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Public Enemy

Public Enemy performing at Primavera Sound, 2008
Background information
Origin Long Island, New York
Genres Hip hop
Years active 1982–present
Labels Def Jam
Sony Music Entertainment
Slam Jamz
Play It Again Sam
Associated acts The Bomb Squad
Boogie Down Productions
Ice Cube
Chuck D
Flavor Flav
Professor Griff
DJ Lord
The S1W
Former members
Terminator X
Sister Souljah

Public Enemy, also known as PE, is a hip hop group from Long Island, New York, known for its politically charged lyrics and criticism of the American media, with an active interest in the frustrations and concerns of the African American community.

In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Public Enemy[1] number forty-four on its list of the Immortals: 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[2] Acclaimed Music ranks them the 29th most recommended musical act of all time and the highest hip-hop group.[3] The group was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2007.[4]



Origin of name

Chuck D put out a tape to promote WBAU (the radio station where he was working at the time) and to fend off a local mc who wanted to battle him. He called the tape Public Enemy #1 because he felt like he was being persecuted by people in the local scene.

This was the first reference to the notion of a public enemy in any of Chuck D's songs. The single was created by Chuck D with a contribution by Flavor Flav, though this was before the group Public Enemy was officially assembled.

According to Chuck, The S1W, which stands for Security of the First World, "represents that the black man can be just as intelligent as he is strong. It stands for the fact that we're not third-world people, we're first-world people; we're the original people [of the earth]."[5]

On the track "Louder Than a Bomb" from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Chuck D reveals that the D in his nickname stands for Dangerous.

Signing to Def Jam Records

Developing his talents as an MC with Flavor Flav while delivering furniture for his father's business, Chuck D (Carlton Douglas Ridenhour) and Spectrum City, as the group was called, released the record "Check out the Radio," backed by "Lies," a social commentary—both of which would influence RUSH Productions' Run-D.M.C. and Beastie Boys. The group was signed to the still developing Def Jam Recordings record label after co-founder Rick Rubin heard Chuck D freestyling on a demo.

Around 1986, Bill Stephney, the former Program Director at WBAU, was approached by Sam Mulderrig and offered a position with the label. Stephney accepted, and his first assignment was to help Rubin sign Chuck D, whose song "Public Enemy Number One" he had heard from Andre "Doctor Dré" Brown. According to the book The History of Rap Music by Cookie Lommel, "Stephney thought it was time to mesh the hard-hitting style of Run DMC with politics that addressed black youth. Chuck recruited Spectrum City, which included Hank Shocklee, his brother Keith Shocklee, and Eric "Vietnam" Sadler, collectively known as the Bomb Squad, to be his production team and added another Spectrum City partner, Professor Griff, to become the group's Minister of Information. With the addition of Flavor Flav and another local mobile DJ named Terminator X, the group Public Enemy was born." Public Enemy opened for The Beastie Boys on some of their East Coast concerts, including Philadelphia, Newark and Brooklyn.


Their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, was released in 1987 to critical acclaim. The album was the group's first step toward stardom. The group released the album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988, which performed better in the charts than their previous release, and included the hit single "Don't Believe the Hype" in addition to "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos". Nation of Millions... was voted Album of the Year by the The Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll, the first hip-hop album to be ranked number one by predominantly rock critics in a major periodical. It is also ranked the 17th best album of all time, (and best album of the 1980s) by[3]

In 1990, the group released Fear of a Black Planet which continued their politically charged themes. The album was the most controversial album in the hip hop community.[citation needed] The song "Fear of a Black Planet" addressed the fear some white people have of black and white relationships. It was the most successful of any of their albums and, in 2005, was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress. It included the singles "Welcome To The Terrodome", "911 (is a Joke)", which criticized emergency response units for taking longer to arrive at emergencies in the black community than those in the white community, and "Fight the Power" [6]. "Fight the Power" is regarded as one of the most popular and influential songs in hip-hop history and was the theme song of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. It was ranked the 80th best song of all time by[3]. The song attacked the standard American Icons Elvis Presley and John Wayne.

The group’s next release, Apocalypse '91...The Enemy Strikes Black, continued this trend, with songs like "Can't Truss It", which addressed the history of slavery and how the black community can fight back against oppression; "I Don't Wanna be Called Yo Nigga ", a track addresses on how the the urban culture uses the word "Nigga" outside of its usual derogatory context. The album also included the controversial song and video "By the Time I Get to Arizona," which chronicled the black community's frustration that some States did not recognize Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday. The video featured members of Public Enemy taking out their frustrations on politicians in the States not recognizing the holiday.

In 1992 the group was one of the first rap acts to perform at the Reading and Leeds Festival, in England, headlining the second day of the three day festival.


In 1989, the band did an interview for the Washington Times. The interviewing journalist, David Mills, lifted some quotations from a UK magazine in which the band were asked their opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Professor Griff’s comments apparently sympathized with the Palestinians and was accused of anti-Semitism. According to Rap Attack 2, he suggested that "Jews are responsible for the majority of the wickedness in the world" (p. 177). He denies the charge to this day, calling it "crazy...really, really, crazy." Despite Griffin's denial, Ridenhour expressed an apology on his behalf.[7] In an attempt to defuse the situation, Ridenhour first fired Griffin. He later rejoined the group in the album "Mu Sick In Hour Mess Age". In the late 1990s, he rejoined the band, and Ridenhour and Griffin took on a side project, the rap rock outfit Confrontation Camp.

The controversy and apologies on behalf of Griff spurred Chuck D to reference the negative press they were receiving. In 1990 Public Enemy issued the single "Welcome to the Terrordome", which contains the lyrics: "Crucifixion ain't no fiction / So-called chosen frozen / Apologies made to whoever pleases / Still they got me like Jesus". These lyrics have been cited by some in the media as anti-Semitic, making supposed references to the Chosen People with the lyric "so-called chosen" and Jewish deicide with the last line.[8]

Public Enemy have been criticized for homophobia.[9][10] The song "Meet The G That Killed Me", from their Fear of a Black Planet album, contained lyrics that portray gay men as being the perpetrators of the spread of the AIDS epidemic:[11][12] "Man to man / I don't know if they can / From what I know / The parts don't fit / Ahh shit / How he's sharin' a needle / With a drug addict / He don't believe he has it either / ...But the bag popped".

Public Enemy have also endorsed Nation of Islam Supreme Minister Louis Farrakhan,[13][14] who has been controversial for his commentary which is often interpreted as being black nationalist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic.[15]


Public Enemy at Vegoose in 2007. From left: DJ Lord, Chuck D, and Flavor Flav.

Some of Terminator X's most innovative scratching tricks can be heard on the song "Rebel Without a Pause," and "Shut Em Down". The Bomb Squad offered up a web of innovative samples and beats. Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine declared that PE "brought in elements of free jazz, hard funk, even musique concrète, via [its] producing team the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before."[16]

Public Enemy made contributions to the hip-hop world with its political, social and cultural consciousness, which infused itself into skilled and poetic rhymes with raucous sound collages as a foundation. Public Enemy was the first to add political stance and pro-Black. Prior to PE, political hip-hop was confined to a few tracks by Ice-T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and KRS-One, as well as prototypical artists such as Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets. PE was the first hip-hop act to base its entire image around a political stance. With the success of Public Enemy, hip-hop was suddenly flooded with new artists that celebrated Afrocentric themes, such as Kool Moe Dee, Gang Starr, X Clan, Eric B. & Rakim, Queen Latifah, the Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest. In the 1991 movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, John Connor (Edward Furlong) wears a Public Enemy t-shirt throughout the entire movie, exhibiting its influence even in mainstream venues.

Public Enemy was the first hip-hop group to go international. It changed the Internet's music distribution capability by being one of the first groups to release MP3-only albums,[17] a format virtually unknown at the time.

Public Enemy helped to create and define "Rap metal" by collaborating with New York Thrash metal outfit Anthrax in 1991. The single "Bring The Noise" was a mix of semi-militant black power lyrics, grinding guitars, and sporadic humor. The two bands, cemented by a mutual respect and the personal friendship between Chuck D and his Anthrax counterpart Scott Ian, introduced a hitherto alien genre to rock fans, and the two seemingly disparate groups even toured together. Flavor Flav's pronouncement on stage that "They said this tour would never happen" (as heard on Anthrax's Live: The Island Years CD) has become something of a legend in both rock and hip-hop circles. Metal guitarists Vernon Reid (of Living Colour) contributed to Public Enemy's recordings, and PE sampled Slayer's "Angel of Death" half-time riff on "She Watch Channel Zero."

Members of the Bomb Squad produced or remixed works for other acts such as Bell Biv DeVoe, Ice Cube, Vanessa Williams, Sinéad O'Connor, Blue Magic, Peter Gabriel, L.L. Cool J, Paula Abdul, Jasmine Guy, Jody Watley, Eric B & Rakim, Third Bass, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, and Chaka Khan. According to Chuck, "We had tight dealings with MCA Records and were talking about taking three guys that were left over from New Edition and coming up with an album for them. The three happened to be Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe, later to become Bell Biv DeVoe. Ralph Tresvant had been slated to do a solo album for years, Bobby Brown had left New Edition and blew up in 1988, and Johnny Gill had just been recruited to come in, but [he] had come off a solo career and could always go back to that. At MCA, Hiram Hicks, who was their manager, and Louil Silas, who was running the show, were like, 'Yo, these kids were left out in the cold. Can y'all come up with something for them?' It was a task that Hank, Keith, Eric, and I took on to try to put some kind of hip-hop-flavored R&B shit down for them. Subsequently, what happened in the four weeks of December [1989] was that the Bomb Squad knocked out a large piece of the production and arrangement on Bell Biv DeVoe's three-million selling album Poison. In January [1990], they knocked out Fear of a Black Planet in four weeks, and PE knocked out Ice Cube's album AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted in four to five weeks in February."[18] They have also produced local talent such as Son of Bazerk, Young Black Teenagers, Kings of Pressure, and True Mathematics—and gave producer Kip Collins his start in the business.

Poet and Hip-Hop artist Saul Williams uses a sample from Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" in his song "Tr[n]igger" on the Niggy Tardust album. He also used a line from the song in his poem, amethyst rocks. Public Enemy's brand of politically & socially conscious hip hop has been a direct influence on new hip hop artists such as the Cornel West theory.

The Manic Street Preachers track "Repeat (Stars And Stripes)" is a remix of the band's own anti-monarchy tirade by Public Enemy production team The Bomb Squad of whom James Dean Bradfield and Richey Edwards were big fans. The song samples "Countdown to Armageddon" from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The band had previously sampled Public Enemy on their 1991 single Motown Junk.

American pop punk band NOFX references Public Enemy in their song "Franco Unamerican", stating "I'm watching Michael Moore expose the awful truth/I'm listening to Public Enemy and Reagan Youth."

The groups last album to date is How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul. Public Enemy's single from the album was "Harder Than You Think". "Though the group has faded, the repercussions of Public Enemy are felt to this day. Public Enemy showed that rap was not, as Alan Light says, "just a silly novelty, a fleeting fad." Public Enemy made hip hop, like punk and reggae before it, an outlet for frustration and a portal to understanding anger. Public Enemy gave hip hop a consciousness that trancends styles. It Takes A Nation Of Millions and Fear Of A Black Planet are as pertinent today as when they were released, in the way that Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" still reverberates. They were talking loud and saying something, to interpolate James Brown. And for five years in the uneasy '80s and the early '90s, they were, to quote The Clash, the only band that mattered."



  • Chuck D (Carlton Douglas Ridenhour) – leader, producer, lyricist, main vocalist, and artwork
  • Flavor Flav (William Jonathan Drayton, Jr.) – lyricist, vocalist, producer, instrumentalist, comic relief
  • Professor Griff (Richard Griffin) – head of S1W, liaison between PE and S1W, road manager. Occasional vocalist and producer, plays drums at live shows
  • Brian Hardgroove – (Guitarist, Band Director and producer)
  • DJ Lord (Lord Aswod) – DJ, producer replacement for Teminator X.
  • Terminator X (Norman Rogers) – DJ, producer (former member)
  • DJ Johnny Juice (John Rosado) Studio DJ, Producer
  • Sister Souljah – occasional vocalist, former member, temporary replacement for Professor Griff.

S1w's Brother James Minister of information Code=S 7 W Agent Attitude Supreme Master Of defense Brother = Rodger= S 5 W James Bomb Czar Of Education = S 9 W Brother Mike Enforcer 19 High Cheif Of Affairs Code= S 19 W [[J The following are a part of the Bomb Squad, the revolutionary production group that is closely associated with (sometimes considered a part of) Public Enemy:

  • Hank Shocklee (Hank Boxley)
  • Keith Shocklee (Keith Boxley)
  • Eric "Vietnam" Sadler
  • Gary G-Wiz

Chuck D is often listed as a member of the Bomb Squad under the pseudonym Carl Ryder, a shortened form of his real name.

The S1W, which stands for Security of the First World, is sometimes considered a part of Public Enemy as well. The members constantly rotate and have included among others

  • James Norman
  • James Allen
  • Roger Chillous
  • John (Butch) "Pop" Oliver
  • Shawn Kevin Carter aka "The Interrogator"
  • Mike Williams
  • Andrew Williams
  • Tracy "Big Casper" Walker
  • Dwayne Cousar
  • Ronald Lincoln
  • Keith "Krunch" Godfrey
  • Jacob "Jake" Shankle
  • Many of the future members of Professor Griff's Last Asiatic Disciples
  • Butch Cassidy (Aaron Allen) & his group 5ive-O, aka the Interrogators
  • Harry Allen is also a part of the group as writer, journalist and media assassin
  • Sister Souljah

Further reading

  • Young Rick- cofounder/ cowriter of lyrics*Chuck D with Yusuf Jah, Chuck D: Lyrics of a Rap Revolutionary, Off Da Books, 2007 ISBN 0-974-94841-1
  • Chuck D with Yusuf Jah, Fight the Power, Delacorte Press, 1997 ISBN 0-385-31868-5
  • Fuck You Heroes, Glen E. Friedman Photographs 1976-1991, Burning Flags Press, 1994, ISBN 0-9641916-0-1


  1. ^ "Public Enemy". Adam Yauch. Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone. 
  2. ^ "The Immortals: The First Fifty". Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone. 
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ "Long Island Music Hall of Fame"
  5. ^ Chuck D. and Yusuf Jah, Fight the Power, p. 82)
  6. ^ Fight The Power Named Best Hip Hop Song, AOL Music Canada
  7. ^ Public Enemy Hip-Hop Group Reorganizes after Anti-Semitic Comments - New York Times
  8. ^ Robert Christgau: Jesus, Jews, and the Jackass Theory: Public Enemy
  9. ^ PUBLIC ENEMY; Strong Adjectives - New York Times
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^,,945463,00.html
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Bierbauer, Charles (17 October 1995), ""Million Man March: Its goal more widely accepted than its leader"", CNN, 
  16. ^ allmusic ((( It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back > Overview )))
  17. ^ Dubois, Keir. "Public Enemy and MP3". Transcriptions Project, December, 1999. Retrieved on March 17, 2007.
  18. ^ Fight The Power, pp. 236-237

External links

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