Sunday, January 18, 2015

Celebrating 25 Years: Public Enemy's "Fear Of A Black Planet"

After 1988's groundbreaking "It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back," as well as a successful 1989 based on a certain classic single that I'll be talking about in depth during this session, Public Enemy geared up for album number three, "Fear Of A Black Planet."

Release date: April 10, 1990

All songs produced by The Bomb Squad

1. "Contract On The World Love Jam"
I can truly start this session by saying that throughout this album, there are MULTIPLE samples used effectively, so please pardon me if I don't name them all. With that said, this opening, which is nothing more than an intro, all but prepares us for what's in store.

2. "Brothers Gonna Work It Out"

"United we stand, yes divided we fall/Together we can stand tall" -Chuck D

Loyal reader, there will be a good number of appropriately (and apply) titled songs on this album, and what better way to start than with this one right here! Chuck and Flav stresses the importance of Black unity (and it's respective history), education and preparing for the future. Not only is Chuck still on point lyrically, but this production is something else. It may sound like the many samples are all over the place, but it's so controlled and done masterfully that you can't help but enjoy it and appreciate the time, work, and effort involved. Classic right here.
*Grade- A+

3. "911 Is A Joke"
Flavor Flav

Oh man what a classic this is. Flav's "hilariously dope" account of the the lack of timely responses by Police and Emergency crews in Black communities across the country was relevant in 1990 and it still remains that way today albeit in much lesser terms. Some may have thought Flav was joking on this song, but he's actually speaking the truth, in his own way of course!
*Grade- A+

4. "Incident At 66.6 FM"

As quoted by Chuck D's "Lyrics Of A Rap Revolutionary" (additional quotes from Chuck will come from this book):

“Incident At 66.6 FM' was actually a live radio interview that I did at WNBC in New York before a show we did with Run-DMC at Nassau Coliseum. Those people you hear in the record actually called the station.”

5. "Welcome To The Terrordome"

"I got so much trouble on my mind, refuse to lose/Here's your ticket, hear the drummer get wicked (UH)!" 

Those lines above are some of the most quoted, memorable lines in hip hop history in general and from Chuck specifically. Prior to this album's release, member Professor Griff had been dismissed from the group for allegedly making controversial, anti-Semetic remarks in an interview, so this bangin' classic is Chuck's response to the controversy and all of the media outlets who had something to say. You can just hear and feel the "aggressive/angry passion" in Chuck's voice throughout each verse in this song and it's one of the most effective songs in the history of music.
*Grade- A+

"Never question what I am, God knows, cause it's comin' from the heart"

"Sad to say I got sold down the river/Still some quiver when I deliver"

"When I get mad I put it down on a pad/Give ya somethin' that ya never had"

6. "Meet The G That Killed Me"
A brief skit that some deemed controversial due to its apparent homophobic tone.

7. "Pollywanacracka"

Chuck D describes this song quite well:

"It talks about race preference and how a lot of brothers will get a white girl based on what they think a white girl could offer, not on love. The same thing with sisters talking to a white boy because he has some ends."

For what it is, this song is good and Chuck's message is clear when you take the time to sit down and listen to it.
*Grade- B

8. "Anti-Nigger Machine"

"The police system, the government, the law is an anti-nigger machine. We as a people have to be able to control our own education, economics and enforcement. As long as the police have to come in our neighborhoods to protect and serve…[they’ll] treat us like niggers and they’re an anti-nigger machine."

Chuck's description of this song (and the situation in general) is so accurate that it's a complete understatement. While our country's wish to censor music, specifically hip hop, is not at the forefront in today's society, this was certainly the case as the 80s ended and the 90s began, all in a country that loudly promotes and celebrates "freedom of speech." The government and all involved tried so hard to censor hip hop music, but ultimately failed. This song itself is 3:17, but it more than get its points across.
*Grade- B+ 

9. "Burn Hollywood Burn"
Featuring Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane described this classic SO well:

"It's a scathing examination of stereotypes about Blacks in Hollywood films"

While not as blatant as in past years, this is something we as Blacks continue to deal with in the entertainment industry, specifically music, movies, and TV shows/sitcoms. Will it ever end? Only God knows. In addition, the following verse from Big Daddy Kane generally sum up the then current (and historical) frustrations in a complete nutshell:

As I walk the streets of Hollywood Boulevard/Thinkin' how hard it was to those that starred/In the movies portrayin' the roles/Of butlers and maids, slaves and hoes/Many intelligent Black men seemed/To look uncivilized when on the screen/Like, I guess I figure you, to play some jigaboo/On the plantation, what else can a nigga do/And Black women in this profession/As for playing a lawyer, out of the question/For what they play Aunt Jemima is the perfect term/Even if now she got a perm/So let's make our own movies like Spike Lee/Cause the roles being offered don't strike me/There's nothin' that the black man could use to earn/Burn Hollywood burn!"

   Some would say this was (and still is) a controversial song. It's less controversial in my view, and when it comes to a topic like this, you have to be as real as possible.

*Grade- A+

10. "Power To The People"

An appropriately titled song to be sure, featuring Chuck doing his best to uplift the people, and succeeding I might add.
*Grade- A

11. "Who Stole The Soul?"

Interestingly enough, whenever I played this over the years, I never found myself asking exactly "who stole the soul" from Black people, particularly musicians. Now when I think about it, I should say who attempted to steal the soul, because not only did that not happen regardless of this country's efforts to do so, Chuck and Flav answer that question and in my view deliver an overall conclusion. Great song.
*Grade- A+

12. "Fear Of A Black Planet"

This is one of the most appropriately titled "title tracks" you'll ever find. Chuck and Flav talks seriously (and humorously) about race relations, most notably the fear that Whites had of being involved with Blacks, specifically relationships (Chuck asks, "what's wrong wit some color in your family tree?") and political activities. Check ends the song on the perfect note by saying,  "All I got is genes and chromosomes/Consider me Black to the bone/All I want is peace and love, on this planet/Ain't how that God planned it?"
*Grade- A+

13. "Revolutionary Generation"

"It takes a man to take a stand/Understand it takes a woman to make a stronger man." -Chuck D

Chuck and Flav talk about America's (and our own quite frankly) treatment of women of color, which was not good or positive unfortunately. As usual, they covered the historical perspective from the beginning of time, in a sense, bringing it full circle to where things were in 1990. This song was relevant and important in 1990 and it's MORE of that in today's society when you look at the depiction and treatment of Black women in terms of "popular" settings such as reality TV. 

"This generation generates a new attitude/Sister to you we should not be rude/So we come together/And make 'em all say damn this generation!" -Chuck D

*Grade- A+

14. "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man"
Flavor Flav

On the solo tip again, Flav was just having fun (playing the dozens too) and judging by its inclusion in the movie "House Party," which also came out in 1990 and appeared on its soundtrack, this was one of a few Public Enemy classics that could cold rock a party.
*Grade- A+

15. "Reggie Jax"
Chuck comes through with a 1:36 freestyle (somewhat rare from him).

16. "Leave This Off Your Fuckin Charts"
This was an interlude with DJ Terminator X "speakin with his hands again," nothing more or less, even with the odd title.

17. "B-Side Wins Again"

You roll in your ride, the DJ decides/To play it on the radio, the A side/He gives it a try but never gives it a try/And the people request the best, on the B side" -Chuck D

My impression of this dope song has always been that side A (of this album), while incredibly good on its own, was seemingly for the masses, if you will, but the "B side" was for THE PEOPLE, if you know what I mean. Speaking of which, if you asked me right now which half of this album was better, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you, which signifies a damn good album.
*Grade- A+

18. "War At 33 1/3"

Much credit to for the following quotes from Chuck D, courtesy of Keyboard magazine in 1990 when describing this song (brief but very good):

"'War at 33-1/3' is at 128 beats per minute, which is the fastest thing I've ever rapped to, rapping right on top of the beat. I wanted to do something around 155, but it would have gotten to a point where it was just crazy. The lyrics are flying by so fast, you can't even figure out what I'm saying, even though I work at saying every single word clearly. It's important that people understand the words, because what we're saying means something."

*Grade- A

19. "Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned"
This was correctly sequenced as a breather after the previous song, because coming up next is one of the greatest album closers of all time.

20. "Fight The Power"

Without a doubt, this is the classic that Public Enemy is most known for and with good reason. It was the theme/anthem of Spike Lee's great movie "Do The Right Thing" and when speaking to largely one race of people (indeed an entire generation), it had everything you could possibly ask for in a song of this magnitude: aggression, a revolutionary vibe, a tone that could be considered unapologetic and confrontational (I agreed with Wikipedia's assessment so much that I had to include it here), a controlled rage, you name it, it was present in this song. I personally didn't see anything controversial about this song, and that includes the "Elvis line" in the last verse; come on now, was that line any worse than what the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panther Party, just to name three, were called during the times when they tried to make a difference in this country? Chuck had some things on his mind and he spoke how he felt and in the process it touched a LOT of people. This is one of the greatest songs in music period, it came at a time when it was much needed (plus it would benefit today's generation greatly if they were to listen to this), and of course I appreciate it today like I did back in the day. Sadly, we'll never hear another song like this again. (To this day, I'm not sure why the song ABRUPTLY ends on the album itself. It definitely seem like there was more audio before it was quickly cut off.)
*Grade- A+

Wow, just wow. 25 years after its release, this album still holds up today and it has aged SO well. Everything you heard and then some on the previous album was present on "Fear Of A Black Planet" and then some. Flav was hilarious as ever, Chuck was still his revolutionary self on the mic and the Bomb Squad came through with some incredible production. Speaking of the production, you'll notice I didn't do any "sample checks" for this session, that's because there were SO many of theml. Loyal reader, if I listed EVERY sample used on this album, we'd be here all day so in the interest of time, I let the songs and my words speak for themselves. Furthermore, while this album was better than 1987's "Yo! Bumrush The Show" (another great album), it does give 1988's "It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back" a true run for its money, but overall that groundbreaking second album will always remain their masterpiece. In the end, Public Enemy more than exceeded expectations with "Fear Of A Black Planet," achieving a respectable amount of critical and commercial acclaim (it's certified Platinum) and a secure place in the annals of hip hop history. Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, the Bomb Squad, thank YOU for this classic.

Final grade- A+

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