Artist: Public Enemy
Label: Universal/UMG/Def Jam
Universal Music Group’s artist-themed ICON anthologies continue with a volume dedicated to Public Enemy. The hip-hop band and 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees set new standards in the artistic scope and acceptance for rap music in the 1980s and 1990s. Led by frontman Chuck D and comic partner Flavor Flav, and abetted by DJ Terminator X and Professor Griff, the Long Island-birthed group were responsible for explicitly noisy rhythm tracks (courtesy of production team The Bomb Squad) and explicitly political lyrics with topical themes. This two-disc compilation is a better-than-expected sampling of their work.
At 22 tracks, ICON gives an expanded look at their music compared to their most recent greatest-hits set Power to the People and the Beats, from 2005. All the Def Jam-era studio albums are showcased here, from Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987) to He Got Game (1998). It Takes a Nation of Millions and Fear of a Black Planet get the widest glimpse, with five culled songs from each album. Signature singles like “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”, “Rebel Without a Pause”, and “911 is a Joke” are highlights on the first disc. “Fight the Power” (which anchored Spike Lee’s seminal Do the Right Thing film) and collaborative cuts like “Burn Hollywood Burn” (w. Ice Cube & Big Daddy Kane), “Bring tha Noize (w. Anthrax) and “He Got Game” (w. Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills) are among the most energizing selections on disc two.
A few left-field selections make the cut here. One of them is Terminator X’s “solo” outing “Buck Whylin’” (from the DJ’s Valley of the Jeep Beets LP). The early rap-rock experiment “Sophisticated Bitch”, featuring Living Colour’s Vernon Reid on guitar, is also included. This prevents the set from being a by-the-book best-of release. A caveat bears mentioning: the ICON releases are bare-bones, so don’t expect liner notes.
The pious among Public Enemy fans know that the group has released a string of independent albums since their exit from Def Jam. Still, if listeners want more than a perfunctory nod to the band’s early oeuvre (e.g., the 20th Century Masters set from 2001) ICON works, especially for someone who may be more of a casual fan (particularly for Gen-X types whose ownership of this material may have initially been on vinyl or cassette). Whether one is prone to pop the CD into a stereo or rip it into their portable MP3 player, it’s a worthy compilation.
C. ‘Hypestyle’ Currie, Hip-Hop Philosopher