In the 1980s, rap music became a powerful expression of Black youth. Public Enemy led the way in establishing a Black social consciousness in contrast to the prevailing narratives of violence and materialism.
The group consisted of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, Professor Griff and the S1Ws, which stands for Security of the First World. The group produced studio albums, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show,” “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” and “A Fear of a Black Planet,” which raised the political awareness for the youth in the streets of America.
Songs such as “Fight the Power,” “911 Is a Joke,” and “Brotha’s got to Work it Out” tackled diverse issues inside the Black community. In 2005, “Fear of a Black Planet” was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress due to album success. Next the group released “Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black” that continued to address the politics that affected the Black community with songs such as “Can’t Truss It” and “Shut’EM Down” detailing how the people should deal with the continual oppression. Also “I Don’t Wanna be Called Yo Nigga” took on the issue of use of the word outside its original derogatory context.
But it was the song “By the Time I get to Arizona,” that drew the most controversy , a song protesting the state of Arizona for failing to recognize the national holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the time. The rap group’s musical legacy also help shape the generation of what is known as “rap metal” where rap lyrics blended with rock grinding guitars. Songs like “Bring the Noise” and “She Watch Channel Zero?!” paved the way for rock and hip-hop circles to mix.
Public Enemy’s strong, pro-Black and political music became an alternative to the violent gangster rap music from the late 80s through the early 2000s. The group used the same hard-hitting rhyme patterns over ferocious beats to celebrate Blackness. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.