Public Enemy

Essential Albums

  • It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Artist Playlists

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About Public Enemy

No act embodies the rebelliousness and ferocity of hip-hop like Public Enemy. The Long Island group built the foundation for politically charged, pro-Black rap while simultaneously demolishing the sonic status quo with an artfully noisy, experimental sound—in short, they completely revolutionized the genre. Formed around a preexisting DJ crew in the early ’80s, they earned a rep for expanding minds with the trend-setting college radio Super Spectrum City Mix Show before catching Rick Rubin’s ear and signing to a then-building Def Jam. The crew: Chuck D, whose booming voice and convictive rhymes made him a civil rights leader on wax; Flava Flav, the flamboyant hype man; “Minister of Information” Professor Griff; their surgical DJ, Terminator X; and The Bomb Squad, a production crew whose layered, chaotic soundscapes matched the havoc of the crack- and racism-plagued era. An Afrocentric, media-skeptic ideology wasn't exactly welcome in the mainstream, but their confrontational approach proved impossible to ignore: first came PE’s aptly titled 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show, and then 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a masterpiece of bleakly clanging beats and uncompromisingly radical lyrics. The following year, Public Enemy released their greatest contribution to hip-hop: “Fight the Power,” a raucous anthem of Black angst—from the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing—that became an inextricable part of America’s language of protest. The group continued its run into the early ’90s, but Public Enemy would change over time, with revolving members and spinoff ventures. Still, despite breakups, makeups, and hiatuses, they've released music with relative consistency. In 2020, they performed a new rendition of “Fight the Power” with an era- and style-spanning array of guest MCs at the BET Awards, against the backdrop of worldwide protests against the police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd. As long as there's change to fight for, Public Enemy will have something to say.

Garden City, NY, United States

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