Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet
Chuck D - Messenger Of Prophecy (Vocals)
Flava Flav - The Cold Lamper (Vocals, Surrealist Humour)
Terminator X - Assault Technician (DJ)
Professor Griff - Minister Of Information (Chereography)
Def Jam Records.
#300 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Of All Time.
#33 on Q's Top 100 Albums Ever.
There's one moment on this album that seems to sum up PE's whole career. It closes the album, as a short skit after Fight The Power. An anonymous man asks 'Talk to me about the future of Public Enemy.' The response? 'The future of Public Enemy gotta....' Then he's cut off before he can answer.
One could be forgiven for believing that Public Enemy only made 3 records - the debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show, the incendiary It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, and this album, Fear Of A Black Planet. It seems that musical historians have completely forgotten about Revolverlution, Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age, or anything the group released after 1990. The first 3 albums Chuck D's crew unleashed on the world form hip-hop's holy trinity; albums that came out of nowhere, detonated like a nuclear bomb, and will probably never be beaten by anybody. These three records make all other hip-hop seem insignificant by comparison. Who cared about some so-called DAISY age when there was racism, ignorance, and media hypocricy to be rallying against? I guess it's unsurprising. If we take these three records as PE's whole career, it constitutes the most consistent, influential, and powerful career in musical history.
Of course, Public Enemy were, and remain, hip-hop's foremost political activists. You'll notice that any hip-hop record released today that tackles politics quotes Chuck D or Flava Flav SOMEWHERE (not to mention that a ton of rock groups have quoted them too, from Weezer, to the Manic Street Preachers, to Limp Bizkit). They stand as probably music's second most credible and important political force, too, behind The Clash. (Don't even get me started on Rage Against The Machine, who ripped off PE's every move and somehow got away with it.)
Fear Of A Black Planet has two recurring themes - inter-racial relationships (and the white community's fear of them - hence the album title), and the racism inherent in the American media. Racism has always been an issue in Public Enemy's music, but here their anger is more focused and streamlined. There's Burn Hollywood Burn, an attack on the racist, exploitative roles given to black actors. There's the title track, which admonishes middle America for its hatred of the idea of inter-racial relationships, and asks 'What wrong with a little colour in your family tree?'. Pollywannacracker flips the script on the theme, attacking the members of the black community who've been led to believe that they need a white partner, and that fellow blacks aren't good enough for them. Revolutionary Generation, meanwhile, tackles the sexism within the black community, and within hip-hop culture.
Clearly, Public Enemy here have a lot to talk about. The atmosphere, as always, is interspersed with Flava Flav skits, where he adds an element of surreal humour (something he's still doing even now, in Tacking Back Sunday's 'You're So Last Summer' video). On Fear Of A Black Planet, he interjects with 'Suppose she says she loves me?' - a taunt to the white folks who for some reason believe black men are here to steal their women. It conjures up the image of a weedy, bigmouthed guy trying to start a fight, while surrounded by 7ft bodyguards. Flav gets two solo tracks here, too. Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man is just strange, but funny. 911 Is A Joke, meanwhile, has a message (namely, that 911 is a joke), but it feels like a diversion, simply because it doesn't really fit with the themes of the album. This track was released as a single, which surprises me, although you can't deny that it's catchy as hell.
Ironically, the best track here, and the one song that seems to sum up Public Enemy's whole career, is one of the most vague. Fight The Power, originally recorded for the soundtrack of the Spike Lee film, Do Tha Right Thing (which possibly explains why the song has no real theme, at least when compared to the rest of the album), and tacked onto the end of the album almost as an afterthought, could not have a provided a better fanfare to end Public Enemy's trinity of classics. It comes across like the funkiest protest march in history, and if nothing else, it contains one of the best raps EVER. Check this -
Originally Posted by Fight The Power
Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me
Ya see, straight up racist the sucker was simple and plain
Motherfuck him and John Wayne!
Cause I'm Black and I'm proud
I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find
Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check this
'Don't Worry, Be Happy' was a number one jam
Damn, if I say it you can slap me right here!
In Brothers Gonna Work It Out, Chuck tells us that in 1995, we'll twist to this. In a month's time, it'll be 10 years beyond that date, and this record still has all it's original impact. Hip-hop has a habit of moving at such a pace that records date in a matter of years, but Fear Of A Black Planet is utterly timeless. Musically, it's funky, avant-garde, dense, and original (and it uses live instrumentation, as if that matters). Lyrically, it's inspired, intelligent, emotive, and angry as hell. The distance between this record and It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, quality-wise, is microscopic. Maybe this is slightly inferior, but what does that mean? That it's the second greatest hip-hop record ever, instead of the first?
Essential, in every sense.
Within The Genre - 5/5
Outside The Genre - 5/5
Recommended Downloads -
The whole album, basically. Though, if you're trying before you're buying, here are the highlights -
Fight The Power
Every great band has one polemic song that defines them, and contains all the things that made them so good. Led Zeppelin have Kashmir. The Specials have Ghost Town. Metallica have One. And Public Enemy have Fight The Power. The track is summed up above (see those lyrics).
Burn Hollywood Burn
One of the most dancable tracks on the album, featuring Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane (basically a dream team of 80s rap). The song attacks Hollywood's exploitation of blacks. Flava Flav gets a spot here, as a movie director tries to hire him to play 'a controversial negro', who turns out to be an incompetent servant.
Misogyny plays a large part in hip-hop, which is a sad state of affairs, and one that Chuck rails against here. Features one of the album's most memorable slogans - 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T; my sister's not my enemy', and one of the most bare-knuckled dissections of American history Chuck ever put to wax. As the music falls back, Chuck and Flav tell us how 'They disrespected mama and treated her like dirt. America took her and shaped her, raped her - no, it never made the papers!' Chuck also accuses the black males of today of doing nothing to change this attitude. Clearly, this song still has a lot of relevance, especially in the Asian community.
Fear Of A Black Planet
A storming title track, which most directly addresses the album's theme of inter-racial relationnships. Lyric after lyric hits like a bullet - 'What's wrong with a little colour in your family tree?'; 'But suppose she said she loved me - would you still love her, or would you dismiss her?'; 'All I want is peace and love on this planet - ain't that how God planned it?' Interspersed are radio samples that mention the issue.
The vocal here isn't done by Chuck D or Flava Flav - whoever does do it, they aren't credited. In any case, it's spoken rather than rapped, over a minimalist backing featuring plenty of soulful vocal samples. The song deals with members of the black community who feel that other black people aren't good enough for them - the examples given are those of a black male who has become rich and decided he needs to white women to match his personality, and a woman who wants a white man, because black men don't earn enough. The song, therefore, avoids hypocricy, and avoids placing all the blame on one gender. The final verse brings everything together -
This system had no wisdom. The devil split us in pairs, and taught us white is good, black is bad, and black and white is STILL too bad....
Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
Asian Dub Foundation - Enemy Of The Enemy
Rage Against The Machine - Evil Empire