Artist: Public Enemy
Album: Fear Of A Black Planet
Label: Def Jam
Rating: 10 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
At the time of this album’s release, Public Enemy were the biggest band in Hiphop, and everybody wanted a piece of them. Fans were fiending for the new album. Critics were waiting to fill more column inches with stories of how this group were inciting racial hatred with songs containing anti-white venom, and Nation Of Islam promotional mumbo jumbo. Even the US government took an interest, forced to monitor PE’s output by the Jewish Defence League who were offended by alledgely anti-semitic comments made by group member Professor Griff. The pressure to come up with the goods, was intensified by the fact that PE’s previous album, “It Takes A Nation” had already been hailed as a Hiphop classic. How can you go better than the best?
It was plain to see from the opening cut of the album ‘Contract On The World Love Jam’ that this time around PE were coming out to confront the critics with a more mature and articulate sound than before. A haunting instrumental, with scratches and snippets from critics, from allies, from Nation Of Islam rallies, made it clear that PE were light years ahead of the times when they predicted that “there is something changing in the climate of consciousness on this planet today.”
As the opening salvo from the first “proper” track ‘Brothers Gonna Work It Out’ drops, another important thing becomes clear. The production on this album is so different to “Nation” that it has to be remarked on. Where “Nation” relied on quick grooves and loops, the whole of “Fear” is a collage of layered samples, cuts and scratches. Dense heavy funk spreads over every track – the sheer amount of layers of sound on ‘Brothers Gonna Work It Out’ has to be heard to be believed – a headphones experience for sure. What also becomes clear is that PE are upfront on this album about delivering their political message in a clear manner. This time around there’s no cryptic references to current and past events – this time Chuck and Flav go for the jugular.
‘911 Is A Joke’ is one of two Flav solo joints on here, and for once despite telling the story in his own humorous way, the message is serious. Flavor attacks the emergency services for their slow response to calls for help made in Black communities which often result in otherwise avoidable deaths.
The scene setter that is ‘Incident at 66.6 FM’ illustrates exactly how much PE had got under the skin of America. A prelude to the lyrical barrage that is ahead, this track is another instrumental with excerpts from radio phone ins dropped over the top. Some of the points of view expressed are just incredible – from the guy who states that people who wear PE shirts are scum, to the comment that they should “go back to Africa”, PE flip the script, using these racist comments to illustrate exactly why they’re struggling to spread knowledge and information.
Then the bomb drops. ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ – I still remember the first time I heard it, and it stills sounds fresh. This was basically Chuck’s stinging rebuke to the critics who had surrounded the group calling for Griff’s head over the anti-semitic quotes. Not only are the lyrics top notch, but the sound is unbelievable – a headspinning array of guitars, whiny samples, and a mesh of James Brown adlibs. Chuck sounds like he’s pissed at the world here. Of course he was never gonna have his membership of the Jewish Defence League renewed with some of the shit on here – some of this sounds deliberately designed to inflame the tension between the group and that organisation. (It must be said though that the JDL are his only targets – Chuck rails on Black organisations who haven’t backed him, up comparing them to the murderers of Malcom X and Huey Newton)
In the record industry its generally acknowledged that controversy sells. The dope thing about this album is that the controversy is backed up with some damn fine music. ‘Meet The G That Killed Me’ was always gonna piss of Pro-Gay Organisations, with its “man to man I don’t know if they can, from what I know the parts don’t fit” quote, although the entire story is basically a wakeup call to halt the spread of AIDS. ‘Pollywanacraka’ , with its laid back funky groove attacks men and women who are more intent on getting money and sex however possible, regardless of the damage they do to themselves and their community. ‘Burn Hollywood Burn’ features PE teaming up with two other Hiphop heavyweights, Big Daddy Kane and Icecube to attack the film industry’s usually negative portrayal of black people on the silver screen.
‘Power To The People’ is a strange cut – combining PE’s political message with some Miami bass type shit. Its pretty funky, but I don’t think it really works the way its supposed to. Which is why ‘Who Stole The Show’ is in a good spot right after it – after the minor hiccup, its cool to see that PE aren’t gonna let the album fall off in the second part. Over a quick groove, Chuck targets the music industry accusing them of pimping artists.
In my opinion ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’ is one of the most thought provoking tracks PE have ever recorded. Basically this is an examination of human beings and how they are viewed by themselves, and others – the thinking being that if a mixed race couple have a baby, then that baby is automatically deemed as “black”. PE examine why this is so, why mixed race children are viewed in racist eyes as “impure”. The breakdown on the chorus sets it out in plain terms how society views this situation – “Black Man, Black Woman, Black Baby; White Man White Woman, White Baby; Black Man, White Woman, Black Baby; White Man, Black Woman, Black Baby.” Some deep shit.
‘Revolutionary Generation’ is a track praising women, and the sacrifices they sometimes are forced to make. I’d go as far as describing this track as “swingbeat” – all its missing is some Guy vocals! Its upbeat and funky. Just like the Flav party track ‘I Can’t Do Nuttin For Ya Man’. Surely everyone has heard this one by now – this is a real party track, that for some reason doesn’t even seem out of place on here, because of its dopeness.
The last few tracks on the album are all equally strong – ‘B Side Wins Again’ is actually a remix, and improves on the quality of the original, as Chuck fires a broadside at wack radio station djs, and their unimaginative playlists. ‘War At 33 1/3’ is another headphones experience – the background sounds and the amount of audio flying in and out of the headphones has to be believed.
‘Fight The Power’ is a strong closer. Anyone who has seen Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” will be familiar with this cut. A funky break, and some more politi-talk from Chuck as he disses “good ol’ American heroes” like John Wayne and Elvis. This is right up there as being one of the strongest PE tracks ever recorded. The only beef I got is that they’ve censored this track – the only one on the entire album to have the swear words bleeped. Strange stuff.
Shame on you if you don’t already have this. A classic. Nuff said.