Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Public Enemy's decades of beats

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com

Public Enemy plays at 8:30 p.m. Friday on the Blue Stage.

From the beginning of 1988 to the end of 1990, essentially the time period covered by the albums "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" and "Fear of a Black Planet," Public Enemy was the most important band on the planet. It's hard to think of any other act who came close.

This is not damning with faint praise. They were the most galvanizing, the most exciting, the angriest, the most musically and politically progressive, the most powerful. As much as any act of their generation, they made their noise a music of possibility. It's hard for hip-hop fans of a certain age not to look at the protests around the world and not have the chorus of "Fight the Power" float through one's head.

Public Enemy's early story, their line-up with its well-defined roles, the brilliant sloganeering, their sample-dense sound, is well-chronicled. Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X … these guys were like superheroes and that was not an accident.

Carlton Douglas "Chuck D" Ridenhour had a voice like a thunder god, a mature adult in a young man's game, determined to update the 1970s black power worldview he was raised on for the Reagan years (people forget the Hard Rhymer was born in August 1960. The group's game-changing second album "Nation of Millions..." was released in April 1988, when Chuck was 27, downright ancient for a rapper).

William "Flavor Flav" Drayton was the greatest second fiddle since Aaron hung out with Moses, bouncing around the stage, leavening Chuck's bellow. Terminator X was the silent DJ, the Bomb Squad the noisiest production team of all time. As Wordsworth wearing a Walkman might have put it, bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be a rap fan was very heaven . Of course, the band kept going after those records. 2011 is the 20th anniversary of "Apocalypse 91 ... The Enemy Strikes Black," the first non-Bomb Squad PE record. By any reasonable standard, it was a good, often great record, but when you've changed the world, any sort of encore is going to look a little duff by comparison.

By the middle of the '90s, entirely too many people had written them off. By the end of the 1990s, PE headed underground, releasing tough, uncompromising records that not a lot of people heard. Producers changed, tastes changed, but Chuck never stopped gettin' mad and puttin' it down on a pad. Here are 10 under-appreciated Public Enemy tunes not found on their first four albums.

1."Buck Whylin." Technically a Terminator X solo track with Sistah Souljah hollering ("We are at WAR!"), Chuck louder than a bomb and a droning Bomb Squad track make this a keeper up there with anything on "Black Planet."

2. "Hazy Shade of Criminal." From the mismarketed EP plus remixes collection "Greatest Misses," here's savage industrial noise with the "Funky Drummer" break buried in there, Chuck rails at inequalities in the justice system. A perfect track for occupying something.

3. "No." A Chuck D solo joint over laid back drums and horn stabs, Mistachuck lays out his world view, one refusal at a time.

4. "Give it Up." From the totally-ignored-at-the-time "Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age," "Give it Up" folds in live drums and goes after the thug life culture ("I never did represent doin' dumb ish/some gangsta lying; I'd rather diss Presidents") that conquered rap.

5. "LSD." A downright woozy song from "There's a Poison Goin' on," released on the Internet in 1999, years before that was really a viable business model.

6. "Air Hoodlum." Hard swinging funk from "Greatest Misses," Chuck, sounding as laid back as he gets, versus the exploitation of the athlete.

7. "As Long as the People Got Something to Say." From the unfortunately named "New Whirl Order," produced by Professor Griff, who apparently turned into a strong beatmaker.

8. "Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need." A "Revolverlution" song, fueled by spare (by PE standards) bongos and an acoustic guitar (!) loop. Is it mellow? It is not.

9. "MKLVFKWR." Another "New Whirl Order" tune, anti-war rage (add some vowels to the title) over a beat by, of all people, Moby, who should do this more often.

10. "He Got Game." The theme to the Spike Lee movie of the same name, it's perhaps Chuck's subtlest, saddest vocal. One wishes Stephen Stills had kept his cameo to a guitar-only recreation of the two-note "For What It's Worth" hook, but it still resonates.

jgross@statesman.com; 912-5925

Also on the Blue Stage

By Peter Mongillo

American-Statesman staff

FRIDAY

Fat Tony, 12:40 p.m. Slick-rhyming, fast-moving Nigerian American rapper from Houston.

Car Stereo Wars, 1:15 p.m. Austin-based mashup master who, like Girl Talk, creates something new out of snippets of sounds from disparate sources.

Autobody, 2 p.m. Austin-based electro-rock band drawing from psych-rock and house music.

Black Milk, 2:45 p.m. Detroit-based MC, who leans toward heavy drum beats and soul samples, has produced for J Dilla, among others, as well as releasing several solo albums.

Omar Souleyman, 3:30 p.m. Syrian musician who mixes traditional folk music with hypnotic dance beats has a not-to-miss live show.

Yacht, 4:15 p.m. Dance-pop duo offers up a Brian Eno-influenced mix of the weird and accessible.

Pictureplane, 5 p.m. Denver-based multi-media artist Travis Egedy mixes dance music with '80s synth sounds and darker fare.

Franki Chan, 5:30 p.m. L.A.-based DJ behind "Check Yo' Ponytail" dance parties.

Big Freedia, 6:05 p.m. New Orleans bounce musician who has become a bit of fixture in Austin in recent years.

Spank Rock, 6:45 p.m. "Party Rap" from Baltimore-based DJ Naeem Juwan.

Four Tet, 7:35 p.m. British electronica producer that draws from hip-hop, jazz, techno and folk.

SATURDAY

Active Child, 12:55 p.m. Dreamy electronic music from Pat Grossi, who has drawn comparisons to James Blake.

Purity Ring, 1:30 p.m. Melodic electronic music from Corin Roddick and Megan James.

T Bird and the Breaks, 2:05 p.m. Austin-based funk band with more members than you can count.

Brandt Brauer Frick, 2:40 p.m. German group mixing elements of classical music with techno.

Cecil Otter, 3:20 p.m. Spoken word artist and member of Minneapolis rap collective Doomtree.

Wugazi, 3:45 p.m. DJ mashup of - you guessed it - Fugazi and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Dan Deacon, 4:30 p.m. Over-the-top electronic music from Baltimore.

Cold Cave, 5:20 p.m. Philadelphia/New York psych band creating pulsing music influenced by New Order and others.

Rakim, 6:10 p.m. Rap legend known for his complex rhyming skills.

Childish Gambino, 7 p.m. Rap group led by comedian Donald Glover.

Neon Indian, 7:50 p.m. One-time Austinite Alan Paloma continues to churn out psychedelia marked by underwater samples and '80s FM sound effects.

Major Lazer, 8:45 p.m. Diplo and Switch, DJs behind M.I.A.'s uber-popular sample of the Clash's "Straight to Hell" from "Paperplanes."

SUNDAY

Soul Khan, 12:30 p.m. Rapper who made his name competing in New York rap battles.

Speak, 1:05 p.m. Austin-based band that creates synth-heavy pop rock.

Bird Peterson, 1:40 p.m. Houston native known for his dance mixtapes.

G Side, 2:25 p.m. Rap duo from Huntsville, Ala., focused on forward-looking rhymes.

Grimes, 3 p.m. Hard-to-pin down pop artist Claire Boucher draws from just about every corner of the music world.

MNDR, 3:35 p.m. New York-based duo making punchy, '80s dance pop-influenced electronic music.

Austra, 4:20 p.m. Canadian trio creating a stew of pulsing electronic music and dark, operatic vocals.

Baths, 5:10 p.m. California-based electronic musician whose style varies considerably from track to track, with chopped-up psychedelia standing next to falsetto-laden ballads.

Del the Funky Homosapien, 6 p.m. Iconic West Coast rapper who got his start in the early '90s.

Flying Lotus, 6:55 p.m. Los Angeles-based DJ who incorporates elements of hip-hop, jazz and other abstract effects.

Diplo, 7:50 p.m. DJ behind Mad Decent label who gained widespread popularity working with M.I.A.

Odd Future, 8:45 p.m. Controversial rap group known as much (perhaps more) for their stage antics as their music.