Thursday, December 17, 2009

Art That Changed My Life: Public Enemy

How to begin to write about Public Enemy? Like a lot of artists on the sticky web, there’s more than enough text devoted to this act. And really, it’s Fear of a Black Planet that changed everything for me.

I grew up in the suburbs. Growing up in the suburbs assures one a penchant for hip-hop and/or metal. I am living proof of this. Prior to rap being injected like a virus under my skin, I was all about the metal. Unlike my brother, I would never bother with License to Ill or Raising Hell. (How little I knew). It took P.E. and Spike Lee to change all of that.

I don’t know that I have ever been as awed by a rap song as I was by “Fight the Power” that first time I heard it, as the opening credits of Do the Right Thing rolled over my TV screen. Fuck Rosie Perez, it was P.E. in full effect that set the tone of the film and smashed open the doors of my narrow little mind. More of an attack than a song, it struck me in the way poems are supposed to strike you—that whole “blow the top of your head off” kind of feeling. Little else has done likewise. I ran to find the song. I had to have it.

I played Fear of a Black Planet for days on end, usually in my mother’s basement, where most of the music of my late teens and early 20s was featured. No one was too thrilled about my Public Enemy worship, especially the metal heads and guitar geeks that populated my small circle. I could get away with having nonsense like the Vinnie Vincent Invasion in my LP bin, but not the black music.

Undaunted, I continued to follow Chuck D. & Co. through to Apocalypse 91... the Enemy Strikes Black, but stopped before that Muse-Sick bullshit. I just didn’t want to hear it. Rap is a young man’s game, alright. There’s little longevity there, and folks like Ice-T are better off making lousy cop shows than rapping about being cop killers. Very few make it past 40 in the hip hop world. P.E. is no exception. Christ, just look at Flav. What the hell is he doing? Embarrassing. Still, I remember when… oh I remember… I remember Chuck D. being the more intelligent voice in music (maybe next to KRS-One) and Flavor Flav being the comic relief as opposed to the sad joke. Oh, such glorious times.

Anyway… sorry for the drift off into nostalgia (which is what this series is coming to) but I just put Fear on and it sounds fucking incredible still. That one record changed my outlook and opened the door that De La Soul walked through, as well as Black Sheep (at least that first record), Wu-Tang Clan and all the other hip-hop that makes me look old to the youth of today who only care about the newest and latest. Yeah, I like Outkast too, but will I be listening to Stankonia in 20 years? We’ll see.

Wait, is anyone still interested in Outkast or am I still five years behind the times?