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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released October 14, 2014 | Def Jam Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
For many, Public Enemy’s second album is the greatest in rap history. And when it hit music stores in 1988, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back enshrined Chuck D’s gang as the Rolling Stones of hip hop. An uppercut that changed the course of the genre’s history, Public Enemy remains thanks to this album THE benchmark in terms of ideological AND musical engagement. Offering a black version of CNN stripped of political correctness, examining each corner of American society with (extremely) rich rhymes and layers of literate and often carnivorous samples, Public Enemy impose their words as well as their sound. An aggressive approach to musical production (the Bomb Squad led by producer Hank Schocklee) that produces literal acoustic miracles. An electric and groovy tsunami, light years away from the bling-bling rap that would eventually take control of the genre, which attained its creative Golden Age in 1988. This Deluxe Edition includes a second record featuring thirteen bonuses, including the No Noise version of Bring The Noise, instrumentals for Rebel Without a Pause, Night Of The Living Baseheads and Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos, and the soundtrack version of Fight The Power for Spike Lee’s eponymous film. © MZ/Qobuz
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released November 24, 2014 | Def Jam Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
At the time of its release in March 1990 -- just a mere two years after It Takes a Nation of Millions -- nearly all of the attention spent on Public Enemy's third album, Fear of a Black Planet, was concentrated on the dying controversy over Professor Griff's anti-Semitic statements of 1989, and how leader Chuck D bungled the public relations regarding his dismissal. References to the controversy are scattered throughout the album -- and it fueled the incendiary lead single, "Welcome to the Terrordome" -- but years later, after the furor has died down, what remains is a remarkable piece of modern art, a record that ushered in the '90s in a hail of multiculturalism and kaleidoscopic confusion. It also easily stands as the Bomb Squad's finest musical moment. Where Millions was all about aggression -- layered aggression, but aggression nonetheless -- Fear of a Black Planet encompasses everything, touching on seductive grooves, relentless beats, hard funk, and dub reggae without blinking an eye. All the more impressive is that this is one of the records made during the golden age of sampling, before legal limits were set on sampling, so this is a wild, endlessly layered record filled with familiar sounds you can't place; it's nearly as heady as the Beastie Boys' magnum opus, Paul's Boutique, in how it pulls from anonymous and familiar sources to create something totally original and modern. While the Bomb Squad were casting a wider net, Chuck D's writing was tighter than ever, with each track tackling a specific topic (apart from the aforementioned "Welcome to the Terrordome," whose careening rhymes and paranoid confusion are all the more effective when surrounded by such detailed arguments), a sentiment that spills over to Flavor Flav, who delivers the pungent black humor of "911 Is a Joke," perhaps the best-known song here. Chuck gets himself into trouble here and there -- most notoriously on "Meet the G That Killed Me," where he skirts with homophobia -- but by and large, he's never been so eloquent, angry, or persuasive as he is here. This isn't as revolutionary or as potent as Millions, but it holds together better, and as a piece of music, this is the best hip-hop has ever had to offer. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1990 | Def Jam Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
At the time of its release in March 1990 -- just a mere two years after It Takes a Nation of Millions -- nearly all of the attention spent on Public Enemy's third album, Fear of a Black Planet, was concentrated on the dying controversy over Professor Griff's anti-Semitic statements of 1989, and how leader Chuck D bungled the public relations regarding his dismissal. References to the controversy are scattered throughout the album -- and it fueled the incendiary lead single, "Welcome to the Terrordome" -- but years later, after the furor has died down, what remains is a remarkable piece of modern art, a record that ushered in the '90s in a hail of multiculturalism and kaleidoscopic confusion. It also easily stands as the Bomb Squad's finest musical moment. Where Millions was all about aggression -- layered aggression, but aggression nonetheless -- Fear of a Black Planet encompasses everything, touching on seductive grooves, relentless beats, hard funk, and dub reggae without blinking an eye. All the more impressive is that this is one of the records made during the golden age of sampling, before legal limits were set on sampling, so this is a wild, endlessly layered record filled with familiar sounds you can't place; it's nearly as heady as the Beastie Boys' magnum opus, Paul's Boutique, in how it pulls from anonymous and familiar sources to create something totally original and modern. While the Bomb Squad were casting a wider net, Chuck D's writing was tighter than ever, with each track tackling a specific topic (apart from the aforementioned "Welcome to the Terrordome," whose careening rhymes and paranoid confusion are all the more effective when surrounded by such detailed arguments), a sentiment that spills over to Flavor Flav, who delivers the pungent black humor of "911 Is a Joke," perhaps the best-known song here. Chuck gets himself into trouble here and there -- most notoriously on "Meet the G That Killed Me," where he skirts with homophobia -- but by and large, he's never been so eloquent, angry, or persuasive as he is here. This isn't as revolutionary or as potent as Millions, but it holds together better, and as a piece of music, this is the best hip-hop has ever had to offer. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1990 | Def Jam Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
At the time of its release in March 1990 -- just a mere two years after It Takes a Nation of Millions -- nearly all of the attention spent on Public Enemy's third album, Fear of a Black Planet, was concentrated on the dying controversy over Professor Griff's anti-Semitic statements of 1989, and how leader Chuck D bungled the public relations regarding his dismissal. References to the controversy are scattered throughout the album -- and it fueled the incendiary lead single, "Welcome to the Terrordome" -- but years later, after the furor has died down, what remains is a remarkable piece of modern art, a record that ushered in the '90s in a hail of multiculturalism and kaleidoscopic confusion. It also easily stands as the Bomb Squad's finest musical moment. Where Millions was all about aggression -- layered aggression, but aggression nonetheless -- Fear of a Black Planet encompasses everything, touching on seductive grooves, relentless beats, hard funk, and dub reggae without blinking an eye. All the more impressive is that this is one of the records made during the golden age of sampling, before legal limits were set on sampling, so this is a wild, endlessly layered record filled with familiar sounds you can't place; it's nearly as heady as the Beastie Boys' magnum opus, Paul's Boutique, in how it pulls from anonymous and familiar sources to create something totally original and modern. While the Bomb Squad were casting a wider net, Chuck D's writing was tighter than ever, with each track tackling a specific topic (apart from the aforementioned "Welcome to the Terrordome," whose careening rhymes and paranoid confusion are all the more effective when surrounded by such detailed arguments), a sentiment that spills over to Flavor Flav, who delivers the pungent black humor of "911 Is a Joke," perhaps the best-known song here. Chuck gets himself into trouble here and there -- most notoriously on "Meet the G That Killed Me," where he skirts with homophobia -- but by and large, he's never been so eloquent, angry, or persuasive as he is here. This isn't as revolutionary or as potent as Millions, but it holds together better, and as a piece of music, this is the best hip-hop has ever had to offer. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1988 | Def Jam Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Yo! Bum Rush the Show was an invigorating record, but it looks like child's play compared to its monumental sequel, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a record that rewrote the rules of what hip-hop could do. That's not to say the album is without precedent, since what's particularly ingenious about the album is how it reconfigures things that came before into a startling, fresh, modern sound. Public Enemy used the template Run-D.M.C. created of a rap crew as a rock band, then brought in elements of free jazz, hard funk, even musique concrète, via their producing team, the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before. This coincided with a breakthrough in Chuck D's writing, both in his themes and lyrics. It's not that Chuck D was smarter or more ambitious than his contemporaries -- certainly, KRS-One tackled many similar sociopolitical tracts, while Rakim had a greater flow -- but he marshaled considerable revolutionary force, clear vision, and a boundless vocabulary to create galvanizing, logical arguments that were undeniable in their strength. They only gained strength from Flavor Flav's frenzied jokes, which provided a needed contrast. What's amazing is how the words and music become intertwined, gaining strength from each other. Though this music is certainly a representation of its time, it hasn't dated at all. It set a standard that few could touch then, and even fewer have attempted to meet since. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released September 25, 2020 | Public Enemy PS - Def Jam

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The return of Public Enemy to Def Jam is quite something. Sure, the legendary American rap group also released What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down under their own label, Enemy Records. But it’s the return to their roots which makes this album truly symbolic. Since the New York band has been producing music for almost thirty-five years now, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, it’s quite simple – this is undoubtedly the best album they have released in a long time. Joined by a whole host of legends, Public Enemy isn’t just making old-school rap music for fans over the age of forty. In this new album, you can enjoy George Clinton bringing his crazy funk-rock energy to GRID (also featuring Cypress Hill), the return of the Beastie Boys and the 80’s rap-rock trio Run-DMC on Public Enemy Number Won, as well as the legendary Ice-T and PMD (half of EPMD) in Smash the Crowd. Almost all of the tracks have transitions to remove any breaks between songs, giving the impression you’re in a train that’s going full steam ahead (except Go At It feat. Jahi). There’s not much to dislike about this album, from the calm and melancholic Blackat, a homage to a deceased friend, to the remix of Fight The Power which brings together a dream team of gangsters featuring Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG and Questlove from The Roots. Drawing on old-school sounds packed with heavy breakbeats and scratches and combining them with a deliberately organic sound (the group has always distinguished itself by its ability to bring the production equipment alive), Public Enemy has produced a complete and passionately urgent album which is entirely relevant and far from stuck in the past. © Brice Miclet/Qobuz
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Pop - Released January 1, 1988 | Def Jam Recordings

Yo! Bum Rush the Show was an invigorating record, but it looks like child's play compared to its monumental sequel, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a record that rewrote the rules of what hip-hop could do. That's not to say the album is without precedent, since what's particularly ingenious about the album is how it reconfigures things that came before into a startling, fresh, modern sound. Public Enemy used the template Run-D.M.C. created of a rap crew as a rock band, then brought in elements of free jazz, hard funk, even musique concrète, via their producing team, the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before. This coincided with a breakthrough in Chuck D's writing, both in his themes and lyrics. It's not that Chuck D was smarter or more ambitious than his contemporaries -- certainly, KRS-One tackled many similar sociopolitical tracts, while Rakim had a greater flow -- but he marshaled considerable revolutionary force, clear vision, and a boundless vocabulary to create galvanizing, logical arguments that were undeniable in their strength. They only gained strength from Flavor Flav's frenzied jokes, which provided a needed contrast. What's amazing is how the words and music become intertwined, gaining strength from each other. Though this music is certainly a representation of its time, it hasn't dated at all. It set a standard that few could touch then, and even fewer have attempted to meet since. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released April 28, 1998 | Def Jam Recordings

Nominally a soundtrack to Spike Lee's basketball drama, but in reality more of an individual album, He Got Game appeared in 1998, just the second Public Enemy album since 1991's Apocalypse 91. Even though Chuck D was pushing 40, the late '90s were friendlier to PE's noisy, claustrophobic hip-hop than the mid-'90s, largely because hip-hop terrorists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Jeru the Damaja, and DJ Shadow were bringing the music back to its roots. PE followed in their path, stripping away the sonic blitzkrieg that was the Bomb Squad's trademark and leaving behind skeletal rhythm tracks, simple loops, and basslines. Taking on the Wu at their own game -- and, if you think about it, Puff Daddy as well, since the simple, repetitive loop of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" on the title track was nothing more than a brazenly successful one-upmanship of Puff's shameless thievery -- didn't hurt the group's credibility, since they did it well. Listen to the circular, menacing synth lines of the opening "Resurrection" or the scratching strings on "Unstoppable" and it's clear that Public Enemy could compete with the most innovative artists in the younger generation, while "Is Your God a Dog" and "Politics of the Sneaker Pimps" proved that they could draw their own rules. That said, He Got Game simply lacked the excitement and thrill of prime period PE -- Chuck D, Terminator X, and the Bomb Squad were seasoned, experienced craftsmen, and it showed, for better and worse. They could craft a solid comeback like He Got Game, but no matter how enjoyable and even thought-provoking the album was, that doesn't mean it's where you'll turn when you want to hear Public Enemy. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released October 1, 1991 | Def Jam Recordings

Coming down after the twin high-water marks of It Takes a Nation of Millions and Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy shifted strategy a bit for their fourth album, Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black. By and large, they abandon the rich, dense musicality of Planet, shifting toward a sleek, relentless, aggressive attack -- Yo! Bum Rush the Show by way of the lessons learned from Millions. This is surely a partial reaction to their status as the Great Black Hope of rock & roll; they had been embraced by a white audience almost in greater numbers than black, leading toward rap-rock crossovers epitomized by this album's leaden, pointless remake of "Bring the Noise" as a duet with thrash metallurgists Anthrax. It also signals the biggest change here -- the transition of the Bomb Squad to executive-producer status, leaving a great majority of the production to their disciples, the Imperial Grand Ministers of Funk. This isn't a great change, since the Public Enemy sound has firmly been established, giving the new producers a template to work with, but it is a notable change, one that results in a record with a similar sound but a different feel: a harder, angrier, determined sound, one that takes its cues from the furious anger surging through Chuck D's sociopolitical screeds. And this is surely PE's most political effort, surpassing Millions through the use of focused, targeted anger, a tactic evident on Planet. Yet it was buried there, due to the seductiveness of the music. Here, everything is on the surface, with the bluntness of the music hammering home the message. Arriving after two records where the words and music were equally labyrinthine, folding back on each other in dizzying, intoxicating ways, it is a bit of a letdown to have Apocalypse be so direct, but there is no denying that the end result is still thrilling and satisfying, and remains one of the great records of the golden age of hip-hop. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2005 | Def Jam Recordings

Apart from their 2001 installment in Universal's ongoing 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection series, Public Enemy had not been given a career compilation prior to 2005's Power to the People and the Beats: Public Enemy's Greatest Hits. The 2001 comp overlooked such major cuts as "Rebel Without a Pause" and "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," plus it was sequenced in a non-chronological order. Power to the People rights those two wrongs by including all of PE's major songs from 1987-1998 -- which doesn't mean it's all their best music, of course -- presented in a chronological fashion, beginning with "You're Gonna Get Yours" and ending with "He Got Game." As such, it provides not only a useful summary of their groundbreaking work, it's also a bracing, exciting listen in its own right. Of course, each individual Public Enemy release recorded during these ten years is worth hearing -- especially 1988's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and 1990's Fear of a Black Planet, which are two of the great works of art of the 20th century -- but for those who want a quick introduction to the greatest hip-hop group of all time, this fits the bill perfectly. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1994 | Def Jam Recordings

If Greatest Misses was viewed as a temporary stumble upon its release in 1992, Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age was viewed as proof positive that Public Enemy was creatively bankrupt and washed up when it appeared in 1994. By and large, it was savaged in the press, most notably in a two-star pan by Touré in Rolling Stone, whose review still irked PE leader Chuck D years later. In retrospect, it's hard not to agree with Chuck's anger, since Muse Sick is hardly the disaster it was painted at the time. In fact, it's a thoroughly enjoyable, powerful album, one that is certainly not as visionary as the group's first four records, but is as musically satisfying. Its greatest crime is that it arrived at a time when so few were interested in not just Public Enemy, but what the group represents -- namely, aggressive, uncompromising, noisy political rap that's unafraid, and places as much emphasis on soundscape as it does on groove. In 1994, hip-hop was immersed in gangsta murk (the Wu-Tang Clan's visionary 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang, was only beginning to break the stranglehold of G-funk), and nobody cared to hear Public Enemy's unapologetic music, particularly since it made no concessions to the fads and trends of the times. Based solely on the sound, Muse Sick, in fact, could have appeared in 1991 as the sequel to Fear of a Black Planet, and even if it doesn't have the glorious highs of Apocalypse 91, it is arguably a more cohesive listen, with a greater sense of purpose and more consistent material than that record. But, timing does count for something, and Apocalypse did arrive when the group was not just at the peak of their powers, but at the peak of their hold on the public imagination, two things that cannot be discounted when considering the impact of an album. This record, in contrast, stands outside of time, sounding better as the years have passed, because when it's separated from fashion and trends, it's revealed as a damn good Public Enemy record. True, it doesn't offer anything new, but it offers a uniformly satisfying listen and it has stood the test of time better than many records that elbowed it off the charts and out of public consciousness during that bleak summer of 1994. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

Hip-Hop/Rap - Released June 19, 2020 | Enemy Records

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1998 | Def Jam Recordings

Nominally a soundtrack to Spike Lee's basketball drama, but in reality more of an individual album, He Got Game appeared in 1998, just the second Public Enemy album since 1991's Apocalypse 91. Even though Chuck D was pushing 40, the late '90s were friendlier to PE's noisy, claustrophobic hip-hop than the mid-'90s, largely because hip-hop terrorists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Jeru the Damaja, and DJ Shadow were bringing the music back to its roots. PE followed in their path, stripping away the sonic blitzkrieg that was the Bomb Squad's trademark and leaving behind skeletal rhythm tracks, simple loops, and basslines. Taking on the Wu at their own game -- and, if you think about it, Puff Daddy as well, since the simple, repetitive loop of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" on the title track was nothing more than a brazenly successful one-upmanship of Puff's shameless thievery -- didn't hurt the group's credibility, since they did it well. Listen to the circular, menacing synth lines of the opening "Resurrection" or the scratching strings on "Unstoppable" and it's clear that Public Enemy could compete with the most innovative artists in the younger generation, while "Is Your God a Dog" and "Politics of the Sneaker Pimps" proved that they could draw their own rules. That said, He Got Game simply lacked the excitement and thrill of prime period PE -- Chuck D, Terminator X, and the Bomb Squad were seasoned, experienced craftsmen, and it showed, for better and worse. They could craft a solid comeback like He Got Game, but no matter how enjoyable and even thought-provoking the album was, that doesn't mean it's where you'll turn when you want to hear Public Enemy. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released February 10, 1987 | Def Jam Recordings

Sometimes, debut albums present an artist in full bloom, with an assured grasp on their sound and message. Sometimes, debut albums are nothing but promise, pointing toward what the artist could do. Public Enemy's gripping first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, manages to fill both categories: it's an expert, fully realized record of extraordinary power, but it pales in comparison with what came merely a year later. This is very much a Rick Rubin-directed production, kicking heavy guitars toward the front, honing the loops, rhythms, and samples into a roar with as much in common with rock as rap. The Bomb Squad are apparent, but they're in nascent stage -- certain sounds and ideas that would later become trademarks bubble underneath the surface. And the same thing could be said for Chuck D, whose searing, structured rhymes and revolutionary ideas are still being formed. This is still the sound of a group comfortable rocking the neighborhood, but not yet ready to enter the larger national stage. But, damn if they don't sound like they've already conquered the world! Already, there is a tangible, physical excitement to the music, something that hits the gut with relentless force, as the mind races to keep up with Chuck's relentless rhymes or Flavor Flav's spastic outbursts. And if there doesn't seem to be as many classics here -- "You're Gonna Get Yours," "Miuzi Weighs a Ton," "Public Enemy No. 1" -- that's only in comparison to what came later, since by any other artist an album this furious, visceral, and exciting would unquestionably be heralded as a classic. From Public Enemy, this is simply a shade under classic status. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released September 4, 2015 | Universal Music Group International

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released August 23, 1994 | Def Jam Recordings

If Greatest Misses was viewed as a temporary stumble upon its release in 1992, Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age was viewed as proof positive that Public Enemy was creatively bankrupt and washed up when it appeared in 1994. By and large, it was savaged in the press, most notably in a two-star pan by Touré in Rolling Stone, whose review still irked PE leader Chuck D years later. In retrospect, it's hard not to agree with Chuck's anger, since Muse Sick is hardly the disaster it was painted at the time. In fact, it's a thoroughly enjoyable, powerful album, one that is certainly not as visionary as the group's first four records, but is as musically satisfying. Its greatest crime is that it arrived at a time when so few were interested in not just Public Enemy, but what the group represents -- namely, aggressive, uncompromising, noisy political rap that's unafraid, and places as much emphasis on soundscape as it does on groove. In 1994, hip-hop was immersed in gangsta murk (the Wu-Tang Clan's visionary 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang, was only beginning to break the stranglehold of G-funk), and nobody cared to hear Public Enemy's unapologetic music, particularly since it made no concessions to the fads and trends of the times. Based solely on the sound, Muse Sick, in fact, could have appeared in 1991 as the sequel to Fear of a Black Planet, and even if it doesn't have the glorious highs of Apocalypse 91, it is arguably a more cohesive listen, with a greater sense of purpose and more consistent material than that record. But, timing does count for something, and Apocalypse did arrive when the group was not just at the peak of their powers, but at the peak of their hold on the public imagination, two things that cannot be discounted when considering the impact of an album. This record, in contrast, stands outside of time, sounding better as the years have passed, because when it's separated from fashion and trends, it's revealed as a damn good Public Enemy record. True, it doesn't offer anything new, but it offers a uniformly satisfying listen and it has stood the test of time better than many records that elbowed it off the charts and out of public consciousness during that bleak summer of 1994. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

Hip-Hop/Rap - Released September 18, 2020 | UMG Recordings, Inc.

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2013 | Def Jam Recordings

It would be unfair to say that 1992's Greatest Misses is where it all began to go wrong for Public Enemy, but it wouldn't be entirely inaccurate. Following Apocalypse 91 by a little less than a year, the album is a jumble of six new songs and six remixes, with a live cut added as a bonus track -- a sure sign that the group was either finding a way to buy time or didn't quite have the energy to finish a full album. The resulting record doesn't indicate which answer is better, which is part of the problem: It never quite comes into focus, which is a startling change in course from a crew who, prior to this, never took an unsure step with their recordings. That lack of direction is what really hurts the record, since it seeps into not just the superfluous remixes (many waterlogged with introductory hot-button talk-show samples), but also the new material. Here, the Bomb Squad and their legions of co-producers -- most prominently the Imperial Grand Ministers of Funk, but also Dr. Treble n Mr. Bass -- sound restrained as they try to move PE away from their signature sonic assault and into newer, soulful territory. To a certain extent, it works on "Hit da Road Jack," but when the Parliament allusions are hauled out on this album's obligatory Flavor Flav showcase, "Gett off My Back," for the first time Public Enemy sound like followers, not leaders. This trouble is compounded by the fact that the tracks where they sound the most comfortable -- "Tie Goes to the Runner," the basketball saga "Air Hoodlum," and the record's best track, "Hazy Shade of Criminal" -- are the ones that sound closest to the band's classic sound, which, at that point, was beginning to sound outdated as hip-hop became ensconced in gangsta. In retrospect, it sounds better -- still not among their best material, but solid genre material nonetheless, with the aforementioned songs (apart from "Gett off My Back") all being satisfying within the sound that PE has developed, even if it's not among their best work. So, Greatest Misses is not the outright disaster that it seemed at the time, but neither is it a lost treasure, since it's just too damn diffuse to be something worthwhile for anyone outside of the dedicated. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released April 10, 1990 | Def Jam Recordings

At the time of its release in March 1990 -- just a mere two years after It Takes a Nation of Millions -- nearly all of the attention spent on Public Enemy's third album, Fear of a Black Planet, was concentrated on the dying controversy over Professor Griff's anti-Semitic statements of 1989, and how leader Chuck D bungled the public relations regarding his dismissal. References to the controversy are scattered throughout the album -- and it fueled the incendiary lead single, "Welcome to the Terrordome" -- but years later, after the furor has died down, what remains is a remarkable piece of modern art, a record that ushered in the '90s in a hail of multiculturalism and kaleidoscopic confusion. It also easily stands as the Bomb Squad's finest musical moment. Where Millions was all about aggression -- layered aggression, but aggression nonetheless -- Fear of a Black Planet encompasses everything, touching on seductive grooves, relentless beats, hard funk, and dub reggae without blinking an eye. All the more impressive is that this is one of the records made during the golden age of sampling, before legal limits were set on sampling, so this is a wild, endlessly layered record filled with familiar sounds you can't place; it's nearly as heady as the Beastie Boys' magnum opus, Paul's Boutique, in how it pulls from anonymous and familiar sources to create something totally original and modern. While the Bomb Squad were casting a wider net, Chuck D's writing was tighter than ever, with each track tackling a specific topic (apart from the aforementioned "Welcome to the Terrordome," whose careening rhymes and paranoid confusion are all the more effective when surrounded by such detailed arguments), a sentiment that spills over to Flavor Flav, who delivers the pungent black humor of "911 Is a Joke," perhaps the best-known song here. Chuck gets himself into trouble here and there -- most notoriously on "Meet the G That Killed Me," where he skirts with homophobia -- but by and large, he's never been so eloquent, angry, or persuasive as he is here. This isn't as revolutionary or as potent as Millions, but it holds together better, and as a piece of music, this is the best hip-hop has ever had to offer. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released August 28, 2020 | Public Enemy PS - Def Jam

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Public Enemy in the magazine
  • Public Enemy no1!
    Public Enemy no1! The return of Public Enemy to Def Jam is quite something. Sure, the legendary American rap group also released What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down under their own label, Enemy Records. But i...