The Power of the Enemy
By Frank James IV
In 1987 a friend turned me on to a rap group that I had not heard of before. Their album Yo Bum Rush the Show quickly became my most listened to cassette. The song that I loved had a crazy sound and a line, “kicking like Bruce Lee’s Chinese Connection.” The song was Public Enemy Number One and the group was Public Enemy.
One of the posters on my dorm room wall was of Public Enemy in a parking lot. No one else dug their crazy beats and my Detroit friends couldn’t understand why I wanted a 98 Oldsmobile. Later when Public Enemy dropped the singles: Bring the Noise and A Rebel Without a Pause everyone took notice. The world began to see or hear what I heard. I began to hear something in lead rapper Chuck D’s lyrics that resonated with my inner being. For years I wondered why some radio stations wouldn’t acknowledge rap music. Chuck put them all on blast in Bring the Noise with the line, “Radio stations I question their blackness they call themselves black but we’ll see if they play this.” Chuck was bringing conscious awareness to the African American community. More importantly Chuck was waking my mind up.
When It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was released I raced to get the cassette from the record store. I went home and popped the tape in my cassette player and listened to the whole thing. I sat and soaked up the entire cassette without critiquing just listening. After I finished excitedly called a partner of mine and told him, “PE new cassette is out!” I remember telling him Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos was my favorite song. I hung up and listened to Black Steel again and Chuck said the words, “Freedom to get out to the ghetto No Sellout…” My life was forever changed.
Public Enemy was opening my eyes to what was really going on in America. Chuck’s lyrics were doing the same for millions of other black people whether he knew it or not. There may have been conscious music before Public Enemy but none had people I knew thinking positive like PE had. Night of the Living Baseheads is still one of the strongest anti-drug songs ever made. Chuck was bringing a new level of rap to the industry. Chuck’s lyrics verbalized the conditions black people faced in the USA. Public Enemy’s music enlightened the listener about the real world, not a fantasyland based on gold chains and cash. Public Enemy’s music made me look at life and realize there was more to living than playing basketball or watching football on television. By the time Public Enemy released Fight the Power I understood more about the country I lived in and myself.
When people ask me who I think the greatest rapper of all time is I smile. I might say Rakim if I’m thinking about lyrics or flow. If they ask me who dropped the most powerful raps then I just deepen my voice and say, “As I ventured into the courtyard followed by fifty two brother bruised battered and scarred but HARD!” Or I might holler, “Chuck D cause the D is for Dangerous!” The power of Chuck’s voice combined with his lyrics does like his 98 Olds and blows them all away. The last verse of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos still brings tears to my eyes. To me that verse symbolizes strong black people coming through hell and winning. I’d like to think that I am one of them.
Frank James IV