Five Best Songs From Public Enemy’s ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ Album
1990 was 25 years ago and much has changed in the world since then, but with that said, a few things have remained the same. Hip-hop was still emerging as the genre of choice for the youth of America and social commentary was one of the more powerful attributes of the music coming out of boomboxes and infiltrating ears nationwide. George Bush was president, we were still fighting the war on drugs and war was ongoing. It seemed as if at any second, the world could crumble, which translated to the nihilistic brand of rap that was being created at the time.
In the midst of all of this, Public Enemy stood tall and continued to educate the masses on the trickery that the powers that be were using against the people, particularly black and brown youths from inner-city neighborhoods across middle America. After debuting with their 1987 album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, P.E. truly hit their stride with their landmark '88 release, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, which is regarded as one of the most influential rap albums of all-time by any critic worth their salt. The album achieved platinum certification and positioned Public Enemy as the cream of the crop when it came to rap groups at the time, leading to Spike Lee to include their bold song "Fight the Power" in his seminal film, Do the Right Thing.
But while It Takes a Nation set the foundation for what would be an illustrious career and received the respect of rap fans, critics and activists alike, Public Enemy's second album, Fear of a Black Planet, released on April 10, 1990, served as the group's apex. The project captured Chuck D, Flavor Flav and the Bomb Squad at the height of their reign and found them basking in all of the glory while not neglecting their mission statement to educate and motivate. The album was a huge success, selling one million copies in its first week of release and is credited with bringing awareness of the societal struggles of minorities to Caucasian music fans who would eventually grow up to become some of the very people pushing for change today.
On the 25th anniversary of its release, we went through the arduous task of selecting the five best tracks from Fear of a Black Planet. These songs truly stand the test of time.
"Welcome to the Terrordome" sounds exactly what its title suggests sonically and is an example of Public Enemy's tried-and-true brand of organized chaos on wax. The first single released in support of Fear of a Black Planet, the track picks up where It Take a Nation left off in terms of production, but ups the ante with even more random noise and sound, making for an addictive hodgepodge of confusion.
"Running for ya life (for the knife!) / Running from ya wife (yikes!)." With that can't miss phrase, Flavor Flav kicks off the Public Enemy party jam, "Can't Do Nuttin' for Ya Man," which wins with its house-inspired production and Flav's air-tight musings behind the mic. The last single released from Fear of a Black Planet, the song is one of the more memorable cuts from the group and may sound familiar to younger folks due to its placement in the classic film, House Party.
Public Enemy were usually ones to keep it in-house when it came to their albums, but the group decided to call in a little reinforcement on their cut, "Burn Hollywood Burn." Featuring verses by Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane, the track was the only song on Fear of a Black Planet to include guest MCs, but the exception resulted in one of the better offerings on the entire album.
Chuck D bats lead-off and chastises the film industry for their stereotypical depictions of African-Americans, barking, "Yeah, I'll check out a movie, but it'll take a black one to move me," before handing the mic to Ice Cube. He shows traces of his gangsterized steeze as well as growing penchant for social commentary with the opening bar, "Ice Cube is down with the P.E. / Now all of these bitches wanna see me / Big Daddy is smooth, word to mother / Let's check out a flick that exploits the color." Big Daddy Kane also catches wreck, giving props to Spike Lee and lamenting the plights of past black thespians and completes what is a classic take on an issue that is still prevalent today.
Public Enemy's first two albums may have included Flav's hype-man antics and contain bits of his jovial spirit, but Fear of a Black Planet was the moment that he fully came into his own. "Yo, I dialed 9-1-1 a long time ago, and don't you see how late they reacting? / They only come and they come when they wanna, so get the morgue truck and embalm the goner."
While far from a lyrical wizard, Flav carries the track with his sheer presence and leaves you entertaining the fact that he may actually be capable of creating a serviceable album. From the infectious hook, in which he raps, "Get up, get-get get down / 911 is a joke in 'yo town," to the raucous beat courtesy of the Bomb Squad, "911 Is a Joke" is an outright jam and one of the more endearing cuts in the Public Enemy catalog.
The production arm of the Public Enemy brain trust, Bomb Squad, may be notorious for notorious for revolutionizing the sound of rap music with their penchant for throwing the kitchen sink into the P.E. sound. Few songs exemplify their knack for sound-bombing than the cut "Brothers Gonna Work It Out."
Chock-full of random samples and sound bites from an array of records crossing different genres, the end-product was an ironically focused soundbed over which P.E. general Chuck D kicked the cold hard truth to the young black youth. Released as a single from the album right in time for summer of 1990, it rocked many a house jam and continued Public Enemy's reign of terror over boomboxes and sound systems worldwide.