Public Enemy, also known as PE, is a seminal hip hop group known for their politically charged lyrics and their interest in the concerns of the African American community.
PE formed in Long Island, New York in 1982. They were signed to the still developing Def Jam record label after Rick Rubin heard Chuck D freestyling on a demo. It then took roughly five years before their debut, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, was released in 1987 to critical acclaim. 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. They also went on to release Fear of a Black Planet which was slightly less militant than their first two releases. It was also the most successful of any of their albums to date and in 2005 was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress. It included the singles "911 is a Joke," which criticized emergency response units for taking more time to service people in the black community than those in the white community, and "Fight the Power," which is considered by many to be the group's self-describing single. The song is among the most popular and influential in Hip Hop history and was the theme song for Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing.
Public Enemy were pioneers in many ways. For instance, Terminator X elevated DJing to a more refined art. Some of his most innovative scratching tricks can be heard on the song "Rebel Without A Pause". PE revolutionized the rap world with their political, social and cultural consciousness, which infused itself 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 in Hip-Hop communities in Europe and Asia. They also changed the Internet's music distribution capability by being the first group to release MP3 albums, a format virtually unknown at the time.
Public Enemy, in keeping with their "pioneer" status also helped to form and define the so-called "crossover" genre of music (heavy rock music spliced with hip hop) by collaborating with New York thrash metal outfit Anthrax in 1991. The single "Bring The Noise" was a remarkable potpourri of semi-militant "black power" lyrics, grinding guitars and sporadic humour. The two bands, cemented by a mutual respect and the personal friendship between Chuck D and his Anthrax counterpart Scott Ian, introduced a hitherto alien genre to rock fans, and the two seemingly disparate groups even toured together. Flavor Flav's pronouncement onstage that "They said this tour would never happen" has become something of a legend in both rock and rap circles. There is some justification for the theory that without this unlikely musical partnership, bands such as Rage Against The Machine and Linkin Park would not have existed.
Origin of name
Chuck D had put out a tape to promote WBAU (the radio station he was working at the time) and to fend off a local rapper who wanted to battle him. He called the tape Public Enemy #1 because he felt like he was being persecuted by people in the local scene. This was the first reference to the notion of a "Public Enemy" in any of Chuck D's songs. The single was created by Chuck D with a contribution by Flavor Flav though this was before the group Public Enemy was assembled.
PE were also infamous for their alignment with S1W (Security of the First World), a militant black power movement. Also, Professor Griff, a member of the group, made many percieved anti-semitic remarks, though he claimed them not to be condemning of all Jews, just Zionists, and as a result was ejected from the band, and the group was listed in an FBI report to Congress entitled "Rap Music and Its Effects on National Security". For this and for their single "Swindler's Lust" the group was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, though many of their fans and the members defended themselves, saying that they were not trying to diminish the events of the Holocaust, rather draw a comparison between the events of the Holocaust and slavery.
Chuck D, the group's leader, has been one of the most vocal supporters of file sharing, claiming that it will perpetuate music and, in the end, help more artists than it will hurt.
They 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. Chuck D and Professor Griff are also members of a band named Confrontation Camp, a confrontational funk/rock band. Chuck D's lecture series on "Rap, Race, Reality & Technology" has been used as the basis for his lyrics on "We Are Gathered Here", an album by the group Fine Arts Militia - which he is a member of.
In 2004, Flavor Flav appeared on the VH1 reality show The Surreal Life, and can now be seen on the VH1 program Strange Love. His portrayal on that show, however, has been the subject of much dispute, especially between fans and the other members of the band. Many fans and Chuck D himself have publicly lambasted Flavor for his actions on the show, including being indignant to his children and his ex-wife. Flavor also recently appeared on UK reality TV show "The Farm". Oddly enough, maybe as a show of their respect for all types of music, PE is playing the hardcore and metal festival, Hellfest '05. Along such very heavy bands as Between the Buried and Me, Ed Gein, From a Second Story Window, Ion Dissonance, Pig Destroyer, and Suffocation.