Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet



January 16th, 2005 | 89 replies

Release Date: 1990 | Tracklist

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)

Released 1990.
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.

Revolutionary Generation
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....

Further Listening
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

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Comments:Add a Comment 
November 28th 2004


One of the best reviews i've ever seen. I'd give you more rep if I could.

Keep up the good work Iai :cool:

November 28th 2004


[QUOTE=AfroMan]One of the best reviews i've ever seen. I'd give you more rep if I could.

Keep up the good work Iai :cool:[/QUOTE]

Oh, wait I can. Nice one

The Ashtray Girl
November 28th 2004


[QUOTE=AfroMan]One of the best reviews i've ever seen. I'd give you more rep if I could.

Keep up the good work Iai :cool:[/QUOTE]

123, I only just repped you for your other review - I just can't keep up!

Superb, you've really opened my eyes to a band I knew hardly anything about.

November 28th 2004


[QUOTE=Iai]What do you guys think about the idea of 'Further Listening'? Good? Bad?[/QUOTE]

Good, I do it except 'Similar Artists'.

The Ashtray Girl
November 28th 2004


Once again, 123ing it.

keep on phishin'
November 28th 2004


Wow, great review.

I really need to check out Public Enemy sometime.

November 28th 2004


Looks like I have some more PE to get
Rage never did deny they were Heavily influenced by these guys
Chuck must have been ok with it seeing as he's collaborated with them a few times well at least with Zack :thumb:

Robert Crumb
November 29th 2004


Dear congregation, Brother Iai has spoken much truth. Amen.

Best review ever. Since you asked about the 'Further Listening,' I'd say it's fine, though I'll admit I've never checked out the Asian Dub Foundation. I would have suggested Boogie Down Productions' Criminal Minded as well, KRS-One being Chuck D's main lyrical contemporary at the time. Also, Mr. Lif is a great reference point to a newer rapper heavily influenced by D, I Phantom and his Def Jux EP, Emergency Rations are pretty quality.

Zesty Mordant
November 29th 2004


awesome album and a very well-done and thorough review. the bit at the end for further listening is a nice touch as well.

on a related note, didn't Chuck D. withdraw his statement about Elvis in "fight the power" awhile ago, saying that he exaggerated it?

November 29th 2004


W00t, nice review. Who DOESN'T like PE? Rep++

November 29th 2004


I don't have this one, but good review. :thumb:

Cky Andrioid
April 11th 2005


Favorite Public Enemy album, 911 is a joke is my favorite rap song of all time.

Two-Headed Boy
June 8th 2006


Spicy review. I must say, Public Enemy were incredibly talented, and this ties with Millions in my opinion. It's sad how Flava Flav has been reduced to "Flavor Of Love". He had some talent.

June 10th 2006


i haven't heard his album except of course "fight the power". I love PE tho so i shud check this out.

June 10th 2006


ace review man. this group is awesome

June 21st 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

How's P.E.'s 4th album? I know the singles ("Arizona," the Anthrax tune) but that is all.

I've been listening to Fear a ton lately ... Chuck D, you beast!

September 2nd 2006


(Don't even get me started on Rage Against The Machine, who ripped off PE's every move and somehow got away with it.)

I disagree, there is a great deal of difference between PE and RATM. Ok so PE were a clear influence on RATM, but tehy were generally heavier as an act and tbh i only see similarites but no evidence of anyone ripping anyone else off.

September 2nd 2006


the review is great though

September 3rd 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Wow, Public Enemy is the best rap group ever. They're the best thing to ever happen to the genre.

Brain Dead
September 3rd 2006


Album Rating: 3.5

I actually don't think they're that spectacular at rapping. They get a lot of credit for their intelligent political views, and they certainly have an abundance of those. But in terms of actual rhyming skill, Chuck D and his crew are torched by such rappers as Nas, Jay-Z, and 2Pac.

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