|Album||Apocalypse ’91…The Enemy Strikes Black|
|Year of release||1991|
The album that turns 25 years old today: the last fantastic Public Enemy album!
The task Public Enemy faced wasn’t simple. Take a look at the three albumcovers pictured above and place yourself in Public Enemy’s shoes. A sequel has to be released to those, on release declared to be classics, albums.
After It Takes a Nation of Millions and Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy started work on their fourth album. The sound of the album would be different than their predecessors. Public Enemy was knowns for the radical themes in their songs, which resulted in quite some upheavle, particularly in the US. For the first time a (rap) group articualted the black point-of-view so prominently. The name of the group was rightly selected. For a lareg part of the (white) audience they truly were a public enemy. A fun fact is that Public Enemy was put on a pedestal by the (mostly white) critics and sales were largely based on white audiences buying Public Enemy records.
In the two preceding years the group had disbanded and regrouped several times. Professor Griff was evicted from the group, for voicing antisemitic sentiments. Flavor Flav had been indited for domestic violence and during the first half of 1991 Terminator X had released his first solo-album, which fed rumors about him leaving the group. Besides all this a change was about to take place within the regular production team, a rather important feat.
On the previous albums the revolutionary message was sometimes somewhat obscured by musical embellishments (particularly on Fear Of A Black Planet). With Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black the music turned harder, angrier and more agressive. Because The Bomb Squad, the succesful production-team responsible for the Public Enemy sound, turned its focus to other projects (of which Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was a primary example), production duties were now executed by the Imperial Grand Ministers of Funk. The message is much clearer, as a result of the directness of the music. The album is also more politically charged and is really focussed in its anger; luckily the result is still exciting and impressive. A definitive highlight in Public Enemy’s body of work and in hip-hop.
Before the release
Before the album was released two singles were made available: a remake of It Takes A Nation Of Millions‘ Bring The Noise with thrash-metal act Anthrax and Can’t Truss It. Especially Can’t Truss It is a masterpiece in its own right. The videoclip accompanying the song, which has slavery as the subject, takes the subject home; also a masterpiece. The song is a perfect example for the album: direct, angry, sincere and extermely funky. My admiration for Chuck D. the rapper lsrgely stems from this song. The way he performs, and the authority with which he does it, is impressive and makes you listen:
And I judge everyone, one by the one / Look here come the judge / Watch it here he come now
I can only guess what’s happ’nin’ / Years ago he woulda been / The ships captain
Gettin’ me bruised on a cruise / What I got to lose, lost all contact / Got me layin’ on my back
Rollin’ in my own leftover / When I roll over, I roll over in somebody else’s
90 damn days on a slave ship / Count ’em fallin’ off 2, 3, 4 hun’ed at a time
Blood in the wood and it’s mine / I’m chokin’ on spit feelin’ pain / Like my brain bein’ chained
Still gotta give it what I got / But it’s hot in the day, cold in the night
But I thrive to survive, I pray to god to stay alive / my Attitude boils up inside
And that ain’t it (think I’ll every quit) / Still I pray to get my hands ’round / The neck of the man wit’ the whip
3 months pass, they brand a label on my ass / To signify / Owned
I’m on the microphone / Sayin’ 1555
How I’m livin’ / We been livin’ here / Livin’ ain’t the word / I been givin’
Haven’t got / Classify us in the have-nots / Fightin’ haves / ‘Cause it’s all about money
When it comes to Armageddon / Mean I’m getting mine / Here I am turn it over Sam
427 to the year / Do you understand / That’s why it’s hard / For the black to love the land
© Public Enemy – Can’t Truss It (1991)
The future holds nothing else but confrontation!
A funky beat and a siren that keeps on wailing. A great intro to the album and the fabulous Lost At Birth. The stage is set, followed by the short Rebirth containing the lyrics These days / You can’t see who’s in cahoots / ‘Cause now the KKK / Wears three-piece suits, which erases any doubt. This is going to be an extremely good album, with lyrics that nowadays seem even more true then they were at the time.
Following Rebirth is Nighttrain, which incorporates James Brown samples, directly followed by the aforementioned genious Can’t Truss It.
Particulary subject-wise this album is crystal-clear. A selection.
The title to I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Niga states the subject exactly. Flavor Flav raps about how the use of the N-word spreads like a disease. Contrary to the usual choice of words in hip-hop, Public Enemy did not (or hardly did) use profranity. Cusswords were a gangsta-rap thing: Ice Cube used words like fuck and nigger in almost every song and sometimes sentence. Public Enemy employed different means, which probably is one of the reasons I can still listen to and enjoy Public Enemy to this day. Ice Cube and N.W.A. for example are sometimes embarrassing to listen to.
How to Kill a Radio Consultant is about segregation at radio-stations, resulting in hardly hearing rappers and rap-groeps with real messages on daytime radio.
By The Time I Get To Arizona, the album’s third single, is inspired by the state Arizona’s refusal to acknowledge Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday. After a vote by the people of Arizona, Evan Meacham, the governor at the time, canceled the holiday stating “I guess King did a lot for the colored people, but I don’t think he deserves a national holiday”. Needless to say it enraged Public Enemy and Chuck D. Lyrics like What’s a smiling face, when the whole state’s racist? and particularly I urinated on the state while I was kicking this song reflect the impression the group had of Arizona and its governor very well. As if the lyrics left room for debate, the videoclip to the song drives the point even further home: Chuck D. acts that he assassinates Meacham using a car bomb.
More New At 11 is a report of a number of street events. Lyrically uneventful, however it is one of the most funky songs Public Enemy ever recorded. The single Nighttrain contains a mix of More News At 11, which is even funkier than the original.
One Million Bottle Bags entails the big problem of alcohol abuse by a large part of the poor, black population in the innercities. It concerns the millions liquor companies invest in marketing that specific demographic, by producing (very) cheap liquor.
Shut ’Em Down targets (fashion) chains, who exploit hip-hop for their own profit, without repaying the group of people who made hip-hop a major force.
The album’s title references the movies Apocalypse Now and (Star Wars) The Empire Strikes Back.
After the release
Following the release an extensive tour was undertaken: Tour Of A Black Planet, which brought the group to Paradiso, Amsterdam on August 30th, 1992. I had to be there. It is tsill one of the most exciting concerts I ever witnessed. Pure adrenaline! Recording of the tour were later released on video using the name of the tour as its title.
After the album and tour Public Enemy turned less interesting album-wise. The group was still able to release some classic songs like Get Off My BackGive It Up (1994) and He Got Game (1998). Despite the fact that consecutive albums were not at the same level of the first four, later albums like Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp are still worth the time.
However, Public Enemy’s first four albums are so incredibly good, exciting and funky, it entices them to earn the respect they righly deserve for being one of the founders and innovators of hip-hop, who were the best at the genre, over a period of 4 years.
Yo! Bum Rush The Show, It Takes A Nation Of Millions & Fear Of A Black Planet images: discogs.com
Terminator X & The Valley of the Jeep Beets & Apocalypse ’91…The Enemy Strikes Black images: wikipedia.org
Can’t Truss It videostills image: clip-vip.com
Public Enemy live image: exhibitions.nypl.org