Public Enemy was founded back in 1982, at the beginning of the golden age of hip-hop. Def Jam Records and budding producer Rick Rubin wanted to mesh the rap style of Run DMC with a political sensibility that addressed the issues facing inner-city and black youth. A Long Island, NY college student, Carlton Ridenhour, a.k.a. Chuck D, was the man to do it. He recruited Flavor Flav and DJ Terminator X along with Professor Griff and the Bomb Squad (Eric Sadler, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee) to be his production team. They hit the road as the opening act for the Beastie Boys, exploding onto the scene with Yo! Bum Rush the Show in 1987.
The group features two very different vocalists: Chuck D raps about anti-establishment concerns in a booming, authoritarian voice, while Flavor Flav serves as hype man — interjecting with taunts and questions. “We’re the Rolling Stones of the rap game,” Chuck D recently told Rolling Stone. “We’re ‘rolling stones’ — we go around the world, over and over again. It’s really a point back to the Muddy Waters song [“Rollin’ Stone”], as opposed to just the group . . . although I don’t know if I’m Keith or Mick or Flavor [Flav] is Keith or Mick. We probably switch and flip them.”
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But unlike the Rolling Stones, Public Enemy is no longer affiliated with a major label, having split with Def Jam in the late ‘90s. The group’s latest albums, The Evil Empire Of Everything and Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp (both of which were released digitally last month and are out physically today), were made without the support of a record label and without a traditional studio. Yet they prove that the legendary group has lost none of their spark or spit — not least because the political issues that ticked them off so many years ago remain even in these supposedly post-racial times.