Monday, October 18, 2004

32 Songs: Track 11

Public Enemy - 911 is a Joke

So get up get, get, get down
911 is a joke in yo town
Get up, get, get, get down
Late 911 wears the late crown

Holy Fuck! What the Fuck is that?

They are the seven words that came out of my mouth on a Friday afternoon during art class in late 1990 when someone placed Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet on the stereo. And you would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't had a similar reaction on their first listen to a Public Enemy song. I know my Dad did (though his reasons may have been slightly different to mine).

Public Enemy were a revelation and completely out of this world to a teenager from middle class Canberra. Thudding bass, repeating samples and the language! The language is what really hooked me. It wasn't the prevalence of swear words, though that enthralled many of the others in the class, but rather the entirely different accent and expressions. And then there was the subject matter. A song about the inefficiency at which the New York paramedic services operated in black neighborhoods was not likely to be heard on Australian radio and especially not radio in Canberra in the early 1990s. The album also includes songs about black men going in and out of prison, the skewed view of blacks in Hollywood and, in Fight the Power, a song about standing up to da man!

While Fear of a Black Planet introduced me to PE the following Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strike Black remains my personal favourite album of theirs. Terminator X does things with records and sounds that can’t be believed, Chuck D and Flav take their lyrical execution to the next level and wear their political allegiances and social consciences front and centre on big gold chains around their necks.

As the years went by my respect for PE diminished as they seemed bent on becoming a parody of themselves and ignored their own plea of 'Don't Believe the Hype. But Public Enemy were an education in social equality, musical theory and language development and, most importantly, delivered a lesson I could never forget.


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