Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black
On Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, hip-hop’s most celebrated noise-bringers and power-fighters successfully found new ways to boom and pound. The early 1990s had presented plenty of challenges to the members of Public Enemy: Sampling had become financially prohibitive, the Bomb Squad had suffered a data loss of potential recordings, and Chuck D was fried from having spent the last few years building dense shrapnel collages. But whether through accident or necessity, the Phil Spectors of the SP-1200 managed to reinvent the wheels of steel on the group’s fourth album. Unlike the Jackson Pollock-ian sample splatter of 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet, the bombastic Apocalypse instead swings like a rock record, taking big gulps of headbanger energy, taut funk, and doomsday-evoking textures. The relationship between Chuck and the Bomb Squad’s visionary sonic terrorist Hank Shocklee had become frayed in the wake of Fear of a Black Planet. Shocklee had given the keys to the group’s Long Island studio to young apprentice Gary “G-Wiz” Rinaldo, and Chuck was enthralled by Rinaldo’s cataclysmic, portentous productions. Apocalypse started as an EP built around the group’s collaboration on a prescient rap-rock rebuild of “Bring the Noise,” which was crafted by thrash-metal band Anthrax. But G-Wiz’s radioactive beats sludged out in droves, and a new Bomb Squad got to work on a hip-hop call to arms that was less opaque than P.E.’s earlier work, but just as harsh, full of siren-like wails that constantly demand your attention. The bridge to “By the Time I Get to Arizona”—built on the screams and hard-funk grooves of a 1971 Jackson 5 concert—sounds like nothing short of the titular apocalypse. “The new album’s lesson is, ‘No more fun and games,’” Chuck said at the time. “Fun and games have got to be tucked to the side; responsibility and business have got to take precedence.” And he gets down to business fiercely and frequently on Apocalypse. “1 Million Bottlebags” considers the destructive nature of malt liquor being marketed directly to Black neighborhoods, while “How To Kill a Radio Consultant” takes aim at an industry in which Black people make the music, but largely don’t own the stations. And “Shut ’Em Down” criticizes companies that don’t put enough money back into the Black community: “All corporations owe, they gotta give up the dough to my town/Or else we gotta shut ’em down.” The album closes with “Bring the Noise,” the landmark Anthrax crossover episode that would prove to be rap-metal’s big bang, preceding Rage Against the Machine’s debut by a year. Although the riot-starting messages of Public Enemy would soon be commercially subsumed by the more street-level realities of the gangsta rappers, Apocalypse proves these tireless innovators could still bum-rush the radio with new ways to make noise.