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Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet

Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet
March 20, 1990
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
070/100
Public_Enemy-Fear_Of_A_Black_Planet-Frontal
1. Contract on the World Love Jam // 2. Brothers Gonna Work It Out // 3. 911 Is a Joke // 4. Incident at 66.6 FM // 5. Welcome to the Terrordome // 6. Meet the G. That Killed Me // 7. Pollywanacraka // 8. Anti-Nigger Machine // 9. Burn Hollywood Burn (feat. Ice Cube & Big Daddy Kane) // 10. Power to the People // 11. Who Stole the Soul? // 12. Fear of a Black Planet // 13. Revolutionary Generation // 14. Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man // 15. Reggie Jax // 16. Leave This Off Your Fucking Charts // 17. B Side Wins Again // 18. War at 33⅓ // 19. Final Count of the Collision Between Us and the Damned // 20. Fight the Power

This record has shock tactics written all over it, well compared to Public Enemy’s previous album that is, not in the grander scheme of things. It’s not as though It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back shied away from potential controversy. It most certainly did not. But it didn’t have a song titled Burn Hollywood Burn on it either. Perhaps the absence of Rick Rubin allowed them to speak their minds in a less politically correct manner. After all, would it really be a good idea for a white guy to man the boards, recording a song called The Anti Nigger Machine, social commentary or not? It certainly was a bad idea for group member Professor Griff to make anti semitic remarks in a Washington Times interview not long before Fear of a Black Planet was to be created, publicity stunt or not. It is for this reason he was given the boot by Chuck D, albeit temporarily, and he didn’t participate in the recording either.

I don’t know why it is that Rubin left. He is jewish and Griff did say some vile shit about god’s chosen people, but like I said: that racist motherfucker was out. Maybe Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad figured that two albums into their career they had enough knowledge, experience and a sizeable enough fanbase of their own to get by without him. Fact is that Rubin did leave and the difference in sound quality is immediately noticeable. It’s not like the Bomb Squad fail to bring the noise, they certainly are competent producers. But the beats do sound somewhat less rich and polished than they did under Rubin. The difference isn’t huge or anything, but it is there.

Besides the sound being slightly less tight overall and the guys getting a little more caustic, possibly under the influence of their new friend Ice Cube who in 1990 was the agriest motherfucker on the planet, which is a story for another day, it is for the most part a continuation of the chosen direction for Chuck, Terminator X and Flav.
That “wall of noise” thing they had introduced the last time around had worked pretty well and Chuck D had always been as dope an MC as they come so why wouldn’t it be?

Fear of a Black Planet mostly concerns itself with institutional racism, which makes this album incredibly current since that discussion is very much a thing right now.
911 Is a Joke, mostly performed by Flavor Flav takes a dump on emergency help services for poorly responding to incidents in black majority neighbourhood areas.
Burn Hollywood Burn, which because of its line up is every old school head’s wet dream and rightfully so since it sounds terrific, is about negative portrayal of black people in tv. series and films. On the Incedent at 66.6FM the Beastie Boys get called out, possibly for being a white band stealing and polluting appropriating and gentrifying a traditionally black artform.
The title track goes against anti-interracial relationship bigotry, and there are many other critiques of other forms of percieved racism on here. You can agree or disagree with the points being made, but you can’t say these guys don’t make them with gusto, flair and engagement, plus it generally makes for sonically fairly enjoyable music.

All things considered Fear of a Black Planet is a good album that should satisfy fans of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Fact is that it’s not quite as good as that album is, which could be attributed to the loss of Rubin and perhaps Professor Griff depending whether he actually did anything musical in the group, but that’s not necessarily crippling the listening experience. After all lots of music is both not as good as that album and nevertheless still perfectly listenable.

Best tracks
911 Is a Joke
Burn Hollywood Burn
Fear of a Black Planet
Fight the Power

Recommendation
Pick this up.


Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Public Enemy
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
June 28, 1988
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
090/100
it-takes-a-nation-of-millions-to-hold-us-back-by-public-enemy
1. Countdown to Armageddon // 2. Bring the Noise // 3. Don’t Believe the Hype // 4. Cold Lampin’ With Flavor // 5. Terminator X to the Edge of Panic // 6. Mind Terrorist // 7. Louder Than a Bomb // 8. Caught, Can We Get a Witness // 9. Show ’em Whatcha Got // 10. She Watch Channel Zero?! // 11. Night of the Living Baseheads // 12. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos // 13. Security of the First World // 14. Rebel With a Pause // 15. Prophets of Rage // 16. Party for Your Right to Fight

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was the album that broke rapper Chuck D, hypeman flava Flav and DJ Terminator X; collectively known as Public Enemy, to the masses and showed the world that there was a market for densely produced, vigourously performed rap songs about unapologetically Afrocentric subject matter and social commentary interchanged with swaggering party tracks. It outsold their more B-boy orented 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show and went gold within a week of release. Obviously they didn’t do all this alone. They were aided by the Bomb Squad, a production crew consisting of Hank Shocklee, his brother Keith, Eric “Vietnam” Sandler, G-Whiz and Chuck D himself. They developed a new hip-hop sound that was charactarised by the intrumental being packed to the gills with samples. It was later dubbed “the wall of noise”, analoguous to Phil Spector’s revolutionary “wall of sound” in the ’60s. The impressive thing is that that is hardly an overstatement. Compare how different for instance N.W.A sounded on N.W.A and the Posse and Straight Outta Compton. Then check out It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back, which came out a month before the latter and try to make the case that this album wasn’t a profound influence and that it didn’t pretty much reinvent rap music, changing it forever making it more musically complex and better in general.

You can’t because it did.

Overseeing this merry band of young, ambitious whippersnappers was super producer Rick Rubin who has a career trajectory that is pretty much unrivaled both in scope and in longevity. Dude produced everyone from Johnny Cash to Eminem, started working in 1982 and show no sign of slowing down today. It Takes a Million isn’t one of his lesser achievements.

Most good hip-hop combines music that sets a mood with a rapper with a unique mic presence and persona. It Takes a Million is no exception. Its storming beats are the perfect environment for Chuck D to land his equally intense vocals onto while Flava Flav rides shotgun. It Takes a Million is via the intro and a couple of skits framed as a live album which it most certainly is not. If however any hip-hop album is so energetic you can pretty much taste the music as it plays, as though it’s being constructed right in front of you, it is this one. The album kicks off with the pumping Bring the Noise and never loses stamina. The album never goes slower than midtempo and does even that only very rarely. The late ’80s were a simpler time for rap artists. “Slow jams for the ladies” were not yet necessary inclusions for Def Jam Records to consider a project for release, let alone weird EDM-rap mutations. In stead the listener is treated to a musical firestorm. You can disagree with these guys’ politics, but even then it would be incredibly difficult to deny the infectiousness of their music. Chuck D’s rhymes about his views on Nation of Islam and opression of blacks, among other subjects, are intense and authorative-sounding throughout.

It’s difficult to choose highlights from this album because it is an integral success and this is one of those albums which one should enjoy in its entirety. Still, personal favourites of yours truly are the rambunctious opener Bring the Noise, the teapot-whistle of Terminator X To the Edge later rebooted on Rebel Without a Pause, the fast-paced funk groove of Caught, Can We Get a Witness? The ’80s-rock tinged closer Party For Your Right to Fight is dope as hell, as are the ominous piano keys of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. Even the tracks that aren’t complete songs work: the sax-riff looping instrumental  Show ’em Whatcha Got and the also vocal-less drum break Security Of the First World are sound music making, the latter two later served as the basis for completely different songs by other artists: Rump Shaker by Wrecx-N-Effect and Justify My Love respectively, and many other songs via those tracks getting jacked.

If you haven’t yet heard It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back I suggest you drop everything and find a way to listen to it ASAP, it’s that good.

Best tracks
Bring the Noise
Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
Rebel With a Pause
Party For Your Right to Fight

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush the Show

Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show
April 1, 1987
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
080/100
Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show
1. You’re Gonna Get Yours // 2. Sophisticated Bitch // 3. Miuzi Weighs a Ton // 4. Time Bomb // 5. Too Much Posse // 6. Rightstarter // 7. Public Enemy No. 1 // 8. M.P.E. // 9. Yo! Bum Rush the Show // 10. Raise the Roof // 11. Megablast // 12. Terminator X Speaks With His Hands

While N.W.A was just starting take off in L.A. with their profane, violent lyrics about raising hell in Compton and South Central L.A. over Dre and Yella’s phoncky beats something else was brewing on the East-Coast of the USA.

Indeed Public Enemy largely bypassed the gangsta shit or rhyming about street life, selling drugs and fucking bitches, in stead they decided to rhyme about politics, the African-American community and the American media and all sorts of things much more serious and less hilariously graphic than their West-Coast contemporaries did, while their at-the-time Def Jam-assigned producer Rick Rubin, as well as PE’s own production team the Bomb Squad, couldn’t be bothered by Cali’s rather literal funk, and channels a somewhat more rock-tinged sound for Chuck D to rap over while Flava Flav props him up alongside him, eventually doing as much for “conscious hip-hop” as N.W.A did for gangsta rap.
For a group known as militant and political this debut sure is tame. It would seem that PE didn’t quite get political from the get-go since subject-wise they mostly tackle the same B-boy subjects that Run and Daryl were known for rapping about, nor did they set the world on fire with this album, since I cannot find an indication that Yo! Bum Rush the Show did platinum, or even gold numbers, or scored any big hits (back when record sales and radio were an actual indication of how many people actually were reached by a record).

As uncompromising as N.W.A was in their sound and lyrical content on Straight Outta Compton, they at the very least had prevalent sense of fun on some of the songs off their debut.  Songs like 8ball [Remix] or If It Ain’t Ruff may not have stood a ghost of a chance of getting played on the radio, but their sense of mischief and money maker-moving production paired with only made them extra suitable for fraternity parties.
Yo! Bum Rush the Show, because of being more acceptable to mom and dad’s ears and because of containing only one James Brown-sample, offers no such rebellious party function, which is probably why Yo! Bum Rush the Show didn’t go platinum on word of mouth, while Straight Outta Compton did.

Besides, few tracks go very far in expressing many of the profound but controversial beliefs PE is known for having (the dissing of gold digger-bitches on Sophisticated Bitch, the acquiring of a car on You’re Gonna Get Yours, the advise not to smoke crack on Megablast and the dismissal of sucker MCs on Public Enemy No. 1 are about the extent of the proceedings content-wise.)
The exception is Timebomb, which casually namedrops Kareem Abdul Jamar and adresses Apartheid and teen pregnancies among other similar subjects and Rightstarted (Message to a Black Man) which attempts to remind the black community of slavery and reasons about a link between high criminality rates among Afro-Americans and the white man holding the black man down. This is where the seeds of their 1988 breakthrough album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were sown.

Subject matter-wise Yo! Bum Rush the Show is varied enough to be consistently entertaining, with lots of old school-minded bragging, boasting and critiquing, as well as hints of social consciousness.
Technique alone elevates PE over the likes of RUN-DMC or the Sugar Hill Gang, who mostly rapped about the exact same subject matter, but never elaborately broke down any of these subjects the way Chuck D does, both content-wise and flow wise.
The beats are pretty fresh too. You’re Gonna Get Yours, an ode to Chuck’s beloved automobile has the kind of instrumental that would be equally well suited to score an ’80s race movie, with it’s jingling guitar, it’s booming bass and the scratching being substituted by car noises.
Sophisticated Bitch pairs rock guitars with hip-hop beats and takes one back to a time before soul and R&B were the obvious source material for hip-hop producers to sample.
Timebomb is the funkiest thing on here, which helps Chuck’s message go down and helps make the tone of the song activist rather than preachy.
Public Enemy Number One is the kind of propelling, minimal instrumental that manages to be both old school and timeless at the same time and makes anyone who rhymes over it sound good. (Even P. Daddy, when he jacked the beat wholesale for his song of the same name on his 1999 album Forever. A collection of songs with beats you’ve heard before elsewhere, better.)

Yo! Bum Rush the Show is a prime example hip-hop’s late ’80s coming of age. Chuck D (along with the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, N.W.A, the D.O.C., Ice-T and Schooly D) was one of the first to realise the genre’s potential lyrical complexity, all while, at the very least on this album, maintaining the old school sounds and mentality of those who came before him (RUN-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Sugarhill Gang). As such this is one of those albums every hip-hop historian should own, and an overlooked one at that. But since besides revolutionary and influential this is entertaining as hell from a music standpoint as well, fans of other musical genres that aren’t necessarily into hip-hop, should take this for a spin too.
You’ll rarely find an MC more authoritative-sounding than Chuck D and you will definitely never find a hypeman more engaging than Flava Flav. And with the Bomb Squad banging the beats and the legendary rock-producer Rick Rubin lending them a hand and overseeing this album’s creation you know what’s up.

Best tracks
You’re Gonna Get Yours
Public Enemy No. 1
Time Bomb

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Run-D.M.C. – King of Rock

Run-D.M.C.
King Of Rock
January 21, 1985
Profile RecordsArista Records/ SME
070/100
RUN-DMC - King of Rock

1.Rock The House // 2. King Of Rock // 3. You Talk Too Much // 4. Jam-Master Jammin’ // 5. Roots, Rock, Reggae // 6. Can You Rock It Like This // 7. You’re Blind // 8. It’s Not Funny // 9. Daryll And Joe (Krush Groove 3)

It’s 1985 and Run DMC releases its second album. The first album brought a whole new sound to the fledgling Hip-Hop genre. The eponymous debut was the first real Hip Hop album (as opposed to singles and compilations that were released prior) and so there were certain expectations for their sophomore album. Would the group still have its big beats, loud MC-ing, guitars and Jam Master Jay on the wheels of steel? Would Run DMC still have that edgy sound? Or would they switch up their style and once again revolutionise the genre, like they did last time around?

At the time of release this album became a commercial hit but that doesn’t answer any of these questions.

After repeated listens I did manage to find some answers.

Rock The House, announces itself with the expected big beats, accompanied by subtle rhythmic patterns. The MCs introduce themselves while the sparse sound is impressive. This track sounds fresh.

King Of Rock is the title track and filled with big beats, guitars, rhyming and has a rock-sound that slightly awakens my inner head banger. This track sounds so righteous in the description Rock-Rap. As I’m writing this track is on repeat for the third time in a row. DMC brags “And I even make the devil sell me his soul” and makes it sound believeable. So far this album is pretty bad-ass and meets the expections one has of Run DMC. The urge to play air guitar on the ending of this track helps make it a guilty pleasure. Seriously, give me a guitar!

You Talk Too Much is the third track and kind of brings the momentum to a halt.

Peep the chorus:

You talk too much.
You never shut up.
You talk too much.
You never shut up.

Guess what this track is about? Seriously this poppy sounding rapping over a typical instrumental, dissing people who talk too much after Rock-Rap awesomeness is part of the album? I’d rather read an entire phonebook than ever listening to this one again, less boring and repetitive. Apparently the song was a success in the 1985, but so were glow-in-the-dark spandex pants. Jam-Master Jammin picks up the pace again. Beats and samples with rock guitars shredding, sounding more enjoyable. Some rhyming by Run and Daryll and all is all good again, for now at least.

Roots, Rap, Reggae follows the raw beat driven sound with relaxing beats and a positive message. Yes alcohol and drugs are dangerous. Tell me something I don’t know… Can You Rock It Like This starts off sounding very poppy. A synthesizer, guitar and drum machine support the MCs in a track that rants about fame and being in the public eye. Lyrically this track is very interesting. Added bonus, you can dance the robot to it! Instrumentally this track is remarkable. It sounds Pop, has a disco feel with a Rock edge and manages to be is both catchy and lyrically meaningful. I’m slightly stunned by the awesomeness

You’re Blind is a soft-rocker with raw beat driven sound. The title should warn you but basically Run and Daryll talk about how people on the wrong path of life are “blind”. The epitome of preachy on this album.

It’s Not Funny, follows. It’s basically about dealing with setbacks in daily life. A preachy and bland low point, yet not so bad that you can’t practice your street dancing moves to it, if you ask me. Jam Master Jay’s productions is quite comical though. At least the humour isn’t lost in the sample.

Daryll And Joe closes the album. It’s a good closer since the lyrics are less preachy and more down to earth than what comes before it. Daryll: “I’ve got more hats than the mad hatter”. Instrumentally “Daryll And Joe” is a slow jam, groovy with some exceptional samples that give an epic feel to the overall sound.

Jam Master Jay made something special of this track.

After a few listens the album grew on me, even if though it is a mixed bag. The first two tracks are great. Jam-Master Jammin up to “Can You Rock It Like This” are good listens too. You Talk Too Much is godawful.  The preaching continues with You’re Blind and It’s Not Funny and Daryll And Joe are a good closing round. Basically their sound hasn’t changed at all, Run and DMC are still loudmouths. And the when Jay summons guitars there is a pleasant rock edge present.

The lyrics are still mostly preaching nursery-rhyming and rapping, and sometimes the duo overdoes it to its own disadvantage bordering on self-parody. I get the Sesame Street feel with the childish You Talk Too Much which makes me understand why some people don’t take this old school trio serious as lyricists and call Run DMC ‘party’ rap. I tend to disagree because  Jam Master Jay’s skills behind the boards are taken out of the equation in that way, which should elevate the group to a higher status. He made some changes to his sound on this album: more variation in the samples, more intertwining rhythm patters, more layered cuts. If anything, I’m amazed by his skills on albums from almost thirty years back and it is mostly his show.

Best tracks
Rock The House
King Of Rock
Can You Rock It Like This
Daryll And Joe

Recommended
Considerably less good than the debut, still consistently listenable with some gems of stand-out tracks. Yes.

My regards,

Rura88

 


Run-D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C.

Run-D.M.C.
Run-D.M.C.
March 27, 1984
Profile Records/ Arista Records/ SME

090/100
RUN DMC - RUN DMC

1. Hard Times // 2. Rock Box // 3. Jam-Master-Jay // 4. Hollis Crew (Krush-Groove 2) // 5. Sucker M.C.’s (Krush-Groove 1) // 6. It’s Like That // 7. Wake Up // 8. 30 Days // 9. Jay’s Game

Usually Bonkers writes about Hip Hop and Rap. Given He’s more into Ja Rule I’ll write about this iconic trio. Besides I wouldn’t want to trade with him. The Ja Rule/Murder Inc. stream of … was too much of a nuisance for my tastes even as a teen. Enough about that rubbish.

Run-D.M.C. consisted of Reverend Run a.k.a. Joey Simmons, D.M.C. a.k.a. Darryl McDaniels and Jam Master Jay a.k.a. Jason Mizell. Run’s brother Russell (Rick Rubin’s partner in founding Def Jam, early eighties) suggested Joey to work with a Darryl as partner MCs and after finishing high school Jason joined the two in 1982. Run DMC was complete and in 1983 It’s like that/Sucker M.C.’s saw the light of day. The first singles introduced a whole new sound to hip-hop. A RUN-D.M.C. song typically consisted of rapping over big sparse beats, minimal compositions, guitars shredding and Jam Master Jay showcasing his turntable skills. It was a total departure from the oversampled Soul and Disco driven sound best exemplified in Rappers Delight. Gone with the slick, in with the raw new sound. Run DMC’ new approach to Hip Hop influenced many contemporary rap artists, but it also had a cross-genre influence, felt also the Rock and Industrial scene. Skinny Puppy’s Pro-Test is a great example.

I press play and prepare, Hard Times, a Kurtis Blow cover, tells about financial hardship in daily life. The drum machine, effects and MCs become audible. A serious message in fresh rhymes and beats. Rock Box exemplifies all that made Run DMC awesome, inventing Rap-Rock with this one track . If you don’t cath my drift on how catchy this is understand: as I’m typing I have have a hard time supressing  the urge to play air guitar, on an old school Hip Hop track of all things. One could almost head bang to this eighties gem. I won’t even bother elaborating about the lyrics in my moment of utter enjoyment while I listen to some bragging over screaming guitars.

B-Boys and B-Girls of all nations gather, Jam-Master-Jay is Jam Master Jay exhibiting DJ his skills over breaks, beats and samples accompanied with some exemplary rhyming by Run and D.M.C. Hollis Crew continues with more break beats. What more can one say? One could even imagine Chuck Berry nodding his head to this. Given the MCs have great articulation while continuing their bragging, their dismissal of Sucker M.C.’s is justified. The breaks and samples sound somewhat repetitive but the lyrical flow is great. “You’ve got to know when to start when the beats commence”, the last line in this track says it all.

It’s Like That is included in its original incarnation, the one without the pumping beats. It’s basically a slower take on Hard Times. It’s the better track of the two, what with its “But it’s like that and that’s the way it is” chorus. The urgency of the lyrics gives it a timeless feel for the post eighties era. Musically Jam Master Jay is being quite adventurous on this track. Jam Master Jays reliance on the drum machine and only a few sample results in nicely layered parts and as well as very effective minimal parts on this one song. The usage of little soundbites interchanged with bass lines and big beats really makes this really enjoyable

Wake-Up is a smoother track about making the world a better place, with Jay again making the most of the instrumental with only a few samples and sound effects being used. His walls of sound with the snore in the background, early eighties ingenuity. 30 Days follows it as a danceable nod to the ladies with a wink to the Weather Sisters’ and the bragging continues. This is the most ‘poppy’ track on the album actually. But don’t be afraid that it’s downhill from there; Jay’s Game continues the Hip-Hop while the break beats enter your conscience leaving you no option but to bob your head to Jay’s crafty creation. No rapping here, just breaks and samples . I give in and move around on my chair while trying to type. (Needless to say I had to make a few corrections.)

There’s something that still requires some explanation. I didn’t really write about the lyrics and I already gave some hints. Run and DMC rhyme and brag their way through this album in their often playful yet preachy style. The lyrical content varies from ‘we’re better than thou’ to ‘listen to our message’ and repeats itself. Compared to the much smoother Melle Mel for instance Run and DMC come off as preachy, which can annoy at times. Still, it mostly works well with Jam Master Jay’s instrumentals and this album is a joy to listen to. There’s no real filler, with its nine tracks there isn’t any room for it on this album, therefore the best tracks section doesn’t indicate that the rest is bad. On the contrary every track on the album serves a purpose and sounds pretty good to say the least.

Best Tracks
Hard Times
Rock Box
Sucker M.C.’s
It’s Like That
Jay’s Game

Recommendations
RUN-D.M.C. is an important piece of Hip-Hop history. (If the alliteration isn’t confirmation enough of a recommendation I’ll be more exact.) Buy this album, or at least give it a good listen because this 1984 album still sounds fresh today and its influence is being felt today still.

My regards,

Rura88