Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Public Enemy; Power to the People and the Beats: Public Enemy's Greatest Hits (Def Jam/Universal)

Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Public Enemy; Power to the People and the Beats: Public Enemy's Greatest Hits (Def Jam/Universal)

Article excerpt

GIVEN THE WAY GREATEST HITS COMPILATIONS are often thrown together by any label with money to license music rights from an artist's parent company, a collection featuring the work of a group as influential and controversial as Public Enemy would be rightly viewed with suspicion. Still, Universal (Def Jam Recordings's current distributor) has managed to release a not-quite-as-expansive-as-deserved, but competent snapshot of a group that for better or worse became the sonic template and barometer of verity for just about every major hip-hop label.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Pompous and majestic as Marcus Garvey on parade in full dress regalia, yet down-to-earth as a Black Panther teach-in, Public Enemy managed to strike a necessary balance between the serious and the silly. Lead rapper Chuck D's crisp baritone and complicated internal rhyme schemes ("Never badder than bad/cause the brother is mad at the fact/that his brother's corrupt like a senator" on "Bring The Noise" comes to mind) worked only when alternately reigned in and encouraged by Flavor Flav's homeboy histrionics--reminding the listener that despite the riot going on, it was still, in the end, a party record.

The wavering between those extremes informs not only the sonic architecture of the songs featured on Power To The People, but the lyrical intent, as well. (The Bomb Squad's innovative, pre-digital sampling techniques are to this day the gold standard of hip-hop production.) Veering from incisive, anger-flecked cultural critique of capitalism and Global White Supremacy ("Public Enemy No. …

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