Friday, October 26, 2007

[042] Fear Of A Black Planet
(or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb Squad, Part 1)

Album: Fear Of A Black Planet
Artist: Public Enemy
Release Date: March 1990
Label: Def Jam/Columbia
Producers: The Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Carl Ryder [Chuck D], Eric "Vietnam" Sadler & Keith Shocklee)

"I got so much trouble on my mind
I refuse to lose
Here's your ticket
Hear the drummer get wicked"
- from "Welcome To The Terrordome"

By the dawn of the 1990’s, Public Enemy was firmly entrenched at the head of the Hip-Hop line; to use a high school analogy, they were both the quarterback and the valedictorian. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back had been called the greatest Hip-Hop album of all time almost from the moment it was released, and their eye-popping videos and energetic live show made them stars by word of mouth alone (because, as Chuck D said, “Radio – suckers never play me”). Then came the summer of 1989, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, and P.E.’s “Fight The Power”, which was on the film’s soundtrack. “Fight The Power”, and Lee’s famous block party video for the song, made P.E. household names across the land. Everyone was waiting with baited breath to see where they could possibly go next. What they got was Fear Of A Black Planet, an album that was infinitely more aggressive and noisy, disrupting any comfort zone that possibly could have been gleaned from the urban nightmares of Nation Of Millions, and replacing it with tirades on global race relations and an orchestrated cacophony of second-hand aural shrapnel.

Chuck D was so angry on this album that the genius flow that fans came to expect almost broke apart upon re-entry, his uncontrollable frustration spraying venom and vitriol every which way on at least half of his tracks, words spit in short, stream of consciousness blurts. The frenetic “Power To The People” consists more of chants of unity and calls to arms than actual lyrics. But where at first it might sound like he lost focus, it soon becomes clear that his style has just changed to a more off-beat flow. Chuck sounds even tighter on the lightspeed “War At 33 1/3” and the sincere ode to the females, “Revolutionary Generation”. “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” sets the table with Chuck’s assertion that P.E. will “make you all jump along to the education”, speaking out on Black males not only taking responsibility for their own stations in life (“Teach a man how to be a father, to never tell a woman he can’t bother”), but also going further to excelling in a world controlled by The Man (“Our stories - real history, not His story”). Even Flavor Flav has grown past his clown act, contributing the biting cynicism of “911 Is A Joke”. As the album title suggests, these songs mostly concern the state of Black/White race relations, especially in an America where P.E. had played in front of arenas full of White, Midwestern farm teens fascinated by this new rebel music called Rap. And so the epic single “Welcome To The Terrordome” must’ve confused those new fans, backing Chuck’s paranoid soliloquy with wave after wave of confident, booming Funk.

Considered retroactively, “Fight The Power” is obviously Public Enemy’s essential moment, so it’s no surprise to see it included here (in a slightly different version – without Branford Marsalis’ original saxophone solo) as the grand finale. After their collaboration with Spike Lee, the two artists seemed to parallel one another; the title track and “Pollywanacraka” dissect interracial couples like Lee’s Jungle Fever would just a year later, and Chuck admits to being conflicted, taking the position that “God put us all here” so “there should not be any hatred”, but also worrying that “the devil split us in pairs, and taught us White is good, Black is bad”. Likewise, “Burn Hollywood Burn” steps right to the movie business, critiquing the exploitation of Blacks throughout the history of film and encouraging more filmmakers like Spike to pick up cameras; years later, the director would release Bamboozled, which contained the same themes, and even featured an updated version of the song.

Fear Of A Black Planet was the third and final P.E. album produced by The Bomb Squad, quite assuredly the most groundbreaking studio team in the history of Hip-Hop. Still in the heyday of sampling, they followed 1989’s two landmarks, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High & Rising and the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, with tracks that could do nothing but raise the bar into the stratosphere. “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” tends to get most of the attention, and it should; not only has it been rare to hear anyone sample Prince (Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” is the only other example I can think of off the top of my head), the fact that The Bomb Squad snatched just a few licks from the molten lava guitar solo at the end of “Let’s Go Crazy” and built an entire song on it is still mindblowing. “Burn Hollywood Burn” is equally so, with layer upon layer of jackhammer percussion. Even as I use key words like ‘layer’ and ‘cacophony’ and ‘booming’, The Bomb Squad was breaking barriers and reaching out to the national scene; on “Reggie Jax”, Chuck D gives respect to Houston’s Geto Boys and LA’s Ice-T, and both of their syrupy sounds influence slower P.E. tracks like “Polly” and “Reggie”. The Bomb Squad keeps piling on the samples, the guitars and drums fall on top of each other, horns and whistles rip the space, Terminator X elbows his way in to raise the threat level with his scratches; theirs is Frankenstein music. Close to one hundred songs are sampled across Fear Of A Black Planet, each sliver tweaked, morphed, and molded into something wholly new. It is, essentially, the sound of New York City at its busiest, and it forms the backbone of a classic album by one of the few Hip-Hop artists that will never go away, no matter how much The Man tries to shut them down.

01. "Contract On The World Love Jam" [interlude]
02. "Brothers Gonna Work It Out"
03. "911 Is A Joke"
04. "Incident At 66.6FM" [interlude]
05. "Welcome To The Terrordome"
06. "Meet The G That Killed Me [interlude]
07. "Pollywanacraka"
08. "Anti-Nigger Machine"
09. "Burn Hollywood Burn" [feat. Ice Cube & Big Daddy Kane]
10. "Power To The People"
11. "Who Stole The Soul?"
12. "Fear Of A Black Planet"
13. "Revolutionary Generation"
14. "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man"
15. "Reggie Jax" [interlude]
16. "Leave This Off Your Fuckin' Charts"
17. "B Side Wins Again"
18. "War At 33 1/3"
19. "Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned" [interlude]
20. "Fight The Power [remix]"

"Brothers Gonna Work It Out" [video]

"911 Is A Joke" [video]
Nice to see Samuel L. Jackson was getting work

"Welcome To The Terrordome/Bring The Noise" [live in Paris, 04.07]

"Burn Hollywood Burn" [single mix - video]

- BONUS: "911 Is A Joke" [live in Paris, 04.07]
- BONUS: "Welcome To The Terrordome" [instrumental video]
There was so much controversy surrounding the temporary firing of Professor Griff and then the release of this single, that the band released an instrumental video to make a statement about censorship. It was still banned.
- BONUS: "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man" [video]
- BONUS: "Fight The Power" [video - full version]

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