This debut from Chuck D and crew resonated loudly across the burgeoning hip-hop movement of the late-80s, but its influence exceeds its greatness.
Folks, I am far from an early hip-hop guru, I readily admit. In fact, when this album came out, I hadn’t even celebrated my fourth birthday. Yes, I did get exposed to quite a bit of rap in my college years (I see you Outkast, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Beastie Boys, Ludacris, Nappy Roots, Clipse, etc.), but you won’t find me opining deep thoughts about the genre on this here blog – I’m no poseur. Since this album was selected as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I gave it a fresh listen (three, actually) and must admit its clear influence on the sound of the times, but there are only a few songs here that I find compelling today.
That’s probably borderline blasphemy to some people, and I’m not going to get super-negative here. Let’s face it, there is no shortage of music made over thirty years ago that hasn’t aged like a fine wine. But make no mistake: Chuck D is a fun listen and his Bomb Squad produces some killer “sounds of the late-80’s” beats that are reminiscent of the early Beastie Boys records I so adore (a couple of which are also on this RS Top 500 list). Leadoff track “You’re Gonna Get Yours” finds Chuck flossing about his fancy whip while railing against police discrimination and brutality. Public Enemy has always had a social commentary bent to their rhymes, which I can appreciate and many subsequent rappers would emulate.
“Sophisticated Bitch” is a hilarious romp about a fool throwing money at a woman he sees as high class, unaware that he is getting played. “Timebomb” is a quick and relentless Chuck onslaught that brings the heat, although he saves his best vitriol for “Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)”, probably the finest moment on the record: “Mind over matter, mouth in motion; can’t deny cuz I’ll never be quiet, let’s start this right”.
However, much of this album is filler: puffy talk about their guns (“Miuzi Weighs a Ton”), the depth of their dangerous crew (“Too Much Posse” and the title track), or how hated they are (“Public Enemy No. 1”, “M.P.E.”). Oh, and I cannot stand Flavor Flav, at all. He detracts from what Chuck and the Bomb Squad are bringing and I see him as the exact opposite of Snoop Dogg, who added a unique flow and certain style to Dr. Dre’s visceral and biting lyrics.
Worthy Tracks: “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, “Sophisticated Bitch”, “Timebomb” “Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)”
Final Verdict: Some gems, some filler, some Flavor Flav (ugh); overall I’m not sure this belongs on this list, but there is no doubting the influence this album (and Chuck D) had on hip-hop of the 90s.