Band: Public Enemy
Album: Fear of a Black Planet
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: P.E.'s third album shows the group at its peak. The Bomb Squad's production is more complex and eschews the easy old-school hip hop traditions by layering more sounds and Chuck D's writing became more pointed and political
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Professor Griff mess and the abject homophobia of "Meet the G That Killed Me."
Best song: Well, obviously, "Fight the Power" is the highlight of the album and, possibly, the band's entire repertoire.
Worst song: "Can't Do Nuttin' for Ya Man" isn't all that good.
Is it awesome?: Sure.
I've addressed this issue before, but it bears repeating. Public Enemy is an example of the tyranny of boomer thought. PE is a group that looked like the Black Panthers and sang about racism.
And this album furthers that cause. "Fight the Power" is the band's highlight, containing probably the best sneered lyric on a rap record:
Cause I'm black and I'm proud
I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamp
"Fight the Power" also has the famous "Motherfuck him and John Wayne," a classic Flavor Flav interjection and one that reflects the group's general ideal.
The album isn't just "Fight the Power." "Burn Hollywood Burn" -- with guest spots form Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane -- is a scathing attack on the movie system that has ignored and insulted black culture from the time of "Birth of a Nation." "911 is a Joke" is Flavor Flav's best recorded moment -- by far -- and was oddly prescient, as years later 9111 responders in Phildelphia left a beating victim die on the street.
As someone of Jewish background, I have to address the Professor Griff mess and the subsequent lyrics on "Welcome to the Terrordome."
At the risk of sounding like a total jerk, classic anti-semitism is born out of jealousy. People envy Jews in the world because Jews -- for whatever reason -- have been more successful than they (we, I guess) should be. Certainly in the United States, Jewish people have gained more power than their (our) numbers should indicate. There simply aren't a lot of Jewish people in the U.S. -- According to the census, Jews make up approximately 1.5% of the US population. But, you can't turn on the TV without seeing Jews everywhere. Jewish people occupy top spots in entertainment, academia, government and high finance; All powerful and/or highly visible positions in American life. This level of success doesn't reflect the sheer numbers, so, inevitably, people get jealous.
So, when someone like Louis Farrakhan goes on about Jews being evil and scheming and whatever, I look at it as pure envy.
I can understand some stereotypes and why people believe them. If someone says "Jews are greedy" or "Jews are cheap," that makes some level of sense in the same way stereotypes of other groups make sense. They're simple prejudices, no different than the classic "Group X is lazy" or "Group Y is greasy."
But, when Professor Griff says "The Jews are wicked. And we can prove this" and that Jews are responsible for "the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe..." It reflects the old European (and current Middle Eastern, by the way) idea that Jews have a secret cabal that runs global finance or the world Zionist government.
Each is patently ridiculous is only because the amount of coordination to achieve any of those things -- especially in a pre-Internet world, as most of those stereotypes come from the pre-Internet days -- is so large that no one could pull it off. It would have to involve help from many non-Jews (heads of state and the like) that it's patently ridiculous.
Honestly, here's the secret about Jews in America: Jews in America are normal Americans. Totally normal. Jews aren't evil, scheming or malevolent. Jews want to have a good life and raise children with their values. Just like every other American. Jewish culture is such that education is important and the history of Judaism in Europe mostly thrust the banking profession on European Jews in the Middle Ages. Trust me. It was no conspiracy.
America Jews like to scream (to other Jews) that the sky is falling in regards to assimilation into American culture. They write books like "The Vanishing Jew," arguing that intermarriage and assimilation is killing Judaism.
This argument is all good and well, but this change was long coming. Jews are the last European people to assimilate in America and remain, probably, the most exclusive European group. Two hundred years ago, Dutch-Americans only married Dutch-Americans and Anglo-Americans only married Anglo-Americas, but they eventually started to intermarry. One hundred years ago, Irish-Americans only married within their communities and Italian-Americans did the same. Jews are the only group that hasn't assimilated totally.
Any Facebook member can see the bizarre amount of groups populated by young(ish) Jews. A ridiculously attractive high school classmate of mine is in, I believe, 10 different Judeocentric groups. I assume there are many more.
So, my point is this: It's not just people like my mother and Alan Dershowitz -- boomers both -- who believe Judaism needs to be preserved by not intermarrying and proclaiming your Jewishness all the time. Judaism is insular and has been for a long time.
(For the record, I despise this stuff. I don't believe in god; Jewish, Christian or otherwise. I'm ambivalent towards the issues in the former Judea. I basically think everyone is crazy over there. I'm actually something of an anti-semite myself, socially, as I prefer not to hang with Jews -- they're always into that stuff. I have several close Jewish friends, but I prefer the insular community of indie rock hipsters and video game idiots to the Jewish community.)
People like Louis Farrakhan see this and, I believe, get jealous. Because these people -- not secretive, by any means as this is not a Mason situation -- have achieved success without becoming something they're not, people like Farrakhan think something is amiss. It isn't.
So... we end up with lyrics like this:
Crucifixion ain't no fiction
So-called chosen frozen
Apology made to whoever pleases
Still they got me like Jesus
It's all good and well, but that's just hateful. "Welcome to the Terrordome" is a great song in a lot of ways, but that and the "Rabs on the rag" line are just awful. There's no way around it.
The anti-semitism obviously affects me, but the record remains a classic. It's probably not as good as RS makes it out to be -- PE is this dream hip hop group -- but it's still a quality record, reflecting a period in history that needs to be noted.