By tackling racism head on in songs such as “Burn Hollywood Burn,” “911 Is a Joke” and “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” rap outfit Public Enemy emerged during the late 1980s as one of the most politically charged music groups in history. This Public Enemy biography shows how the militant rappers rose to stardom.
With members DJ Terminator X, choreographer Professor Griff and MCs Flavor Flav and Chuck D., the Long Island group formed in 1982.
Public Enemy’s first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, dropped five years later on Def Jam Records. Despite praise from critics and hard core hip-hop fans, the album failed to make an imprint on mainstream music lovers. That group’s next release, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, would be received much differently.
Released in 1988, the album exposed the masses to Flavor Flav’s high-octane comic antics, Chuck D.’s vitriolic rhymes and the martial arts infused choreography of Griff set to aggressive mixing and hard-hitting beats. It Takes a Nation… spawned the hits “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” Featuring excerpts of speeches made by controversial black figures Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan, the album went on to sell more than a million copies.
In 2003, Rolling Stone named It Takes a Nation… No. 48 on its list of the 500 greatest albums.
“Loud, obnoxious, funky, avant-garde, political, uncompromising, hilarious—Public Enemy’s brilliant second album is all of these things and, on nearly every track, all at once,” Rolling Stone characterized the album.
When Spike Lee featured “Public Enemy’s” single “Fight the Power” on the soundtrack to his 1989 film “Do the Right Thing,” the politically charged rap group built on the popularity its second album had already garnered for it. With fame, of course, often comes backlash, which Public Enemy faced when member Professor Griff, and later Chuck D., were accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.
Whatever damage was caused by the controversy vanished with the 1990 release of Fear of a Black Planet. The album