Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip-Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999 (powerHouse Books) is a book by DJ Ross One that honors the first era of hip-hop clothing that fans were able to buy not only as souvenirs but to show support for their favorite artists, just as rock fans have been able to for decades. Why is this significant? Because carrying a souvenir of your favorite music artist brings the fan closer to the artist, or at least sporting their logo on your chest makes it feel like a unique level of support even though that uniqueness is shared by anyone who buys a similar shirt.
DJ Ross One explores the many hip-hop T-shirts that have come over time. When it came to heavy metal T-shirts, its origins were rooted from the surfing and skateboarding communities, showing extra support by displaying their logo or a graphic design in reference to an album or logo. The rock T-shirt became a major part of the costume, especially for headbangers along with their denim fests and specific patches. Some of these traditions would be carried over into hip-hop, specifically when Def Jam became one of the first labels to make shirts for their artists and themselves. It seemed odd at first, for “why would anyone want to wear a T-shirt that said Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys? Why would anyone wear a logo in honor of a record company?” It’s the unusual dedication of “artist and record company pride” and once Def Jam’s clothing became a bit of promotion and hype when worn by other artists (Anthrax’s Scott Ian were Def Jam shirts religiously when he and the band went on tour in 1987 in support fo their Among The Living album), associated artists got involved before it began to open up to anyone in hip-hop willing to share their logo.
DJ Ross One talks about the rise of a hip-hop shirt, whether it’s from through a company catalog or finding an offer in a cassette or 12″ single. Often times, snagging that T-shirt was a one-time thing not because they were thinking of creating limited editions, but because the budget was not big for hip-hop clothing, definitely not for a T-shirt. If you wanted a glow-in-the-dark De La Soul shirt, you had hoped you could get one or lose out. While many artists would have their own line of shirts in the early 90’s, the Wu-Tang Clan changed everything when they made a specfic line of clothing with their logos, originally just the yellow W over a black shirt. You had to hunt down those shirts when they weren’t widely available and once they obtained greater distribution, anyone who wanted to honor the power of the Wu could get one at the local mall. To be able to see T-shirts for everyone from Biggie to 2Pac, Digital Underground to Slick Rick, Queen Latifah to Nicki Minaj is interesting, for it also shows the progress of not only entrepreneurial success but the improvements of the designs themselves.
Rap Tees also touches on some of the bootleg T-shirts that were made not only in the late 80’s/early 90’s but in hip-hop for the last 25 years. If finding The Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy bootleg T-shirts became a trend, you may be able to find a bootleg shirt of your favorite artists at a swap meet, flea market, or corner store, even if the printing on the shirt might disappear after five washes.
Regardless, the hip-hop T-shirt managed to live in, not only for fans to buy but for ways to record labels, management, and the artists themselves to add to their means of promotion. Perhaps that means of promotion may have changed, for better or worse, with the rise of the internet and social media but fortunately if you need to find that specific shirt to sport, you may be able to find it on eBay, Etsy, or any other online merchant. Rap Tees shines the spotlight on believing in the hype from nothing more than a T-shirt and a silkscreen.
(NOTE: I was not able to get a hard copy of the book for review, I only received a digital edition. This review is based on that digital edition. You may order Rap Tees below from Amazon.com.)
If you never thought you’d hear Chuck D. dropping a rhyme over some EDM, prepare to be surprised in this new song by Zeke Thomas. Thomas is the son if legendary basketball player Isiah Thomas and he’s hoping people will pay attention to the lyrics he, Chuck D., and Jasiri X say in “Blackness”.
If you read the title and know what Pepperland refers to, then you know it most likely has to do with The Beatles, and it does. Now you look at the graphic and are saying “but wait, I see Ol’ Dirty Bastard here. What’s going on?” In this case, it’s a remix project where Beatles samples were used to create new instrumentals for hip-hop songs. Look at all of the people who are on it, it’s insane. Here’s the track listing: Part 1
Hello Hello – Edan
Mr Mustard – Big Daddy Kane
Second To None – Rakim
Taxman – The Notorius B.I.G.
Gentle Thief – Nas
Where I’m From – Large Professor
Country Grammar – Talib Kweli & Bun B
Parlay – J-Live
Twist – Salt-N-Pepper
Birthday Dedication – Busta Rhymes
Open Mic Session pt. 1 – Masta Ace, Percee P, Lord Finesse, Frankie Cutlass, Easy Mo Bee & KRS-One
Number Nine – YZ
Self Titled – Heltah Skeltah
Bang Bang – MOP
Pepper – Kool G Rap
Bring Your Friends – Public Enemy
Interlude / Bridge – MC Shan
Last Forever – Artifacts
For The Children – Freddie Foxxx
Ringo’s Big Beat Theme – Spoonie Gee
Hold Poppa’s Large Hand – Ultramagnetic MC’s
Open Mic Session pt. 2 – Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane & Rakim
The End – Run DMC & Afrika Bambaataa
Circles – Wu-Tang Clan
Brooklyn Walrus – Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Buckshot , Masta Ace & Special Ed Part 2
Secrets – Slick Rick
Beneath The Diamond Sky – The Genius/GZA
Within Tomorrow – Busta Rhymes
The Beginning – Sunz Of Man
Gentle Drama – The RZA & Rugged Monk
Becausizm – KRS-One & Channel Live
Mary Jane – Tha Alkaholiks
Bong Water – Viktor Vaughn
Love In Summertime – Ghostface Killah & Beyonce
And I Lover Her Crazy – Jay-Z & Beyonce
Ruffneck Soldier – MC Lyte
Hey! – Beastie Boys
Get Back To The City – Large Professor
Hard To Leave Home – Nas
The Flyest – AZ
And Who? – Heiroglyphics
Lonely Thoughts – The Notorious B.I.G.
Can You Dig It? – Gravediggaz
How To Smile – 2Pac & Scarface
A Day In New York – AZ, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah
Stream it in full above or if you just want to download it and carry it with you on your travels, head to MonkeyBoxing.com.
Book’s Jook is a column dedicated to placing a record within my dream jukebox, if I were to have one. The Seeburg jukebox shown below is similar to the one I have wanted since I was a kid. To read more on why I started this column, click here.
By the time I bought the first single (a 12″) for what would be It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, I had already bought Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show, “You’re Gonna Get Yours”/”Rebel Without A Pause”, the “Bring The Noise split 12” with The Black Flames, and the Less Than Zero soundtrack, which featured the preferred mix of “Bring The Noise”. The 12″ for “Don’t Believe The Hype” was bought awhile before I found the 45 but it was nice to have since hip-hop 45’s are somewhat of an oddity.
When “Don’t Believe The Hype” was released, that wasn’t even the important song in question, for I originally thought “Prophets Of Rage” was the hit. It goes back to Public Enemy’s motto on how the “B-Side Wins Again”, and it did, for I loved the droning sound that commanded Chuck D.’s verses. I also loved how commanding Chuck sounding in this, complimented with Flavor Flav’s callback and occasional humorous side to it. “Prophets Of Rage” just moved me and I felt if it was as good as “Bring The Noise”, it had to be great. Little did I know how great, powerful, and influential it would be.
“Don’t Believe The Hype” seemed to move along at a slow pace at first, although i remember when the song title was already becoming a slogan in the spring of 1988. It would take the album for me to appreciate the song but when I did, I loved Chuck’s pace came off deliberate, and how the way he spoke sounded nothing like the other Public Enemy songs he had already done. He didn’t want to sound the same with each effort, part of the story was also how he explained the story itself. The line that hooked me first was “suckers, liars, get me a shovel”, that one allowed me to truly hear everything else he had to say, especially about the “false media”. The line spoke about the mainstream media but would soon affect how hip-hop’s means of communication would turn into a hype machine. It would still be a few years before anyone realized how much the false media persuaded the tastes and marketability of everything.
Perhaps “Bring The Noise” should have been chosen, as the song holds up incredibly well but if there was a choice between having only one Public Enemy song in a dream jukebox vs. two, I’m definitely going to go for doubles.
Last month I reviewed a sampler for a forthcoming Public Enemy box set. Now you are able to take a look at the box itself, to be released on May 8th. This features their prime Def Jam albums: Yo! Bum Rush The Show It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back Fear Of A Black Planet Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age He Got Game
My introduction to Public Enemy came through the Less Than Zero soundtrack, released on November 6, 1987. I was a fan of rap music, but I was also a headbanger, saluting the almighty power of heavy metal. The soundtrack was promoted as featuring tracks by Aerosmith, Danzig, Poison, and Slayer, and it was the latter’s cover of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” that made me want to buy it so I could play it on the high school radio station I was a DJ for. The format of the radio station was hard rock/heavy metal, along with classic rock. I’d play the songs by Aerosmith, Poison, and Slayer, and enjoyed doing so, being the only station in the area that played these songs.
Then I decided to flip the record over to side 2.
I had never heard of anything quite like “Bring The Noise”, the horns coming down like elephants running on a field, followed by a loud “YEAH BOYYEEE!” and a deep tone voice that said “BASS!” WHOA, what is this? I loved the force of the vocals, and I absolutely fell in love with the multi-layered sounds. Up until that point, a rap song had one primary sample and a scratch, maybe two primary samples but no more. This song felt like entering a vulgar room where everyone seemed to be speaking at once, or at least Chuck D.’s voice, Flavor Flav’s quick spits, and the samples going on all at once felt too much to take, but I wanted to take it. This lead to Flav feeling exactly what I was feeling when he said “I don’t understand what they’re saying
but little do they know they can get a smack for that, man” and out came Chuck saying “never badder than dad cause the brother is madder than mad at the fact that’s corrupt as a senator”. HOLY SHIT! The wicked drums (courtesy James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”) pounded out doubles, and out came “soul on a roll, but you treat it like soap on a rope ’cause the beats in the lines are so dope”. Did I understand what he was saying at the time? Absolutely not, it would take months before I could figure it out, but what I also loved was that Chuck D. did each of the verses different from one another, the flows were not the same. The rhythmic patterns seemed complex, or at least hard to grasp upon first listen.
Then it came to the third verse, and I about freaked out when someone in rap had mentioned Sonny Bono and Yoko Ono. As someone who always admired the underdog, it seemed Chuck D. was putting himself amongst these two underdogs. Not mentioning Cher, not mentioning John Lennon, but going for other. I loved it. I caught the references to Eric B. and LL, but then came the great line “wax is for Anthrax”. Hold up. HOLD THE FUCK UP. Did Flavor Flav just give a shout out to Anthrax, and did Chuck D. just say that they also could rock the bells. I loved Metallica, but I LOVED Anthrax and I know I put the needle back to make sure I heard things correctly. From that point on, I realized that this was a group that could do this, like Brutus, because they themselves always knew this. I must have played “Bring The Noise” over and over for a solid hour, and from that point on I avoided playing the rest of the album.
When Spin magazine wrote a year-end rap up, one of the reviews touched on some new released on Def Jam. One of them was Original Concept’s Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High. The other was Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show. I was a Def Jam devotee, so I was freaked out when I learned Public Enemy had an album out. I bought both, loved both. When I first heard the “get down” in “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”, I initially thought it was a Joe Walsh/James Gang sample. I found out it was Flavor Flav, but I learned that later. I later read an article about the 12″ for “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which people were buying because of its B-side, “Rebel Without A Pause”. I eventually found a copy of that, and I loved the song immediately. I loved the loop and how it seemed to keep on going and going and going, almost felt endless. It was meditative, it was mind blowing, it was mind numbing. When the scratches kicked in, it was heaven.
In March 1988, I had heard about the group releasing a new single off of their forthcoming album, but the way I interpreted the review, “Prophets Of Rage” was the A-side. When I bought the 12″ at Eli’s, I played and listened to it as such, and always played “Don’t Believe The Hype” as a bit of a sloppy B-side. (It wasn’t until later in 1988 that I learned the song was the A-side, after reading how the song was used as introduction for athletes.) I was two months away from ending my senior year in high school when I decided to play one of these songs on the radio station I was on. Keep in mind that it was a hard rock/heavy metal station, so the only way I could play it was on April Fool’s Day, as a “joke”. However, I had a different motive. When I played a rap song on the radio, it was never as a laugh, it was a way to play the music I also loved, to perhaps turn on fans to this group that I had only known from “Bring The Noise”, “Rebel Without A Pause”, and their first album. I’m glad to say that I may have been the first person to play “Prophets Of Rage” on a radio station in eastern Washington state.
Even if “Prophets Of Rage” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” were mere cues of what was to come, nothing could have ever prepared me for the reality of what would be.
I bought my copy of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back on the week of the release date. My version of the cover was the yellow B-boy target with red outline and a green line between the words PUBLIC and ENEMY. Two men in a jail cell, looking bad ass, not afraid, always confident. The back cover featured a photo of Chuck, Flav, DJ Terminator X, Professor Griff and the S1W’s standing in a jail cell while stepping on the American flag. I enjoyed the social politics that John Lennon touched on in his music and life, and while I was far from an activist, I liked knowing about what some musicians would do to speak out on things that mattered to them, and things they were against. That photo was surrounded by shots of screenshots taken from a surveillance camera. This seemed serious, and it was time that I put the record on my turntable.
Still, I was not ready.
“Hammersmith Odeon, are you ready for the Def Jam tour, let me hear you make some noise!
In concert for BBC Television tonight and the fresh start of the week, let me hear you make some noise for PUBLIC ENEMY!
The crowd goes nuts, and then it happens. The siren.
“PEACE. ARMAGEDDON HAD BEEN IN EFFECT, GO GET A LATE PASS. STEP!
THIS TIME AROUND, THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED. STEP!
CONSIDER YOURSELVES… WARNED!”
Then “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” from the first album starts, followed by Griff yelling out “alright, let’s make some fuckin’ noise! C’mon, let’s break this shit out and get busy!” before it fades. I still wasn’t ready.
Malcolm X is then heard talking about how when it’s “too black”, it means it’s “too strong”. It is played a second time, slightly louder. Then “Bring The Noise” comes in. It’s the first full song on the album, and it hits things off beautifully. I know this song, and yet it fits perfectly as the starting point on this journey. I was slightly comfortable, but barely. This would lead to “Don’t Believe The Hype” and as an album cut, it fit quite nicely too. Chuck D. and Flavor Flav’s flows were quite nice bouncing back and forth when needed. This felt like a track of information, where one was able to listen to one page of their agenda, their manifesto. It was their way of saying that whatever you ear, don’t believe the bullshit, or cut through it and discover the facts for yourself. The one line from the song that remains very strong in my mind is “suckers, liars, get me a shovel”, and I’ll spring that out at any given them when necessary.
The next track was a fun track, the first solo song by Flavor Flav, and after getting bombarded with serious information, it was time to get down and funky for a few minutes as he drops
“live lyrics from the bank of reality
I kick the flyest dope maneuver technicality
To a dope track, you wanna hike get out your backpack
Get out the wack sack
I’m in my Flavmobile cole lampin
I took this G upstate go campin’
To the Poconos, we call the hideaways
A pack of franks and a big bag of Frito-Lays”
Did it matter what he was saying, and that he just seemed to be rattling off shit like crazy? No, but did it sound good? As the samples in the song said clearly, “YEAH!” This song was the first to truly establish Flavor Flav’s steez, and everyone fell in love with what William Drayton was all about.
“Terminator X To The Edge” of panic was not the first song to present their DJ in music, but it was the first song where he was mentioned in the song title, and with a sample that was merely the sample source of “Rebel Without A Pause” flipped backwards, it just seemed that Public Enemy were wanting to pull in people into their world, in whatever way worked. “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” was a line that stood out like a pitchfork into the skull, pretty much stating that one does not need an award to achieve a level of success, or to complete a mission that involves making a statement.
“Mind Terrorist” might seem like a minor interlude, but it seemed to present It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back as a concert performance, and this was a brief intermission before the next movement.
“Louder Than A Bomb” opened up with a Kool & The Gang sample before Flav spoke on how Public Enemy are from hell, and if someone ever said he and the group would celebrate the 4th of July, it is very much a “worldwide lie”. Some of Chuck D.’s lyrics in this, including about his phone being tapped, pave the way for the next song, but until that is heard, Chuck is about telling the untold stories once and for all, and his messages are going to be offensively loud.
The first Side ends with the incredible “Caught, Can We Get A Witness”, where Chuck talks about stealing a beat in the name of sampling, and how people are after people like him for taking music to create another song. 25 years later, hearing Flav talk about how no one can copyright beats seems a few world’s away, and yet this was the start of the industry and lawyers looking at the value of rap music not for its lyrics or messages, but as a means of violating copyright. By the end of Side 1, Public Enemy have accumulated enough ammunition for a battle, but again, I was not ready.
Side 2 begins with another interlude, “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got”, which may be a way to re-introduce the listener to the program that is the album, but for listeners to come back from intermission, to let everyone know that with every side, there is a flip side, the B-side.
I loved when I first heard “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, as it starts with Flav’s message to his lady about watching garbage on television. Then the music begins and it’s a sample of Slayer’s “Angel Of Death”, flipping the original meaning of the song and showing that TV’s perceived angelic ways could slowly lead to a mental death. Kerry King’s and Jeff Hanneman’s guitar riffs, mixed in with the repetitious “she watch” looped vocal sample, was one way of entering the lure of the boob tube and trying to get out before one is fully trapped by the ways of the cathode ray. Everything about this song is excellent, a solid piece of genius where the music is a drone duplicating the ugliness of TV. Flav has a simple solution: “read a book or something, read about yourself, learn your culture.”
“Night Of The Living Baseheads” touches on the evils of drugs, specifically the crack epidemic that was pulling in a lot of people in the mid to late 1980’s, specifically the black community in the inner cities of the United States and England. While it did reach the higher levels of corporate America, crack was hurting millions of people because this new cheap means of a high was pulling people down below the doldrums. The entire song is structured as a dialogue from the introduction of crack to its destruction, complete with Chuck D’s “how low can you go?” sample being scratched all over the place before Chuck himself answers his own question by looking at the faces of crack’s downfall.
“Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” is one of the highlights of the album, where Chuck finds himself in prison because the government wanted him to join the U.S. Army, and he refused to enroll. Upon finding himself homeless in prison, he comes up with a plan to escape beyond the wall. It features metaphors that include the Underground Railroad, but one could also say that the United States itself is a prison and one must escape its ways in order to find a home and some sense of sanity. With each verse, Chuck covers his plan by step-by-step, bringing the listener in as if they are at one with he and the the “53 brothers on the run”. The moment when Chuck D. says “and we are gone” and Flav is cheering with passion, it’s easily one of the boldest statements ever made in hip-hop, because like the Native American in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen in “Deacon Blues”, “this brother is free” and we’re all in support of someone obtaining the freedom many die trying to grasp.
“Security of the First World” is another interlude, a temporary intermission that allows the group and listener to regroup after the blast of “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”, only to pave the way for the album’s three song finale.
“Rebel Without A Pause” comes out of hiding from its presence as a non-LP B-side to becoming a solid album track, also adding to the pieces of the It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back puzzle. The bass is deafening, the saxophone is numbing, and the power of James Brown (and JB-related) samples is causing a mean ripple effect that is like you looking at yourself in a mirror looking at yourself, looking at yourself looking at yourself until its infinity is too much to bare. When Chuck D. says “we’re on a mission, y’all”, we then realize that we the listener are being exposed to the blueprint, and we’re close to finding where all of this will lead.
“Prophets Of Rage” turns the corner, and every emotion that was built with “Rebel Without A Pause” continues with a revelation of who and what these songs are for:
“With vice, I hold the mic device
With force I keep it away, of course
And I’m keeping you from sleeping
And on the stagem, I rage and I’m rolling
To the poor, I pour in on in metaphors
Not bluffing, it’s nothing that we ain’t did before
We played, you stayed, the points made
You consider it done by the prophets of rage”
Flav then tells Griff and the S1W’s to proceed with the completion of the mission by adjusting their coordinates, leading to the eventual proclamation of the master plan.
“Party For Your Right To Fight” ends the album by revealing the master plan, the manifesto, the moral of the story. While hip-hop music may have originated as a party vibe, they turn the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and turns it into something much more serious than just drinking and getting wasted for the hell of it. In the mind of Public Enemy, one should use their minds to turn the world into a better place for themselves and all. Both Chuck and Flav rap the entire song together, both rapping in their own styles and Flav dropping in a few ad-libs along the way. By combining Sly & The Family Stone, Bobby Byrd, and Bob Marley in the mix, they mention the origins of their commitment to the rights of themselves, and in turn, all. It is the third and final verse where Chuck and Flav mention what they are fighting for:
To those that disagree, it causes static
For the original Black Asiatic man
Cream of the earth and was here first
And some devils prevent this from being known
But you check out the books they own
Even masons they know it but refuse to show it, yo
But it’s proven and fact
It takes a nation of millions to hold us back
It’s about fighting for recognition, for honor, for respect, for everything that someone else doesn’t want to provide, or will take away, from the other. If no one fights, the presence of a people and consciousness will disappear, or be re-interpreted by someone else, or perhaps completely disappear from existence.
While I am not of African descent, I also listened to this album as a way to describe what it means to be Hawaiian. I looked myself as someone who now represents less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population, and while I am not a full-blooded Hawaiian, I like to think i remain an element of the land I came from and the people who made me who I am today. While my views may be different from those who are back home, I remain someone who wishes to be recognized for who I am and for what I do before I and my people no longer have a chance.
I wore a Public Enemy T-shirt during high school, and when catching the bus home, I was asked by the driver “so, you’re a public enemy?” I said, “yes, I am”. She gave me a small smile and I sat down. I was the only kid in my high school with that P.E. shirt, and I was looked at by everyone. No one understood me or where I was coming from, so in a very small way, I did feel like a public enemy, or at least an outcast. As a 17-year old high school student angry at the world, angry at my situation and fighting for a way to want and demand more, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was an album that showed that one can’t sit around and allow the world to pass you by. Sometimes we get stuck on a dead end street, but it’s never late to fight, even if that fight feels like a one-man battle. Throughout life, one learns that those fights are sometimes not good when done alone. Whether it’s a million, or ten-thousand, one hundred, or five, nothing can hold us back but ourselves. Whether it’s for Africa, for Jamaica, for Japan, for Germany, for Thailand, for Brazil, for Argentina, or for field workers throughout California, that “nation” once talked about by Chuck D. and Flavor Flav is very much a worldwide thing, a Marley style “one love” if we allow it to be. The fight discussed throughout the album may not have been my own, but I felt I could appreciate it as one that was very similar to mine. It was with this album that I learned about people that were not discussed during high school, including Louis Farrakhan and Assata Shakur, so to have these references flying out in lyric form was like hearing audio sidebars, so that I could remember them for future use.
25 years later, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back remains my favorite hip-hop album of all time because of its message, its musicality, its strength and power, and its inclusion into music creativity. For some of us, getting that late pass mentioned by Professor Griff was a passage way towards a door which lead to another message: “you want to know more, or keep your head in the ground?” There have been a number of hip-hop albums that have followed in the spirit of, but none will match the aftershocks that came after the siren made itself known on this record. It will forever be a benchmark, an album that should always be discussed as an important document in hip-hop.
Upon news about the forthcoming vinyl box set from Public Enemy, I was given a chance to review a sampler featuring various songs from the box itself. I was not given the box set to review, unfortunately, so this review cannot be of the box itself and/or the sound quality found within.
I am able to say that the box features the following Def Jam albums: Yo! Bum Rush The Show (1987) It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988) Fear Of A Black Planet (1990) Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991) Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (1994) He Got Game (1998)
The first three albums will be pressed as single LP’s, while the remaining three will be pressed as double LP’s. I really wished that It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet were done as 2-record sets, due to the length of the albums, with ITANOMTHUS clocking in at just under 58 minutes, and Fear… running a little over 63. The original single LP of Fear… always suffered because the volume was low and thin. While I don’t have a problem with the original pressing of ITANOMTHUS, I think it would be a better listening experience if separated as four sites, although one might argue that that would take away the integrity of the album’s original “Side E” and “Side F”.
As for the sampler, if it is a representation of the audio quality/masters used for the 180g pressings, then fans will be pleased by it. They are not brickwalled or mixed any differently, but each song carries the warmth of the originals. They include “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, “Public Enemy #1”, “Bring The Noise”, “Rebel Without A Pause”, “Shut ‘Em Down”, “By The Time I Get To Arizona”, and many others. The sampler comes off like a greatest hits of sorts but doesn’t go into favored album cuts like “Myuzi Weighs A Ton”, “Timebomb”, “Caught, Can We Get A Witness”, “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, “”Pollywanacraka”, or even a single like “Burn, Hollywood, Burn”. The sampler also uses the album edits, so no chance of hearing the count-in for “Bring The Noise” from the Less Than Zero, the proper faded ending of “Rebel Without A Pause” from the “You’re Gonna Get Yours” 12″, and I’m certain that the version of “Miuzi Weighs A Ton” in the box will not be the one with the extended ending as found on the 12″ single. However, if you’re someone who always wanted better quality pressings of P.E.’s Def Jam output, this will most likely be the best way to get them all in one setting. The release of 25th Anniversary Vinyl Collection coincides with the 25th anniversary of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, in my opinion the best hip-hop album ever made, so whether you were there hearing about Chuckie D. being the burger and the lady being the bun, or if you’re a younger fan who has wanted to fully hear, from start to finish, about the influence and importance of the group, the box has every means of making you a fan and supporter.
Myriad3 are a trio (thus the 3 in their name) who consist of drummer Ernesto Cervini, bassist Dan Fortin, and pianist Chris Donnelly. Together, they will be releasing an album on the Alma label called Tell, due out next week Tuesday (November 13th) and you can listen to the first song, simply called “Myriad”.
About 40 years ago, music like this would’ve been called a “revolutionary sureshot”. 25 years ago was when I first heard of Public Enemy in a “Best Of” review in Spin magazine. They had given Yo! Bum Rush The Show a favorable review along with the first and only album from Original Concept, but I believe the first P.E. sogn I ever heard was “Bring The Noise” from the Less Than Zero soundtrack. The song was incredibly hectic, and as a headbanger, they gave a shout out to Anthrax. Not only that, but Chuck D. gave shout outs to Sonny Bono AND Yoko Ono. In other words, he was showing respect to perceived “freaks of the industry”, those that people neglected because what Public Enemy were doing (and were about to do) was freakish in its own way. They were at one with those who also made noise.
25 years after I first heard them, and after many world tours later, Public Enemy are still very much with us, and this is brand new for 2012. 34 years ago, George Clinton said in song “we shall all be moved” but times have changed. Not everyone wants to be under a groove, or even under the power of one nation, even if that means a sense of community. Perhaps there needs to be some sense of unification. It exists, but maybe the reason it doesn’t exist in a greater manner can be heard in “I Shall Not Be Moved”. As the video will show you, the spirit of music “from the rebel, it’s final on black vinyl” still lives on.
The song is taken from P.E.’s brand new album, Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp, which was released today (July 13th). No Amazon link for it yey, but you may order it from iTunes.
It doesn’t seem that long ago, but so much has changed since January 26, 1987. When the album was released, I was 16 and a junior in high school. I was not aware of Public Enemy until the end of the year. The means of rap music promotion was still limited in 1987, but let’s face it, one of the biggest albums in the land was the Beastie Boys debut album, Licensed To Ill and they were pushed heavily. It wasn’t just a Def Jam thing, but Def Jam was distributed by Columbia Records so Licensed To Ill became a major cash cow for everyone involved. I was very aware of Def Jam, for I was also a fan of L.L. Cool J and loved “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”, “Dear Yvette”, “Rock The Bells”, and the entire Radio album. Unlike now, rap music would be pushed in limited streams. The music had yet to be “proven” or validated by the mainstream, but those who wanted to hear it had to truly seek it. Since I lived in the Pacific Northwest, the only ways I could find something was hoping Rolling Stone or Spin reviewed it, or maybe see a display ad in either magazine. RS barely covered anything rap-related, but Spin had columnists who were in tune with what was going on, and if a review read well (i.e. explained that it was the hot record of the moment), I would try to find it. Back then, unless you lived in a city/town that had a radio station that played rap music, the best way would be to go to a record store and spend a long time browsing.
Artists could have “sleeper” albums and not get a buzz for months, if not a full year, and at least in my part of the world, Public Enemy was not on anyone’s list. I would see a few reviews for something called “Rebel Without A Pause”, but could not find the record at the time. The first time I heard them was on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, released by Def Jam. I had no interest in seeing the film, but the soundtrack featured music by Aerosmith, The Bangles, and Slayer, the latter doing a cover of Iron Maiden‘s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. I was a radio DJ for a high school station whose sole format was hard rock/heavy metal, so I was able to play Aerosmith and Slayer. Before I did this though, I was at home and flipped Less Than Zero to Side 2. There were three taps of a hi-hat, and all of a sudden I heard a song that completely blew me away. I had already been a rap music fan for eight years, but this was nothing like it. What floored me at first was the boldness of Chuck D.‘s voice, the funny boasts of Flavor Flav, and the production just went everywhere. The Beastie Boys upped things by sampling Led Zeppelin but this fucked my brain up big time. For the rest of that day, I played “Bring The Noise” over and over, and probably did the same thing for the next few days.
At the end of the year, Spin looked at albums that they felt was some of the best of the year, and it highlighted two albums on Def Jam: Original Concept‘s Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High and Public Enemy’s debut album, YO! Bum Rush The Show. Back then, Def Jam had already branded themselves where the name and logo was a “trademark of quality, so regardless of what it was, people were willing to give it a chance. I bought both albums, and loved what Original Concept did with “Charlie Sez” and “Runnin’ Yo Mouth”, but I wanted to hear more from this Public Enemy group. I put the needle on.
The first track was immediately a favorite: “You’re Gonna Get Yours”. I went to read the liner notes, with the Def Jam logo, a male shooting target, and the lyric sheet. I discovered that the main rappers were Chuck D. and Flavor Flav, but I’ll be honest, when I looked at the cover, I had no idea who Chuck or Flav were, for there was no captions, no music videos, nothing. In 2012, we all know how both of them look, but I’d stare at the album for the longest time wondering “is the guy looking at the DJ Chuck D.? He looks like someone who would deliver that voice.” No, that was Terminator X. I wondered if the guy with the glasses was Chuck D. No, that was Flavor Flav, and I’d like to think that I was not alone in these assumptions. It’s funny to even talk about something like this, since these days we are immediately bombarded with identities and images. Then again, I remember thinking the same thing about the Wu-Tang Clan, knowing who Method Man was through the “Method Man” video but trying to figure out which voices fit in with what face. Public Enemy had yet to brand themselves to the public, but this would soon change.
I was not immediately drawn to “Sophisticated Bitch”, but I remember looking in the liner notes, knowing who Vernon Reid was as he was one of the upcoming guitarists trying to get himself known. He was known amongst guitar fanatics, but Living Colour had yet to break through. It was nice to hear his work in this song, but I’ll admit: after reading how much praise Reid was receiving, I thought “is this really it?”
But the song that immediately floored me was “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”. I loved the slow funk of it, the attitude Chuck D. was displaying, and for years I thought the “get down” vocal of Flavor Flav was a Joe Walsh sample. I also loved the groove of “Timebomb”, and “Too Much Posse” was a silly solo track from Flavor but it showed how he could change the pace of the music program at any given time. Loved “Rightstarter (Message To A Black Man)” and felt that the way it ended was the perfect way to end the first half of the album. Flip over to Side F.
“Public Enemy No. 1” was pure awesomeness from the beginning, with the lazy scratch and Flavor talking about how some people swear Chuckie D. is nice, but Flav saying “the brother don’t swear he nice, he knows he’s nice, youknowwhatI’msayin’?”, that showed support and friendship and when he asked the listener if we wanted to know “what goes on?” Chuck then says, with a significant amount of echo, “what goes on? Well…” and then proceeds to tell us exactly why he is that nice. The album was produced by Bill Stephney, Hank Shocklee, and Carl Ryder, the latter being a pseudonym for Chuck D., with an executive producer credit for Rick Rubin. It was not a Bomb Squad credit just yet, but you could hear the type of beat construction they enjoyed doing. It felt like someone going into their record crate and just slapping it on for the hell of it, as if they were at home, at a party, or on a radio station, and this was very much like hearing a great radio show that you usually had to stay up after midnight hearing. Now, it could be played at any time of the day. Except this sound sounded a bit rougher than much of the rap music that came before this, and during this time, it seemed every record released was getting musically harder and more abrasive. It was the power of the “boom bap” sourced from funky drums, basslines, horns, and samples, a bit like someone making a true mix tape and not knowing what most of it was. It came off like hearing what Double Dee & Steinski did with “Lessons 1-3”, but taking that kind of production and sound manipulation to the next level. Most of the samples were fairly basic, just simply loops with occasional layering, but it sounded nothing like anything out at the time. It was a distinct sound, it was Public Enemy and you respected them for it.
I also got into “YO! Bum Rush The show”, “Raise The Roof”, and “Megablast”, the latter a song where both Chuck D. and Flavor Flav were talking about smoking crack and getting “super stupid shit”. It was just a drum machine and vocals, and once the song reached the paranoid chant of “oh please, oh please, oh please, just gimme just one more hit”, it felt like they were ready to reach the point of no return, but how? They would answer back by simply reversing Flavor Flav’s dialogue so a simple production technique would sound like he was a lunatic, and metaphorically, Flav sounding “lost” represented what crack cocaine could do to someone. Before it got too deep, the group decided to create a megamix of sorts of various highlights of the album, a reprise but not an actual “moral” to the story, for there wasn’t a story. This was just an album of music by a new group who celebrated the L.I. (Long Island) mystique, but it was an album that felt good to listen to. It was raw, it was dope, it was fresh, it was hot. What did it exactly mean to “bum rush” a show, and how would it feel to be in the middle of a “bum rush”? I wanted to know.
Looking back, YO! Bum Rush The Show represents a time when hip-hop already had the urgency to be heard, and devoted audiences who were willing to do anything and everything to tap into a frequency that did not exist as it does today. It was obvious in the mid to late 80’s that there was something incredible coming out of New York, and what made it feel good as a teenager was that it was very much my music. We loved the fact that the music honored the sounds of the past, but what they said felt like it was made for us, even if the lyrics had to do with rocking tapes, finding cool cars, and a sexy lady. In a way, the music was still as innocent as early rock’n’roll but it sounded great to hear something that was not only jamming, but obviously left of center. There was a bit of disorganization in the sound, and I loved those noisy elements too.
What I also loved about the album was the cover photos, taken by Glen E. Friedman, whose pictures of countless rap, punk, and hardcore groups would help to define the artistry and creativity that existed. Friedman’s cover shot has been honored and parodied a number of times, but I also liked the photo that was on the back cover, which had always been a mystery to me.
It’s just Chuck D., Flavor Flav, Terminator X., Professor Griff, and the S1W’s hanging out with their rides, chillin’ in… a McDonald’s parking lot? Considering how political Public Enemy would become with later efforts, the photo seems so innocent. Chuck D., in his mid-20’s, kicking back with a bag between his feet, looking like he was ready to see what the world could offer him if given a chance. Yet for me, the question remained: why McDonald’s? I went to Twitter and went directly to the source:
Chuck D.: It was a center point in Hempstead back in the day, in fact its no longer there… one of the few McD that moved.
Nothing extravagant, just a simple photo of Public Enemy relaxing it in what was the center of their world, circa late 1986. It almost feels like a backyard barbeque, just asking some friends over and being cool amongst one another. No perceptions, no deceit, no jealously, just for the love of music, wordplay, and what you felt represented you as a person, be it culture or taking pride in the place you call home. If Public Enemy were indeed going to bum rush a show, it may have been towards rap music as a whole, and yet hearing this makes the listener realize they were not giving any major hints as to how they would commit the attack of the senses/on the senseless. That would happen with album #2.
Eventually I would find the 12″ single for “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which featured “Rebel Without A Pause” as its B-side. This was the “it” song as described in Spin, and I played it. When I heard Chuck D. say “yes!”, you had to stop doing whatever you were doing and devote complete attention to it. Then you heard what sounded like sirens or a balloon, and it just looped over and over like crazy. It was insane, but I loved it. Then again, a group who would freely say “beat is for Sonny Bono/beat is for Yoko Ono” and “wax is for Anthrax” was someone I had to know more about, this wasn’t just guys who wanted to be a local phenomenon, they wanted to be global and did so with those lyrics. This song was as chaotic as Yoko Ono, and I say that was an Ono fan. They were basically applying an Ono aesthetic of noise, in a music that was rooted in the melodic. Like “Rapper’s Delight”, “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Bring The Noise” became songs I had to memorize, even if at first I had no idea who some of the people who they were speaking about. They were not teaching me about people like Louis Farrakhan or JoAnne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) in my school, but as someone who loved discovering “odd” references in songs, I wanted to know why it applied to them. This was not just funky music, they were bringing in lessons at a time when I was developing my sense of politics and social interaction. It was as if they were saying “you may know this or this, but I think you should know about this too”, and in a time before the internet, that meant going into a library or maybe looking in your encyclopedia at home to see if you could get a better sense of who these people were.
With “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Bring The Noise”, these songs made me want to try my hand at producing too, even though my means were pretty much non-existent. I loved the sample spotting and realizing I could do that if I was able to find the tools of the trade. But these two songs made me wish the group would make an entire album that sounded like that from start to finish. I really liked YO! Bum Rush The Show but I felt if Public Enemy could do this, it might sound incredible.
The first hint of what was to come was when I bought what I thought was the 12″ single for “Prophets Of Rage” in March of 1988, at Eli’s Records in Kennewick, Washington. The only time I could break the hard rock/heavy metal format of the high school radio station I was at and play rap music was on April Fool’s. In other words, it would be a joke for listeners if they heard something that was not the format, but I played Public Enemy’s “Prophets Of Rage” on April 1, 1988 and had a few people call in and say “this is nice” and “turn that shit off”. Then a fellow student came in and said “you’re rocking the good shit.” I felt proud, and I was happy to do so, for Public Enemy was now “my group”. I didn’t find out until I had read an article later that “Prophets Of Rage” was the B-side, and “Don’t Believe The Hype” was the A. I didn’t take to “Don’t Believe The Hype” at first, which is why I played the other side, but that would soon change two weeks later
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back came out, and I don’t remember if I bought it on the release day (April 14th), but I know I bought it that week. Like millions of other kids my age, I put that record on and I was floored. Did Public Enemy make it to London? I want to be on the Def Jam tour, I want to make some noise. Then the sirens came on. I was now witnessing, with my ears, the sound of revolution. With a scratch of “YO! Bum Rush The Show” and hearing Professor Griff telling the crowd to make some fucking noise to get busy, it lead to an excerpt from what I discovered to be a recording of Malcolm X, where he spoke about having a coffee that is too black, which means it’s too strong. Yet the only thing that was heard was the words “too black… too strong”. Then the music kicked in, and I felt like my world opened up big time. YEAH BOYYEEEE… BASS!!! It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back entered my life at the right moment, and will remain my favorite hip-hop album of all time for so many reasons.
Also keep in mind that my initial consumption of Public Enemy happened in a five month period: from Less Than Zero to YO! Bum Rush The Show to “Rebel Without A Pause” to “Prophets Of Rage” to It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. There was no means of a major or forced push, you wanted to seek and find, you had to go into it accepting the possible results.
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back would not exist if it wasn’t for the initiation that was YO! Bum Rush The Show, so perhaps the calm gentlemen hanging out in the McDonald’s parking lot represented what they were doing before the storm that would become the “bum rush”. If Spectrum City‘s “Check Out The Radio” could be considered the seeds, then YO! Bum Rush The Show was a vinyl blueprint of the mission, with the group looking at the plans through the grooves. While it seems at times that the blueprint has been placed in the bunker by the powers that be, its assumed secrets are well known by those who were educated the first time, and it will be re-learned again sometime in the future.