atomic Pop and released their seventh LP titled, There's a Poison Goin' On in 1999. After a three-year break from recording and a switch to the In the Paint label, Public Enemy released Revolverlution, a mix of new tracks, remixes, and live cuts.
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