Monday, January 25, 2010

Public Enemy - "Fear of a Black Planet"

I'm keeping my promise of a review every week of pretty much anything... without further ado.

Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet (1990)

Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is probably my favorite hip-hop album ever. It's full of unbridled anger and energy, the Bomb Squad's production is groundbreaking, and Chuck D's is not only a great rapper, weaving rhymes like it's second nature to him, he also has a great voice. Full of power and masculine anger, the words will definitely come out in a different context if it's spoken from another rapper. While Millions may have been a breakthrough for hip-hop as a whole (it was named best album of 1988 in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll), their follow-up, 1990's Fear of a Black Planet is equally as great.

Artists usually have a different mindset on each of their album. Public Enemy are the exception to the rule, as each album is essentially about a political apocalypse. They only get angrier with each subsequent album and Fear of a Black Planet is their angriest. Black Planet is the sound of a band at war and with nothing to lose. The album came out after Professor Griff's alleged anti-Semitic comments caused controversy, and Chuck D's rhymes as if he's protecting not only Griff's life, but the well being of Public Enemy itself.

The album is like being beaten nonstop from start to finish. From the opening collage of "Contract on the World Love Jam" to the classic closer, "Fight the Power", Black Planet is a hip-hop album with the soul of a punk rock album. The Bomb Squad production is relentless, mixing funk samples with the sounds of sirens and alarms, splicing Chuck D's rhymes and it creates a mood of panic. While released in 1990 (ancient history in hip-hop years), the production sounded like no other, futuristic and it hasn't aged a day, giving the album a greater immediacy, even in this era of hip-hop with it's auto-tune and dance samples.

The other sticking point for the album's greatness is Chuck D. As mentioned before, D is one part great rapper and another part great singer. Acting as a mouthpiece for the frustrations of Black American Men in the 80s, if Millions made him great, then Black Planet turned him into a legend. There are too many great moments from him, that I can only list a few examples of his lyric work from an endless list of greatness:

"Crucifixion ain't no fiction/So called chosen frozen/Apology made to who ever pleases/Still they got me like Jesus" - "Welcome to the Terrordome"

"Burn Hollywood burn I smell a riot/Goin' on first they're guilty now they're gone/Yeah I'll check out a movie/But it'll take a Black one to move me" - "Burn Hollywood Burn"

"Cause I'm Black and I'm proud/I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped/Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps/Sample a look back you look and find/Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check" - "Fight the Power"

Probably the best lyrical album of the last 20 years, hands down.

Thematically, Fear of a Black Planet is easy to understand. This album isn't meant for metaphors. Chuck D, Flava Flav, Terminator X and The Bomb Squad don't have time for memories. They go for the arteries on this album and launch an experience on this unforgettable album. Keep fighting the power, guys.

*****
5 out of 5 Stars

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