Artists are not eligible for the rock hall until 25 years after their debut recording — which puts us at the cusp of the golden age of hip-hop. With both Public Enemy and N.W.A eligible for the first time this year, it was clear that both would be nominated — and also, unfortunately, clear that only one would get in. The hall opted for the unique tag team of Chuck D and his foil Flavor Flav, two of rap’s most unforgettable personas.
Abetted by “Minister of Information” Professor Griff, DJ Terminator X and the production team of Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad, they made some of rap’s most incendiary recordings. Most notable among them was 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, the first rap album to take the crown in the Village Voice’s influential Pazz & Jop poll of critics’ best-of-year picks. Its singles “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype” (see above) popularized Public Enemy not just among hip-hoppers but among rock and metal heads as well. Their output petered out in the ’90s as other styles and deliveries took hold, but their incorporation of multitudinous musical forms in their samples and scratches were truly groundbreaking, and Chuck D’s lyrical invective (he considered rap to be “the CNN of the black community”) was at its best a wonder to behold.