Public Enemy

  • Hip-hop group formed in 1985 from Long Island, New York. The founding members were Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour – rapper), Flavor Flav (William Drayton Jr – hype man, rapper, keyboards, guitars, bass guitar, drums, percussion and giant watch wearer), Professor Griff (rapper, “Minister of Information), and Terminator X (DJ). Chuck D was the primary songwriter, in tandem with a writing team called The Bomb Squad (Eric Sadler, Keith Shocklee, Hank Shocklee, Gary Rinaldo and Bill Stephney). The other members of the group also contributed to songwriting.
  • Chuck D and Flav met while in college. Chuck D hosted a hip-hop radio program at the school’s radio station. He began to perform raps with Flav, and they released a two-track record called Check Out the Radio and Lies, using the name Chuck D and Spectrum City. In 1985, Chuck D made a single with help from Flav to promote the college radio station and to address competition from other rappers that wanted to battle him – he called the song Public Enemy #1 because he felt he was persecuted by others in the local music scene.
  • Bill Stephney was the former program director at Chuck D’s college radio station. He formed a production team with members of Spectrum City – the Shocklee brothers, and Sadler – to form The Bomb Squad. In 1986, Chuck D and Flav recruited Griff and Terminator X and they collaborated with The Bomb Squad to officially form Public Enemy. They adopted the name based on the racial issues of the day, stating that “the black man is definitely the public enemy.” Fledgling producer Rick Rubin had recently created Def Jam records and he was searching for hip-hop talent in New York – he signed the group in 1986.
  • Public Enemy released their debut album in 1987 – Yo! Bum Rush the Show. While it did not chart highly on the Billboard album chart, it was critically acclaimed for its heavy use of samples, DJ scratching and black nationalistic politics. Neither singe from the album – Public Enemy No. 1 and You’re Gonna Get Yours – charted, as they were ignored by the radio mainstream, including stations that concentrated on music by black artists.
  • They became a mainstream success with their next three albums – 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet and 1991’s Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Back. All three albums were certified platinum in sales, and each reached the top three of the Top R&B Albums chart, with the latter reaching #1 as well as #4 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Fear of a Black Planet was ranked #176 on Rolling Stones’ Greatest Albums list, and it was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2005. Four singles from the albums reached #1 on the Hot Rap Songs chart – Fight the Power, 911 is a Joke, Can’t Truss It and Shut ‘Em Down. Fight the Power was featured in Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing – the sample-laden song only has two instrumentals – scratches by DJ Terminator X and saxophone played by Branford Marsalis. It is regarded as one of the most popular and influential songs in hip-hop history.
  • In 1989, as “Minister of Information,” Professor Griff was interviewed by The Washington Times and made scathing anti-Semitic comments, stating that “Jews are responsible for the majority of wickedness in the world.” Earlier, he made homophobic comments to the British press. The public outcry led to the firing of Griff from the group.
  • Public Enemy’s fifth studio album, Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, was released in 1994. It was their last successful album, reaching #4 on the R&B/Hip-Hop album chart. The single Give It Up peaked at #5 on the Rap Songs chart, and it was their highest charting song on the Hot 100, reaching #33.
  • In 1994, Terminator X was injured in a motorcycle accident, and after four years, he decided to retire from the group. He was replaced by DJ Lord. In 2001, Khari Wynn joined the group as guitarist, and after ten years, he was given the title of Music Director for the group. In 2010, Davy DMX joined the group as bass guitarist.
  • The group released ten more studio albums between 1999 and 2020, as well as a soundtrack album for Spike Lee’s film He Got Game and a collaboration album with rapper Paris. In 2013, Public Enemy became the fourth hip-hop group to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – inducted were Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X and Professor Griff. They brought hip-hop to a new level of social consciousness. Here is their video to their most popular song, Fight the Power.

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