"Whatcha gonna do? Rap is not afraid of you"
—Chuck D, "Bring the Noise"
—Flavor Flav, hype man
In 1986, the founder of Def Jam records Rick Rubin, in cooperation with Bill Stephney, signed an MC named Chuck D to his label. Said MC came up with a plan, that involved combining politically charged lyrics with hard-hitting productions. To that end, he formed Public Enemy with his two friends, hype-man Flavor Flav and DJ Terminator X, and assembled the Bomb Squad to produce their albums. The result is one of the most highly regarded hip-hop groups of all time.
The hallmarks of Public Enemy's style are the interplay between Chuck D's sociopolitical diatribes (delivered in a booming, Large Ham-my voice) and Flavor Flav's comic relief humour (high-pitched squealing) and The Bomb Squad's dense, innovative productions, incorporating many samples at once, and even harsh, unmusical sounds.
Their first three albums often appear on lists of the best hip-hop albums of all time.
Public Enemy members:
- Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour) - rapping
- Flavor Flav (William Drayton) - hype man, comic relief
- Terminator X (Norman Rodgers) - DJ, scratching, production
The Bomb Squad members:
- Hank Shocklee (James Boxley)
- Keith Shocklee (Keith Boxley)
- Chuck D (credited as "Carl Ryder")
- Eric "Vietnam" Sadler
- Gary G-Wiz (Gary Rinaldo)
Additional fringe contributors:
- Bill Stephney - bass, guitars, additional production and mixing on Yo! Bum Rush the Show
- Steve Linsley - bass, mixing on Yo! Bum Rush the Show
- Johnny Rosado - scratching on Yo! Bum Rush the Show and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
- DJ Lord - replacement DJ after Terminator X left in 1999
- Professor Griff (Richard Griffin) - Minister of Information, kicked out of band in chaotic fashion after being accused of anti-semitism
- Harry Allen - journalist, "media assassin"
- Security of the First World
- 1987 - Yo! Bum Rush the Show
- 1988 - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
- 1990 - Fear of a Black Planet
- 1991 - Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black
- 1994 - Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age
- 1998 - He Got Game
- 1999 - There's A Poison Goin' on
- 2002 - Revolverlution
- 2005 - New Whirl Odor
- 2006 - Rebirth of a Nation (featuring Paris)
- 2007 - How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?
This group contains examples of:
- Album Title Drop: From "Party For Your Right To Fight": But it's proven and fact/And it takes a nation of millions to hold us back
- Angry Black Man: Especially Chuck D .
- Audience Participation Song: Many of the interludes and introductions on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were recorded during their 1987 UK tour.
- Catch Phrase: "Yeeaaaaaah boooooooy"
- Concept Album: Most of their albums deal with the problems faced by the black community in the USA and the government's oppression.
- Concept Video: "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" depicts Chuck and a few of his compatriots escaping from a prison.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Flavor Flav, especially in recent years, seems more like a caricature of a rapper than a genuine MC. But he is by all accounts a very intelligent guy, and plays fifteen instruments. This made Terminator X's job easier because instead of looking for certain samples, Flav could just play them and X would use his recording.
- Iconic Item: Flavor Flav and his giant clock medallions.
- Image Song: you could make an argument for "Bring the Noise".
- In the Style Of: the "Bring the Noise" collaboration with Anthrax on Apocalypse 91.
- Done once again recently with "Bring the Noise 20XX", a new mix featuring Zakk Wylde on guitar (and half of the original lyrics), featured on Guitar Hero 5.
- Juggalo: Chuck D and Flavor Flav.
- List Song: Where to start...
- The Load: Less charitable interpretations of Flavor Flav cast him as this.
- Murder Ballad: "By The Time I Get To Arizona", arguably part of "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos".
- One-Hit Wonder: By the definition (only one entry in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100) in the US, with their now-mostly forgotten 1996 single "Give It Up", which made it to #33.
- Performance Video
- Protest Song: Almost their entire output.
- Rap Metal: "Bring The Noize" (with Anthrax), "She Watch Channel Zero!?" (sampling Slayer's "Angel of Death").
- Rated "M" for Manly
- Shout-Out In the song "Bring The Noise", they name drop rap artists Eric B, LL Cool J, Run DMC , as well as non rap artists Sonny Bono, Yoko Ono, and Anthrax.
- In "Burn Hollywood Burn", which is a Take That towards racist Hollywood movies, Big Daddy Kane is heard saying "Yo, I've got Black Caesar back at the crib", indicating that Larry Cohen's independent film starring Fred Williamson (considered a classic of the Blaxploitation genre) is a more dignified portrayal of black characters, as it doesn't feature its black cast being denigrated to butlers, slaves or "jigaboos". The same song also proclaims "lets make our own movies like Spike Lee".
- Stage Names
- Sampling + Sampled Up
- Take That: While they eventually softened on their view on Elvis Presley in "Fight The Power," their stance on John Wayne (rightfully) remains just as much "Up Yours" as ever.
- "Amerikan Gangster" is a big one towards Gangsta Rap and Glam Rap, done in the style of said genres.
- "Burn Hollywood Burn", towards racist portrayals of black characters in Hollywood cinema, particularly films that have blacks portrayed as servants/slaves or enaging in Uncle Tomfoolery. In particular, Driving Miss Daisy is criticized as a "bullshit" movie.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Okay, okay, the correct term would be "Three thousand samples and the truth".
- Title-Only Chorus
- "Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me / Straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain / Yeah! Motherfuck him and John Wayne!"