Public Enemy frontman Chuck D is one of the most influential MCs in the history of Hip Hop. Since stepping on the scene with 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show, his powerful voice and revolutionary, politically-minded content has sent shockwaves through the culture, igniting a wave of MCs to follow suit.
Born on August 1, 1960, today marks the Long Island native’s 57th birthday, and he’s not sitting around somewhere resting on his laurels. He’s touring the world with his supergroup Prophets of Rage — Cypress Hill’s B-Real, Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford, Public Enemy’s DJ Lord — and promoting his latest Public Enemy album, Nothing Is Quick In The Desert.
Along with the inimitable Flavor Flav, Chuck D is permanently etched in the Hip Hop history books. In honor of Chuck’s 57th revolution around the sun, here are seven Public Enemy songs that made their indelible marks on Hip Hop.
“Shut ‘Em Down” (1991)
Taken from Public Enemy’s fourth studio album, Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, the track rips apart major corporations and issues a slap in the face with lines like, “I like Nike but wait a minute/ The neighborhood supports so put some/ Money in it/ Corporations owe/ Dey gotta give up the dough/ To da town/ Or else/ We gotta shut ’em down.”
“Fight The Power” (1990)
Flav and Chuck took to the New York City streets to film the video for the Fear of a Black Planet cut, which was originally featured on the soundtrack for the 1989 film, Do The Right Thing. Indisputably a call to action, Chuck commanded people to stand up against systematic oppression and reminded us none of his “heroes appeared on no stamp.”
With lines like, “Elvis was a hero to most/ But he never meant, to me you see/ Straight up racist that sucker was/ Simple and plain/ Mother, him and John Wayne,” it went against what a traditionally white audience deemed as symbols of wholesome Americana.
“By The Time I Get To Arizona” (1991)
Another cut from Apocalypse 91 album, “By The Time I Get To Arizona” took on Arizona’s refusal to celebrate the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On November 6, 1990, the people of Arizona voted down a proposal to create a state holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by a margin of 17,000 votes.
Former Governor Evan Mecham cancelled MLK Day two years before, saying, “I guess King did a lot for the colored people, but I don’t think he deserves a national holiday.” This was Chuck’s way to extend his middle finger to the entire Southwest state.
“911 Is A Joke” (1990)
“911 Is A Joke” is one of a handful of songs that finds Flavor Flav in the driver’s seat. Also taken from Fear Of A Black Planet, the track essentially calls out the police for being shady. Flav’s solo track debuted at #15 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, and #1 on the Hot Rap Singles chart, earning the group its second #1 rap chart hit after “Fight the Power.”
“Can’t Truss It” (1991)
Public Enemy sheds a light on the harsh (and disturbing) reality of slavery in the visual for “Can’t Truss It.” With Flav in the role of a butler poisoning the tea for his “master,” Chuck is posted up in a factory with a hardhat delivering every bar with conviction. At the end of the video, a black woman gives birth to a white baby, indicating she was raped by the “slave masters,” which was a common occurrence back then.
“Ninety fuckin’ days on a slave ship/ Count ’em fallin’ off two, three, four 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/ 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,” he spits.
“Burn Hollywood Burn” f. Ice Cube & Big Daddy Kane (1990)
Chuck always makes bold statements, but telling Hollywood to burn in 1990 was arguably one of the bravest. The Fear Of A Black Planet cut once again proved he’s never afraid to push against the status quo. With Ice Cube (who ironically now has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) and Big Daddy Kane along for the ride, they step all over the Hollywood Walk of Fame, rip apart the use of blackface in old films and express their distain for how black people are portrayed in movies. At the end, Cube is seen striking a match and dropping it on the movie theatre floor.
“Bring The Noise” f. Anthrax (1991)
By this time, Run-DMC had already teamed up with Aerosmith in 1986 for “Walk This Way,” but Public Enemy took it a step further and linked up with thrash metal band Anthrax for “Bring The Noise” in 1991. The original version of the track was from P.E.’s 1988 album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. The collaborative remix is considered one of the first rap metal songs and was included on P.E.’s 1994 LP, Live: The Island Years.