Before Kendrick Lamar, before Kanye West, before Jay-Z, and even a year or two before N.W.A, music witnessed one of the first socially conscious hip hop groups ever, Public Enemy. Lead by legends Chuck D, and Flavor Flav, Public Enemy brought the harsh realities that African Americans must face each day to the mic. Shocking the music scene with their first official studio album in 1987, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, the group’s mix of hardcore rock and hip hop production was unlike anything we’ve seen before. Many believed that this project ushered in the start of a golden age for the genre of rap. They were a perfect group because Chuck D brought the bars, while Flavor Flav brought the style. People starting emulating the fashion that Flavor added, whether it was big clocks, or baggy pants. That was a trend in itself.
Just by the looks of the cover, you knew this album was going to be something revolutionary. Not only was it different from the likes of Run D.M.C, but it was more political than your typical hip hop album. This album started the the West Coast hip hop style before the West Coast hip hop style even begun. On the first track, “You’re Gonna Get Yours,” Flavor Flav yells out, “Uh-Oh Chuck, they out to get us!” This line right off the bat represents the in-your-face attitude that the group embodies for the rest of the album. Chuck D raps loudly over a guitar riff and hard base about police brutality and rolling with his posse on the streets. Conceptually, the project switches up a bit on the next single, “Sophisticated Bitch.” This time, Chuck D raps over a more funky base, and talks about the perception of women in hip hop, which was a subject discussed way ahead of its time.
“Miuzi Weighs a Ton” is music at its finest. Chuck D raps about the harshness of the streets of New York, and between the exceptional production, and clever lyrics such as, “I got more power than a New York Yankee,” shows that Chuck can be as harsh as a killer, but sweet like a boyfriend. It seems like the group embraces the public enemy moniker on this track. The beat switches to a more slow-tempo instrumental, showing the strengths of the many producers contained within Public Enemy. “Timebomb” and “Too Much Posse” is the group making sure that no one forgets about them and recognizes their talent. (“Too Much Posse” became so popular that it made Dallas Mavericks’ star, Monta Ellis create a parody of the song twenty plus years later). It also showed how creative and powerful a rap group can be. The drums in this song all create something that fans can bob their heads to while also singing along.
Public Enemy incorporates even more instruments on “Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man),” where trumpets over a hard base combine for a powerful message about race. A track like this helped inspire what would eventually become N.W.A’s, Straight Outta Compton. Even Kanye was influenced by the group’s next single, “Public Enemy No.1,” where West sampled the song on “The One” with Big Sean and 2 Chainz. Chuck D produces more punchlines with M.D.E. where his voice has more of an impact while the production holds back a little bit. The title track, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show” has Flavor Flav and Chuck D getting in people’s faces especially police officers, and haters alike. Chuck questions cops handcuffing him just because of his color over a hard slow-tempo base.
“Raise the Roof” and “Megablast” are more of the same hard-nose tracks that made Public Enemy famous in the first place however, the final song on this project, “Terminator X Speaks with His Hands” is actually quite different. Producer Terminator X shows off his instrumental ability by giving off the notion that music can have an impactful message even without lyrics. This song still represents the style of Public Enemy, and people who are hardcore fans understood that.
What many people need to understand is, this iconic album came out a year earlier than N.W.A’s, classic project, Straight Outta Compton. A guy like Dr. Dre was heavily influenced by the hard-nose get-in-your-face attitude represented by Public Enemy. Lyrically, Ice Cube and Eazy-E showed off their lyrical prowess in a more explicit manner. Chuck D was the king of punchlines before Lil Wayne. I guess what I’m trying to say is, Yo! Bum Rush the Show was the first hip hop album to ever embrace the troubles that an African American must go through, which was then represented through music. Public Enemy is the reason why N.W.A. wasn’t afraid to do the same thing a year later.