Public Enemy (1988)
Even by the late 80s, rap was getting overly satisfied and formulaic. It was centered around bravado and cred, and needed a creative kick in the pants. The unapologetically militant posse of Carlton Ridenhour, William Drayton and Richard Griffin provided that and then some. Known collectively as Public Enemy, they brought an onslaught of polemical, pointed political lyrics, complete with attacks, provocations, and mythology-building.
Amidst a cultural landscape of skits, links and intros, this career-making LP was very much back-to-basics. The message was king here, delivered in relatively short 3-to-4-minute salvos, with only the slightest bit of humor provided by Flavor Flav. Famous production team the Bomb Squad provided shrill and unorthodox samples derived from a variety of sources.
By no means were PE all talk and no walk – their personal lives and political causes were inflammatory enough to cause a ruckus wherever they went. But they never compromised their views and continued to sell tons of records until their brand of caustic truth and recontextualizing of the black experience became redundant and self-parodic. Still, though, they were lean and hungry here, and started off a firestorm in the popular consciousness. Along with the films of Spike Lee, they provided an accessible link to a renegade mindset in the early 90s.
Key track: “Bring the Noise”