Fear Of A Black Planet

Public Enemy

Def Jam / Columbia Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Coming off one of the last perceived, "dangerous" albums in the last 20 years, It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, Public Enemy had to answer a lot of questions as the ninties were born. Professor Griff, a key member of the band, was kicked out of the band, reluctantly, after making anti-Semitic remarks. Gangsta rap was quickly bum rushing suburban areas, threatening to dispel Public Enemy's claim to be the "toughest" rap act alive. And finally, could they have the artistic clout to follow up one of the most heralded albums of the eighties?

The stakes were high and Fear Of A Black Planet more than lived up to its pre-release hype. More importantly, it established itself as being one of the musical cornerstones of this decade. Public Enemy's musical version of a B-2 bomber, The Bomb Squad layers guitar wails and record scratches over the rally cry, "Brothers Gonna Work It Out," a perfect introduction for the next 50 minutes.

Playing out rap's version of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Flavor Flav and Chuck D take turns dominating an album full of angry social commentary mixed with beats so slamming, you swear the album was a party along the lines of Funkadelic's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Maggot Brain.

Flav's humor and Chuck D's assault-rifle style of lyrical bombast intersect often throughout "Fear." Ambulance service in the inner-cities gets fragged on "911 Is A Joke," and Hollywood gets railed for it's portrait of minorities in "Burn Hollywood Burn." Both are hilarious, but the humor does not soften the hard hitting message.

Public Enemy, during its heyday, meant to get under people's skin, and they succeeded. Just as the most liberal minded person could agree with all of what Chuck D had to say, they crossed the line sometimes, offending liberals as often as conservatives. On "Meet the G That Killed Me," Chuck fires off some homophobic rants. But this time, the crass humor of the band sinks to a sophomoric low.

Once again, Public Enemy shows that they have a diamond-sharp focus in their beliefs, and no special interests are going to get in the way of their message. But thankfully, much of Fear Of A Black Planet aims to unify the races.

On the title track, PE takes a swipe at those who oppose interracial relationships, especially marriage. And on "Can't Do Nothing For Ya Man," Flava Flav, in full Dr. Seuss on crack attitude, warns about trusting someone just because they share the same skin color.

It's hard to find specific highlights of Fear Of A Black Planet, but if I had to pick one particular shining moment, it would have to be the relentless track, "War At 33 1/3". It's not one of the more well-known tracks off of the album, but it perfectly melds the beats of the Bomb Squad with Chuck D's powerful voice.

"Fight The Power" effectively closes Fear Of A Black Planet. The most well-known song off of the album, the song has a "power to the people" chant that encourages even the most Republicanized frat boy to raise their fist in the air. Too bad for some the song makes blatant slams at two established American icons: John Wayne and Elvis Presley.

The album ends with a short blurb, featuring Chuck D telling a reporter about the future of Public Enemy. In a sly gesture, that question is answered on their next album, Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black. To many, that album would be the last great Public Enemy album.

As rap was still an emerging artistic form, Fear Of A Black Planet was one of the first albums that confirmed art could be made out of this supposed "fad." Almost two decades later, it's obvious to even the most jaded non-believer that rap is definitely here to stay. Though it took a Public Enemy shirt worn by Scott Ian of Anthrax to show me, Fear Of A Black Planet was one of the first albums where I rejoyed rap's entrance into the last decade of this century.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 1999 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Def Jam / Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.