Power to the People and the Beats:
Public Enemy's Greatest Hits
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2005, Volume 12, #10
Written by T.J. Simon
New Yorkís Public Enemy was the first politically charged hip-hop act to achieve massive commercial success by drawing on themes of black power and criticism of the establishment. Starting with 1987ís Yo! Bum Rush the Show, the collectiveís controversial themes urged urban youth to consider social problems in their communities while introducing these issues to an ever-growing white audience. Black kids loved them because they spoke the truth, and white kids were drawn to them because punk and metal just werenít freaking out suburban parents anymore. To commemorate Public Enemyís glory days, Def Jam has released Power to the People and the Beats, an 18-song chronological collection featuring the groupís best moments that also includes a 19-page booklet full of photos, notes, and essays detailing its cultural significance.
The core of Public Enemy was rapper Chuck D (real name: Carlton Ridenhour), rapper/comic relief Flavor Flav (real name: William Jonathan Drayton, Jr.), and producer/DJ Terminator X (real name: Norman Rogers). Rather than arising from the street gang culture in the manner of N.W.A., Chuck D and Flavor Flav met while attending Adelphi University. The group also had an assortment of incendiary losers and hangers-on who didnít appear to add anything to the musical output, but who, at least, could be counted on to say something stupid in public. Repeated accusations of anti-Semitism often put Public Enemy in a defensive position, even though the resulting headlines always created a spike in record sales.
Power to the People and the Beats: Public Enemyís Greatest Hits itself touches upon all of the important bases from Public Enemyís output. The tracks from the early years, including Youíre Gonna Get Yours and Rebel Without a Pause, sound a bit dated, considering how far the genreís production values have come over the past two decades. However, the groupís masterpieces are all intact: Fight the Power, Welcome to the Terrordome, By the Time I Get to Arizona, and Shut Em Down sound as fresh and relevant in 2005 as the day they hit the streets. Unfortunately, the collectionís version of Bring the Noise is the original from 1988ís It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back rather than the superior 1991 heavy metal collaboration with Anthrax. The discís outstanding closer is the largely ignored He Got Game, which utilizes a generous sample from Stephen Stillsí For What Itís Worth ("Stop, children, whatís that sound?") as its musical core.
With its best days clearly in the past, Public Enemyís core group members have moved onto other things: Chuck D is presently a host on the liberal Air America radio network, and Flavor Flav is a reality television also-ran. Militantly political hip-hop is pretty common today as is unusual sample and beat construction, but none of this would have been commercially viable if it werenít for the fact that Public Enemy blazed the trail. This makes Power to the People and the Beats an important artifact from hip-hop history.
Power to the People and the Beats: Public Enemy's Greatest Hits
is available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box