Public Enemy – 25th Anniversary Collection (Island/Def Jam)
LP box set
Twenty-five years on from the release of their debut, Public Enemy has taken its rightful position as a seminal and hugely influential band. Simon Tucker takes a trip through the new anniversary box set collection for Louder Than War.
To coincide with their 25th anniversary, Island/Def Jam have reissued Public Enemy’s entire back catalogue spanning from 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show right through to their 1996 soundtrack to Spike Lee’s He Got Game. Coming in a stunning box set and on 180g vinyl, the presentation certainly holds up. But what about the music?
Of course it bloody does, it’s PUBLIC ENEMY. In a world were an African-American man is now residing in the White House, it may come as a shock to some younger listeners on how important a band like PE were. NWA blazed a trail for the more ‘gangster’ grass-roots style of hip-hop throwing a light to the rest of the world what was going on in certain areas of the States, but it was Public Enemy who educated many African-Americans (and the rest of the world in time) on what had happened in their past and what they should do about their future.
Bursting out of the traps with 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show, PE made their intentions clear with searing tracks such as Public Enemy No.1 and You’re Gonna’ Get Yours.
The album not only ushered in a new way of rhyming but also a new production method created by the now legendary Bomb Squad. This was production as movie and nothing was left out of the mix. Sirens, street sounds, and multiple layers helped to instantly make the listener wake up and take notice.
Following up Yo! Would be difficult for many artists, but oozing confidence, swagger, and buckets of self belief, PE created the now-seminal sequel It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
Opening with a sample of British DJ Dave Pearce introducing the band onto stage at the Hammersmith Odeon and then bursting into the seismic classic Bring The Noise, Nation.. was a much more fully formed record than their debut. Tempos were faster, lyrics spilled out and over each other, and every production trick was thrown into the mix including more samples from PE’s resident DJ Terminator X.
Even the artwork for the LP had the band behind bars making the point of the band ABSOLUTELY crystal clear (the band has since stated that they set out to make the hip-hop version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On).
The album charted more highly than its predecessor and not only African Americans were starting to get on board with PE. The music spread even further across the world and in Britain there seemed to be a strong connection with the band. Maybe this is due to our love of revolutionary music and our history of accepting and taking to our hearts bands that had SOMETHING TO SAY (reggae, punk, rock ‘n’ roll etc).
Next up, the box-set gives us PE’s third album, Fear Of A Black Planet. Following in much the same vein as Nation, the album has a much deeper and production than what has followed and contains one of their most famous tunes, Fight The Power.
Used to great affect in Spike Lee’s masterpiece film Do The Right Thing (1989), and aided with a fantastic video and an incendiary lyric which included the verse: “Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me you see, Straight up racist that sucker was, Simple and plain, Mother fuck him and John Wayne” (you can just see and hear middle-white America’s chins hitting the floor….brilliant).
Looking back at these three albums it is with great confidence that I say that this triptych is as important as ANY in modern music. It certainly had as much as an impact as Bowie’s Berlin trilogy or the Beatles Rubber Soul-Revolver-Sgt Peppers run of albums.
This is what makes the rest of the albums in the box set slightly disappointing. 1991’s Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes and 1994′s contentious Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age still had moments of quality in them, and the music took a more funk orientated tone, but it seemed like PE were slowly loosing their impact and running out of ideas. Finally, included in the box set is the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s He Got Game (1996).
There is no denying the sheer quality and class on display in this box set, however, there are no extras involved. No demos (imagine how great it would be to hear Chuck D refining a lyric), outtakes, or live recordings, really make this box-set seem a little bit…incomplete.
All in all, the box set is a thing of beauty and a very important reminder of why this band were great and how important it is for artists to speak out about their surroundings, history, and what can be done to change injustice etc. It’s not inconceivable to think that what PE did 25yrs ago helped in changing peoples beliefs regarding race etc and this has inadvertently helped to put Obama in the White House.
The only thing that stops me giving this a perfect score is the lack of extras.
All words by Simon Tucker. You can read more from Simon on LTW here.