27th June 2015
Since their formation over 30 years ago in 1982, the message from Public Enemy has been both loud & clear – one love. This they brought to London’s Roundhouse last week, from where Martin Copland-Grey reports back.
It has been said by those in the know that in this materialistic, over commercialised and warring world that we live in, that the music proffered to the masses is dull, corporate and without voice or purpose. Given the showing of artists such as Rita Ora & Rhianna it’s more about how few clothes you wear and how many column inches you can get or in the case of home-grown UK rapper Tinie Tempah it’s about how many openings and events you can attend.
The cult of celebrity is upon us and it ceases to be about what we say & how we say it. More often than not we are concerned with how we look and how others perceive us. We are measured by how many Twitter followers we have times by the amount of photographs we post on Instagram.
Words are still powerful weapons but only when delivered by the right voice, speaking with utmost clarity & conviction. Look on social media as technology giving everyone on the planet a megaphone to say whatever they wish and as loud as possible. It doesn’t mean that what they say will be any better because it’s amplified, it just means it will be louder. Thus if you’re spouting rubbish about your latest hairdo or selfie then you’ll just be saying it a lot louder. It’s not about the volume of the message; it’s about the truth within the message.
Since their formation over 30 years ago in 1982, the message from Public Enemy has been both loud & clear – one love. As one of the most outspoken and ground breaking hip hop groups of all time they have laid down their words unflinchingly and attracted a fair amount of criticism from time to time, most notably when delivered by their Minister of Information, Professor Griff.
At the Roundhouse as part of the Mogwai ATP season recently, PE were without the Professor once again (this reviewer having seen them in Brixton last year) because he is still being refused entry into the UK, no doubt because of comments made about the Jews in a story published in The New York Times back in 1989.
Not long after this the Professor left PE, apparently fired by Chuck D. but on stage at the Roundhouse in one of his first interactions with the pumped up crowd Mr Chuck made it clear that it was the Governments of the world that were at fault and that it was time Professor Griff was granted entry to the UK. Given that artists such as Snoop Dog & Jay Z have flirted with the law on occasions and yet both have been permitted entry to the UK it seems that Griff has been handed a raw deal or held up as an example of the worst of the worst even though he has apologised on more than one occasion for the comments he made.
Even without their Minister of Information & leader of the S1W’s, Public Enemy are still a force to be reckoned with. The set kicked off with Lost at Birth from Apocalypse 91 getting the camouflaged James Bomb & Brother Roger into their stride with their stage routines of military drill & step show dances.
The years might have passed by in a heartbeat for many of us but the one constant is Chuck D’s distinctive voice. He may admit that he forgets the odd line here and there but he still remains one of the foremost rappers of a generation. He is a man that people gravitate towards. He is someone who forces us to listen to what is being said and to take serious note of it. The reason we take note is because what is being said here is both honest and direct. You might not be prepared for just how direct the approach is but by the end of it you are nodding in agreement and if you feel as passionately as many were that evening then you too may bang your fist against your chest and say hell yeah!
With Public Enemy you don’t get just one legend of the mic but two. As the band launch into the classic Rebel without a Pause the stage is set for the introduction of the court jester himself Flavor Flav. The energy seems to raise another few notches and the crowd jumps that little bit higher in recognition of the gold toothed rap hero in front of them. He may be wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the words ‘Kid Dynamite’ but he’s super proud to tell us that he’s just become a grandfather for the sixth time!
Not content with being able to rock the microphone with the best of them Flavor Flav is also a mean bass player and drummer. Having one god given talent would be impressive enough but here is a man who having been through enough personal ups & downs in his lifetime seems intent on showing us there’s more to him than meets the eye.
The set continues apace with classics such as 911 is a Joke, Welcome to the Terror Dome, Bring the Noise and Don’t Believe the Hype. It’s as if they are saying to us “Remember how good this one is? Well let’s hit you with this!” At times it’s like being beaten round the head with a beat box but in the most pleasurable way possible.
With a band featuring the outstanding talents of Davy DMX on bass and former musical prodigy Kahri Wynn dazzling on guitar the sound doesn’t just fill the room but takes hold of the framework and threatens to shake it down to its foundations.
Special mention must of course go to DJ Lord who since replacing the legendary Terminator X has finally stamped his place within the group. X was a tough act to follow but DJ Lord has made the decks his own and it was a joy to see him in action, especially when he delivered the much appreciated Helicopter Scratch.
The band powered on through more PE classics He Got Game, Night of the Living Bassheads and Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos winding us up into more states of delirium than seemed possible. Fight the Power is still one of the most powerful rap anthems of all time and tonight it was delivered with such a level of energy that it threatened to transport us back to its release in 1990. Perhaps it was the combination of the balmy heat outside and the raw power coming off the stage but by the time we approached the curfew the sweat was dripping and our ears were ringing.
There was even time for them to showcase a track from their new album Man Plans, God Laughs which is due out on July 15th. Honky Tonk Rules samples the classic Rolling Stones song and if this is a taste of what’s to come then PE are entering ground breaking territory once more.
If that wasn’t enough they wound up with their highest UK chart hit Harder than you think perhaps best known to some as the theme to the 2012 Paralympics. For the ecstatic crowd raising the roof in The Roundhouse it was a rallying call to all the disillusioned souls in this great country we call Britain to cut the crap, fight the power, live life like you just don’t care, get up and throw your hands in the air.
Public Enemy headline the Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul Festival in Birmingham on Friday 10th July 2015. You can find more info on them at their official website : www.publicenemy.com or on their twitter @ and facebook.
All words by Martin Copland-Gray. More work by Martin can be found in his Louder Than War archive.