Public Enemy have been under the radar since 'Apocalypse '91', but it is difficult to work out why. 'Muse-Sick-N-Hour-Message' may not have sold as well, but that is definitely not because of a lack of quality beats. More likely it is because of two rising camps, with very different sounds. The aftermath of NWA
's Straight Outta Compton and De La Soul
's '3 Feet High and Rising'. It was certain that hip hop was headed on two very distinctive paths. Public Enemy could have easily fitted in with the west coast hardcore rap scene, these were about black empowerment through dissent. They could have fitted in with the Native Tongue's movement of black identity, happy music and witty rhyming.
But Chuck saw through the so called 'Gangsta Rap' scene. They went against it furiously, with louder beats, smarter rhymes and catchier hooks. First making their attack on ''One Million Bottlebags'' on Apocalypse '91 and then the more chilled out but smarter ''Give It Up'' the leading single from Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age.
Public Enemy were always the loudest, although on their next record 'He Got Game' they slowed the beat down a bit, they weren't ready to go down quietly yet. Their dense layered sound was not popular amongst fans of alternative Hip Hop. Although they would all profess to respect them since the bomb squad's production technique's were being used to make very diverse records such as '3 Feet High and Rising'.
The record builds up tension from the start, with a slow space launch countdown with samples of different political black speakers, along with dated racist media. This builds up into a furious yet considered rap from Chuck D backed by the highly entertaining delivery of Flavor Flav.
''Right versus wrong, good verses evil, God versus the devil; what side are you on"''
Definitely PE's funkiest singles ''Give It Up'' brilliantly mixes anti ''gangsta'' lyrics with Chuck D's bravado and Flavor Flav's shout outs. The drawling backing vocals add to the atmosphere of the track. One unusual feature of Chuck D's delivery on this track is his use of a growled Jamaican accent, although this is common of Afro-centric hip hop, I have not heard Chuck D do this before or since, which is a surprise as it works.
The next string of tracks really show off the skills and lessons learnt by the Bomb Squad making the previous PE record's with squealing guitars, almost endless drums and neighbour bothering bass. The lyrics of ''What Side You On"'', ''Bedlam 13:13'' and ''Stop in the Name..'' all spit angry wisdom about the state of predominantly black neighbourhoods and the foolishness of the “gang bangers’’ who influence the next generation. This record is definitely directed towards young black Americans, the previous records also crossed over to a white audience, and a European audience. It may be because the issues were less universal that this record was less popular. However, with gun crime rapidly rising in the UK, along with other violence seemingly replacing football hooliganism this record can still speak to people now. The vicious teenagers who spend their time in parks with bottles of cider (UK’s answer to the 40oz bottles) instigating violence and racism in the street, would certainly do well to listen to this record and read the booklet, to learn what the alcohol and drugs are doing to their young bodies and what violence will do to the community.
“What Kind Of Power We Got"” is the obligatory Flavor Flav solo joint on any PE record worth its weight in vynil. His rhymes vary from the irreverent “Cold Lampin’ With Flavor’’ to the surprisingly polemic “I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Niga’’ this one falls somewhere between along the lines of “911 is a Joke” it takes an unusual attack on a political issue along with a very danceable beat. Following both the theme of the record, which is African American gangs but also takes rhetoric aim at the government for taxing the poorest people so much for so little of the coiffeurs attention.
“Talkin’ that driveby ***, everyones talkin’ that gangsta ***”
Chuck D returns with another slow tempo anti gang joint, with its strong hook of the above quote, along with a bouncy organ driven beat reminiscent of the Jungle Brothers
which opens up for the second half with samples of Furious Styles anti gang speech from John Singleton’s “Boyz N The Hood’’ a film which has a very similar anti gang message, and that the racist media, and war mongering government are to blame.
Other tracks of note are “Race Against Time” which opens with a sample of James Brown
’s ‘’Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)’’ the best known track by the most sampled group EVER. Although Hip Hop had moved on from James Brown breakdown samples for all their music, this makes a welcome appearance.
Also “Thin Line Between Law and Rape” slows it down in the second half of the record, with its haunting organ samples and a guest appearance from dance hall toaster Kevin Boone.
All in all, this is may have been a commercial flop, but it is a very tight record louder and more consistent than the supposed classic ‘’Yo! Bumrush the Show” continues what Apocalypse ’91 started perfectly. The stars of the record are definitely the Bomb Squad. If only they had the confidence to put out another record without Professor Griff despite poor sales.