Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet has got a brand new funk
Def Jam/Columbia Records.
By DAVID STERN
IT'S HIP TO LIKE Public Enemy. Critics are proudly demonstrating their hipness by saying how innovative and brilliant PE is. With that in mind, I would still say that Fear of a Black Planet is an incredibly ambitious, monumental album. PE's message has now become PE's mission. The rhythms are more insistent. What was once merely repetitive is now rhythmic drone. The production is no longer done in a basement with a couple of turntables. The lyrics as well have become more sophisticated, and more political: "Every brother ain't a brother 'cause of color/Just as well to be undercover."
The album has an overwhelming urgency to it. "Welcome to the Terrordome," in particular, is a classic, perhaps one of the best singles of the last 20 years.
The lyrics seem to have an irresistible bite to them. There is a certain pleasure derived from such blunt commentary <>
as "Elvis was a hero to most/But he <>
never meant s--- to me/Was a straight out racist, the sucker was simple and plain/<>
Motherf--- him and John Wayne."
"PE's got a brand new funk" announces Chuck D near the beginning of the album, and he's not bragging. James Brown's "I'm Black and I'm Proud" may well have inspired the whole album. PE has taken Brown's funk, transformed it into their own, making themselves the rightful heirs to the "Godfather of Soul."
What else can one say about the music? It's loud, repetitive, powerful. Many songs are in the same style as "Fight the Power," popularized in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. There is more variety on this album, though. "Pollywanacraka" is slow and soulful, "Burn Hollywood Burn" has a tense disco beat, and there is some fake-reggae and some neo-psychedelic noise. PE is at their best, however, with straight-ahead funk-hip-hop like "Welcome to the Terrordome."
PE seems to have strived for the moral and political high ground on Fear. While Niggers With Attitudes talk about killing cops, PE refutes their "hatred is becoming hip" image [Newsweek, March 19]: "All I want is peace and love on this planet/Ain't how that God planned it?"
PE knocks racism and prejudice among both blacks and whites. They defend interracial marriage, and attack sexism: "They disrespected mama, and treated her like dirt./America took her, reshaped her -- raped her./No! It never made the paper."
Sexism has long been a part of the black liberation movement, as well as much rap music. PE has certainly taken a new attitude since "Sophisticated Bitch" of two albums ago.
Unfortunately, PE loses some credibility in "Welcome to the Terrordome," when they talk about a previous controversy involving anti-Semitic statements by PE member Professor Griff, which resulted in some uproar, and a temporary breakup of PE: "Crucifixion ain't no fiction/So-called chosen, frozen/Apology made to whoever pleases./Still they got me like Jesus." PE denies any anti-Semitic intent of the lyrics, but it would be expected that a group that aspires to be politically sophisticated should avoid such inferences.
Fear does have its weak moments. "911 Is a Joke" -- which somehow among all the great tunes receives radio airplay -- features a soft beat and the weaker of the two rappers, Flavor Flav, on lead vocals. There are some other boring moments, but overall the 63-minute album has enough outstanding tracks to make it a masterpiece.
"White liberals like yourself have difficulty understanding that Chuck D represents the frustrations of the majority of black youth today." -- caller to talk-show host, from the cut "Incident at 66.6 FM"