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Rap Biographies: Public Enemy

Public Enemy
Public Enemy, also known as PE, is a seminal hip hop group known for their politically charged lyrics, criticism of the media and interest in all that concerns African American community. Public Enemy rewrote the rules of hip-hop, extending their influence beyond rap. Public Enemy were the most influential and radical band of their time. Their productions in the late 80s and early 90s were hugely exciting - both for the torrents of words and the fury of the rhythm tracks, and in the process they have helped to write rap's lexicon.

With his powerful, authoritative baritone, lead rapper Chuck D rhymed about all kinds of social problems, particularly those plaguing the black community, often condoning revolutionary tactics and social activism. They were initially viewed either as a radical and positive avenging force, or a disturbing manifestation of the guns 'n' violence-obsessed, homophobic, misogynist, anti-Semitic attitudes of a section of the black American ghetto underclass.

The group originated at Adelphi University in Long Island where Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour on August 1, 1960) was studying graphic design. He had also been DJ-ing at a student radio station where he was mixing songs one of which had a name Public Enemy No.1. It was heard by Def Jam co-founder and producer Rick Rubin who immediately tried to sign Chuck to his fledgling label. Chuck D had formulated a blueprint for his outfit before signing a contract. Flavour Flav (real name William Drayton) had joined and a bit later they increased the line-up of the group for musical and visual purposes - Professor Griff "Minister Of Information" (b. Richard Griffin), DJ Terminator X (b. Norman Rogers, 25 August 1966) and a four-piece words/dance/martial arts back-up section (Security Of The First World).

Public Enemy unleashed their debut album, "Yo! Bum Rush The Show" in 1987 on Def Jam Records. The music was uncompromising, opening with the drive-by fury of You're Gonna Get Yours. The record combined the 70s funk samples, punishing beats and squally noise collages that would become the band's trademark. Their political campaign was started with the album track, Rightstarter (Message To A Black Man). The album was acclaimed by the hip-hop community but largely ignored by the rock and R&B mainstream.

It was chaotic and invigorating music, made all the more intoxicating by Chuck D's forceful vocals and the absurdist raps of his comic foil Flavor Flav (with his comic sunglasses and an oversized clock hanging from his neck, Flav became the group's visual focal point). Public Enemy frequently ran into controversy with their militant stance and lyrics.

They went on to release the revolutionary It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988, which performed better in the charts than their previous release, and included the hit single "Don't Believe the Hype." Under Shocklee's direction, PE's production team, the Bomb Squad they managed to develope a dense, chaotic mix that relied as much on found sounds and avant-garde noise as it did on old-school funk. Chuck D's rhetoric gained focus and Flavor Flav's raps were wilder and funnier.

As Public Enemy's profile was raised, they opened themselves up to controversy. In a notorious statement, Chuck D claimed that rap was "the black CNN," relating what was happening in the inner city in a way that mainstream media could not project. That time Professor Griff, a member of the group, made some anti-Semitic remarks and was ejected from the band.

Public Enemy spent the remainder of 1989 preparing their third album, releasing "Welcome to the Terrordome" as its first single. Again, the hit caused controversy as its lyrics "still they got me like Jesus" were labeled anti-Semitic but despite all the controversy, "Fear of a Black Planet" (slightly less militant than their first two releases) was released to enthusiastic reviews in the spring of 1990, and it shot into the pop Top Ten as the singles "911 Is a Joke," "Brothers Gonna Work It Out," and "Can't Do Nuttin' for Ya Man" became Top 40 R&B hits. The song "Fight the Power" is considered by many to be the group's self-describing single and considered among the most popular and influential in Hip Hop history.

Except all the popularity and controversy Public Enemy were pioneers in many ways. For instance, Terminator X elevated DJing to a more refined art, the Bomb Squad offered up a web of innovative samples and beats. The PE greatly influenced the rap world into skilled and poetic rhymes with jazzy backbeats. They were the first rap-group having extended world tours, which led to huge popularity and influence of Hip-Hop. They also changed the Internet's music distribution capability (releasing MP3 albums).

For their next album, 1991's Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black, the group re-recorded "Bring the Noise" with thrash metal band Anthrax, the first sign that the group were trying to consolidate their white audience. Apocalypse 91 was greeted with overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its fall release, and it debuted at number four on the pop charts, but the band began to lose momentum in 1992. In the fall of 1992, they released the remix collection Greatest Misses as an attempt to keep their name viable, but it was greeted to nasty reviews.

In the 90s several members of the band embarked on solo careers, while Hank Shocklee and his brother Keith established Shocklee Entertainment in 1993, a production firm and record label. Public Enemy still continue to perform and write, though with some attrition. Terminator X took early retirement and was replaced by Atlanta native DJ Lord as the group's main DJ. Flavor Flav was repeatedly in trouble with the law for disturbance and his spiralling drug addiction. Chuck D's lecture series on "Rap, Race, Reality & Technology" has been used as the basis for his lyrics.

1994's album "Muse Sick-N-Hour Message Age" (released on 4 July - American Independence Day) was released. Prior to its release, it was subjected to exceedingly negative reviews, which affected the perception of the album considerably. Chuck D retired Public Enemy from touring in 1995 as he severed ties with Def Jam, developed his own record label and publishing company, and attempted to re-think Public Enemy. In 1996, he released his first debut album.

Before that record was made, Chuck D published an autobiography in the fall of 1997. During 1997, Chuck D reassembled the original Bomb Squad and began work on three albums. In the spring of 1998, Public Enemy kicked off their major comeback with their soundtrack to Spike Lee's He Got Game, which was played more like a proper album than a soundtrack. Upon its April 1998 release, the record received the strongest reviews of any Public Enemy album since Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black. After Def Jam refused to help Chuck D's attempts to bring PE's music straight to the masses via the Internet Public Enemy become the first mainstream band to release an album online).

In 2002 Chuck D reunited with Flavor Flav, Terminator X and Professor Griff for the release of the Revolverlution album. From then on New Public Enemy mixes are regularly posted in the Internet with Chuck D providing heavy rants against the music industry.

After a three-year break from recording and a switch to the In the Paint label, Public Enemy released Revolverlution, a mix of new tracks, remixes, and live cuts. The CD/DVD combo It Takes a Nation appeared in 2005. The new album New Whirl Odor also appeared in 2005.

In 2004, Flavor Flav appeared on the VH1 reality shows but many fans and Chuck D himself have publicly lambasted Flavor for his actions on the show. Flavor also recently appeared on UK reality TV show. He is currently on the VH1 program "Flavor of Love".

In September of 2005, Flavor Flav reunited with Public Enemy to record a rap protest song, Hell No We Ain't All Right!, criticizing policy issues surrounding the response to Hurricane Katrina, and the George W. Bush administration in particular. Early 2006 saw the release of a new album entitled Rebirth of a Nation which included this protest song and 15 more tracks.
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