Concert Review: Public Enemy

“You don’t like Public Enemy, man?”

Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing

Years ago, my old college roommate and I would make regular trips to the local record store to see what was on the shelves.  This was back in 1990 when people still bought compact discs.  Gainesville’s Hyde ‘n’ Zeke’s was the place to find them cheap.

At that point in time, I was over the pablum sound of the Eighties and was eager to delve into whatever funky stuff I could get my ears on.  One afternoon, I saw a used copy of Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” and decided to give it a try.  I forget exactly who had recommended it but I picked it up nonetheless.

It was the first rap album I had ever purchased.  I was familiar with a lot of early hip-hop and while I found some of it auspicious, most still sounded tinny and in my mind, lacked substance.

So there we were. Two white, college kids walking home one day with little did we know would be two seminal pieces of hip-hop history, NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” in his hand, Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” in mine.  An unlikely image until you consider that it’s mostly white kids who buy hip-hop albums anyway.

We were about to be enlightened.

I don’t want to say the album changed my life.  I’m not sure that any album ever really has.  Let’s just say I logged a LOT of hours listening to it.

With every press of the play button, I heard a different sound, a new sample.  “Rewind that!  Did you hear that?” we’d ask each other.  From James Brown to Parliament, Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy, Martin Luther King, Jr. to Desmond Tutu, Public Enemy’s ‘wall of sound’ always meant a new discovery.  Their sound was full; their lyrics profound and direct.

For twenty years, I’ve rocked to that album.  I acknowledge it’s not for everyone but its impact on hip-hop is undeniable.  So when I heard Public Enemy was touring to celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary, resistance was futile… plus this hot chick bought me a ticket.

The crowd inside Orlando’s Club at Firestone that Thursday night was as diverse as you’d expect.  Concert-goers ranged from grungy, tattooed white kids to older, bow-tied gentlemen from the Nation of Islam.  There’s no way Public Enemy could ever have guessed “Black Planet” would have such reach… and longevity.

After much anticipation, and a few double vodka-Red Bulls to boot, the band hit the stage around midnight.  One gentleman in a Legends of Hip Hop shirt brought an old school boom box to the front of the stage and waved a cassette tape in the air.  The crowd cheered, knowing Chuck, Flav and the gang were only a few moments behind.

He popped in the cassette and out blared the opening track of the album, “Contract on the World Love Jam.”  It was a song I had heard a thousand times before, but this would be the last time I would hear it without ever having seen Public Enemy in concert.  Out marched the S1W’s, Public Enemy’s military-uniformed dancers.

And then…

Out bounced both Chuck D and Flavor Flav to “Brothers Gonna Work It Out.”  The crowd went wild.  There are few thrills in life like the moment you first see a band perform a song that you’ve memorized verse for verse, beat for beat.

“We’re gonna do a song that you’ve never heard before,

Make you all jump along to the education…

As you raise your fist to the music,

United we stand, yes divided we fall,

Together we can stand tall.”

Their goal?  Indestructible soul.

After the track, Flav revealed the clock around his neck – to always remind people what time it is – while Chuck wore a tank top, camouflage shorts and his traditional Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap, the most intimidating person to wear one since Dave Parker.

That night, P.E. performed for two full hours, playing every hit imaginable.  They cranked out “Bring The Noise,” “Can’t Truss It,” and “By The Time I Get To Arizona,” but the evening was more about honoring “Fear of a Black Planet.”  Flav killed with “911 is a Joke.”  D ran though “Burn Hollywood Burn.”  And of course there was “Fight the Power,” the song that served as a backdrop for Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.”

Looking at them, you’d think Chuck D and Flavor Flav would be the least likely guys to form a successful rock group, Chuck all serious, introspective and militant, Flav more clownish, a parody of himself.  But before you think of Flav as merely a hype-man, there was one part of the show where Flav sat behind his drum set (yes, this concert had live musicians) while Chuck rapped over his beats.  Hip-hop might not be for you but these two are as influential as any duo in American music history.

Someone once said that listening to Chuck is like listening to your grandfather rap to you.  That’s not far off.  He’s preaches poetic.  And Flav?  Well, let’s just say the contrast works wonders.

Over the years, Public Enemy has never compromised their art form.  In this day and age of more and more bands sounding the same, there is no mistaking the sound, or message, of Public Enemy.

If “Fear of a Black Planet” meant even half to you what it did to me, I definitely recommend you check out the show when they come to a town near you.  Come prepared to dance, sing, shout, pump your fists and appreciate one of the truly unique acts in hip-hop history.

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35 Replies to “Concert Review: Public Enemy”

  1. Chris

    If PE hasn’t been one of the most influential groups in all of music then those who say they know music and don’t see the influence brought about by this group simply don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I recently watched MTV’s and VH1’s joint offering of the 100 Most Influential People in Rock Music. It came as no surprise that the PE along with The Beastie Boys were the only pseudo rap groups that were part of that list. However room was made for Biggie , Tupac as solo acts . Warranted as it may well be I do believe it’s hard to not to include other influential names from that genre.

    tophatal 🙂

  2. Plus D2.0…

    I know you have a honeymoon to save up for, not that you wouldn’t mind Flavor and Chuck coming along for the ride.

    Tell the woman I’m still working on my RSVP. Weekends have been a bear for me with the new gig.

  3. That album still holds up, Al.

    I’m sorry I missed that special. I’ll have to be on the lookout for it.

    Let’s just say that, as you might imagine, P.E. rocked the house.

  4. The rhythm? And the rebel? Rock on, Chris! Not afraid to say, It Takes a Nation changed music for me on the spot. Bomb Squad, baby. You don’t mess with 2 guys named Shocklee and a dude who calls himself Vietnam. Just sayin…

  5. DJ Arthritic…

    Sorry I missed you at Bryson’s this past weekend. I’m sure it was a blast. How’s your health, man?

    By the way… remind me to tell you about my upcoming Halloween costume, only slightly inspired by a previously worn, aluminum foil Star of David.

  6. There’s nothing cooler than experiencing your musical heroes live. I’m glad you got the chance my brother.

  7. Chris…I couldn’t agree more. That CD has been in my car for as long as I’ve been driving and I believe it to be the most influential rap CD’s of all time and one of the most influential bits of recorded music of all time. I’ve see PE in concert a few times, most recently in 1992 when they toured with Anthrax. What a show! i will make sure to check them out when they come to Boston. Thanks for the 411.

  8. For some reason, I have a hard time picturing Aer at a P.E. show but I appreciate the sentiment, brother.

    There was just something about that album. If you’re interested, click the link I listed above that really breaks it down what it meant to the genre.

    The samples were never-ending and they came at a time where everyone wasn’t suing everyone about a little loop.

    And for those of you who don’t already have the lyrics to “Welcome to the Terrordome” memorized, here ya’ go…

    Courtesy of

    I got so much trouble on my mind
    I refuse to lose
    Here’s your ticket
    Hear the drummer get wicked
    The crew to you to push the back to Black
    Attack so I sat and japped
    Then slapped the Mac(Intosh)
    Now I’m ready to mike it
    (You know I like it) huh
    Hear my favoritism roll “Oh”
    Never be a brother like to go solo
    Lazer, anastasia, maze ya
    Ways to blaze your brain and train ya
    The way I’m livin’, forgiven’
    What I’m givin’ up
    X on the flex hit me now
    I don’t know about later
    As for now I know how to avoid the paranoid
    Man I’ve had it up to here
    Gear I wear got ’em goin’ in fear
    Rhetoric said
    Read just a bit ago
    Not quittin’ though
    Signed the hard rhymer
    Work to keep from gettin’ jerked
    Changin’ some ways
    To way back in the better days
    Raw metaphysically bold
    Never followed a code
    Still dropped a load
    Never question what I am God knows
    Cause it’s comin’ from the heart
    What I got better get some
    (Get on up) hustler of culture
    Been spit in the face
    But the rhymes keep fittin’
    Respects been givin’ how’s ya livin’
    Now I can’t protect a pad off defect
    Check the record
    An reckon an intentional wreck
    Played off as some intellect
    Made the call, took the fall
    Broke the laws
    Not my fault they’re fallin’ off
    Known as fair square
    Throughout my years
    So I growl at the livin’ foul
    Black to the bone my home is your home
    So welcome to the Terrordome
    Subordinate terror
    Kickin’ off an era
    Cold deliverin’ pain
    My 98 was 87 on a record yo
    So now I go Bronco

    Crucifixion ain’t no fiction
    So called chosen frozen
    Apology made to who ever pleases
    Still they got me like Jesus
    I rather sing, bring, think reminisce
    ‘Bout a brother while I’m in sync
    Every brother ain’t a brother cause a color
    Just as well could be undercover
    Backstabbed, grabbed a flag
    From the back of the lab
    Told a Rab get off the rag
    Sad to say I got sold down the river
    Still some quiver when I deliver
    Never to say I never know or had a clue
    Word was heard, plus hard on the boulevard
    Lies, scandalizin’, basin’
    Traits of hate who’s celebratin’ wit satan?
    I rope a dope the evil with righteous
    Bobbin’ and weavin’ and let the good get even
    C’mon down
    And welcome to the Terrordome.
    Caught in the race against time
    The pit and the pendulum
    Check the rhythm and rhymes
    While I’m bendin’ ’em
    Snakes blowin’ up the lines of design
    Tryin’ to blind the science I’m snedin’ ’em
    How to fight the power
    Cannot run and hide
    But it shouldn’t be suicide
    In a game a fool without the rules
    Got a hell of a nerve to just criticize
    Every brother ain’t a brother
    Cause a Black hand
    Squeezed on Malcom X the man
    The shootin’ of Huey Newton
    From a hand of a N*gger who pulled the trigger

    It’s weak to speak and blame somebody else
    When you destroy yourself
    First nothing’s worse than a mother’s pain
    Of a son slain in Bensonhurst
    Can’t wait for the state to decide the fate
    So this jam I dedicate
    Places with racist faces
    Just an example of one of many cases
    The Greek weekend speech I speak
    From a lesson learned in Virginia (Beach)
    I don’t smile in the line of fire
    I go wildin’
    But it’s on bass and drums even violins
    Watcha do gitcha head ready
    Instead of gettin’ physically sweaty
    When I get mad
    I put it down on a pad
    Give ya somethin’ that cha never had controllin’
    Fear of high rollin’
    God bless your soul and keep livin’
    Never allowed, kickin’ it loud
    Droppin’ a bomb
    Brain game intellectual Vietnam
    Move as a team
    Never move alone
    Welcome to the Terrordome

  9. How could the great Gator Debater not groove to Chuck D? Makes perfect sense.

    And yea, Frank, I’ve worn through a few copies of that CD myself. Glad to see we have more in common than just a sick hankering for our alma mater.

  10. I can’t believe how much time I used to spend at record stores staring at CD’s trying to decide if they were worth the purchase or not. It was always cool to have “found” the next big name to come out, and claim that you were the one that discovered that artist…

    Glad you got to go to their show. I’ve never seen them live, but would like to if a hot chick bought me tickets 🙂

    Hopefully real hip-hop doesn’t die in this generation, although I feel like it already is a little. Maybe that’s just a sign that I’m getting old…

  11. Yeah, Chap.

    I generally remember who turned me on to what acts. For example, my boy Jason Young turned me on to G Love and my Jeremy first turned me on to the Roots. But I’m not sure who first told me about P.E.

    And re: the death of hip-hop, I think it’s still alive and well. It hit a low point a few years ago but acts like Usher are doing their best to keep it alive. Plus there’s always the underground.

    If you want proof that hip-hop is alive and well, check out a band called People Under the Stairs.

    Years from now, you’ll remember who turned you on to them.

  12. Chris, Go listen to some real music Thursday. Local from Athens, GA, done hit the big time!lol

    Thu – Sep 23 The Ritz Theatre
    Tampa, FL
    [map it] AGES: All Ages
    COST: $17 advance | $22 day of show | $34 balcony [buy tix]
    DOORS: 8PM
    TIME: 8:40PM
    APPEARING WITH: Tyler Reeve , 10th Concession
    VIP BALCONY TICKETS AVAILABLE ONLY AT TICKETWEB.COM: Includes exclusive access to the balcony & private bottle service for just $34 advance.

    Buy advance tickets with just a $1 fee at the venue, Vinyl Fever or Daddy Kool Records.

  13. Guess I’m old school… Give me Stone Free by Jimi Hendrix any day…

    I guess you East Coast dudes had to evolve…

  14. Long live classic rock! I can honestly say I don’t know who Public Enemy is/was! But now I know.

  15. Tyler Reeve, Ath?

    Nothing against Mr. Reeve, but I dare say that even those who don’t groove to hip-hop, and probably even Mr Reeve himself, would agree that Public Enemy has had more of an impact musically than he.

    Public Enemy is most definitely real music. In fact, it’s probably TOO real for most.

    Remember all these genres, rock, country, r&b, jazz, blues and hip-hop are legitimate forms of musical expression. To not acknowledge that simply doesn’t do them, or the artists that perform them, justice.

  16. Bobert…

    I was checking out Public Enemy’s website the other day. If you find yourself bold enough to do so, you’ll find a video of Chuck D rapping over a Hendrix loop that sounded pretty damn hot.

  17. Ha! I’ve seen PUTS about five times. They are one of my favorites! I liked their older stuff a lot better than their new stuff. I went to one of their shows about a year ago, and their last stop was in LA since they are from here. They decided to play all their favorite songs from the past instead of their new ones, which worked out great!

    I agree hip-hop isn’t dead with guys like People, Panacea, Blue Scholars, Brotha Ali, etc., but it’s not what it was in it’s glory days…

  18. NICE, Chap! I knew I liked you for a reason. I caught PUTS a few years ago when they came to Gainesville. It was my first time seeing them. Needless to say, the show was off the hook. I actually talked to Thes and Double K for about a half hour that night.

    Their new CD “Carried Away” is actually the best they’ve put out since O.S.T. so check it out if you haven’t.

    (Athens is currently thinking we’re speaking in a different language)

  19. And I still have that “Straight Outta Compton” CD.

    If I am the former white college roommate to whom you are referring.

  20. Chris

    Good music will always stand the test of time . But the real saving grace is the talent shown.

    I’ve got eclectic tastes I think from my upbringing and the fact that once I’d finished in the military apart from residing in London I spent 18 months living in Paris , France where I got to listen to whole slew of musical sounds covering a whole kaleidoscope of musical areas.

    I’m an avowed jazz buff but I’ll listen to a number musical genres …….. with the exception of country. Nothing at all about it appeals to me whatsoever.

    tophatal 🙂

  21. I actually haven’t checked out their new CD, but think I’m going to have to jump on that this weekend after your recomendation! Their first three CD’s were money, and then they tailed off a little. I hope your right that they are back on track!

    I thought it was cool how after their shows, they always hung around and chatted with whoever was hanging around! Especially after putting all that energy working up a sweat in their shows!

  22. Ahhh, HB. Always representing Gator Nation with the highest of class.

    Remember, Petey. This is a guy who, in Lexington, once picked a fight with a guy in a wheelchair. This is a guy who got kicked out of Fenway Park without ever seeing the field. This is a cat who once got us barred from the hottest club in Buckhead for his inability to pretend to be sober for five seconds.

    We don’t call him Partykiller for nothing.

  23. Pingback: Sports Chump » Memorable moments of 2010: The SportsChump Year in Review

  24. I remember drooling for the release date of this classic.

    I was on the P.E. tip since 87 with Yo Bum Rush The Show which pales in comparison to It Takes a Nation and Fear.

    I still have the cassettes.

    The youngsters only know Flav as a reality clown but his hype man skills were unmatched…He perfectly offset Chuck’s socially conscious rants with his clowny personality.

    I vividly remember Tyson entering the ring to Terrordome….It fit like fucking glove at the time.

    The Brothers Gonna Work It Out basline is downright infectious….I recall hitting rewind over and over again when I first got that tape.

    Funny, I never felt weird about being a teenage white kid bumping rap…Must be a west coast thing.

    They wanted me for they’re Army or whatever – Picture me givin a DAMN, I said never.

    Here it is BAM
    And you say GOD DAMN
    This is the dope jam.

    Jewels man, pure jewels.

    Rick Rubin was so ahead of his time it’s ridiculous.

    Night of the Living Baseheads had more samples than most albums, let alone songs.

    Rap is lacking in comparison today.

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