A Dozen Pivotal Moments in the 30 Year Career of Public Enemy
Hard to believe, but Public Enemy--which headlines Irving Plaza tonight as part of the "Hip-Hop Gods Tour"--is celebrating 30 years of existence this year. As the late Adam Yauch once wrote of the rap icons: "I put them on a level with Bob Marley and a handful of other artists--the rare artist who can make great music and also deliver a political and social message. But where Marley's music sweetly lures you in, then sneaks in the message, Chuck D grabs you by the collar and makes you listen." In honor of tonight's show, and PE's 30th anniversary, here are a dozen pivotal moments from the group's illustrious history.
- Miles Davis (2) And Public Enemy (7) Go At It In SOTC's March Madness
- Correction Of The Year, Starring Public Enemy
- Public Enemy Latest Patient on the Roots' Operating Table
1. Though Long Island native Chuck D. had first put an early incarnation of PE together in 1982 and started releasing tapes and performing around New York City in the mid '80s--before opening for the Beastie Boys during their License to Ill tour--the first glimpse most of America got of Chuck's commanding stage presence and Flavor Flav's hyper clowning was when they appeared on Soul Train at the end of 1987, performing "Rebel Without a Pause." "That was frightening," said uncharacteristically flustered host Don Cornelius after the group wrapped it up. He then conducted a brief, awkward, and hilarious interview with PE about their beginnings in Long Island. Flav, of course, stole the show.
2. Public Enemy's 1987 debut LP, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was a hit with the critics (over in England, it topped NME's year-end critics poll in '87)--though it didn't do much commercially--but it wasn't until the following year's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back that PE really hit in the U.S. both critically and sales-wise. Nation of Millions topped the 1988 Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll. Noted Robert Christgau in his accompanying P&J essay: "If Farrakhan's a prophet my dick's bigger than Don Howland's, but that doesn't make Nation of Millions anything less than the bravest and most righteous experimental pop of the decade."
3. Public Enemy's status as the most important new development in hip-hop--and a cultural force beyond the boundaries of the rap music world--was solidified when "Fight the Power" became not only the theme song but the central message of Spike Lee's explosive, galvanizing 1989 film Do the Right Thing.