Sunday, August 2, 2009
Marky's song #5: Public Enemy - "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man"
I’m sure I don’t need to give you the huge back-story about who Public Enemy is and their impact on the world of hip hop. A friend of mine once joked, “if Public Enemy are the Beatles of rap, then Flavor Flav is George Harrison.” I laughed, but it makes sense, even if there aren’t exact counterparts to each section of the analogy. Chuck D rightfully gets the lion’s share of the attention, being the nominal leader and frontman as well as the chief lyrical contributor, but Flav is more than just a hype-man riding someone else’s coattails; every P.E. album sports two or three solid Flav cuts – he’s never the central figure, but always dependable. Flav’s larger-than-life personality outside the groups has quite the reputation, but don’t take my word for it – let Chuck D tell you in his own words.
Fear of a Black Planet was released after the stellar It Take a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. However, before Fear… made it into stores, Professor Griff (Public Enemy’s Ringo Starr?) was released from the fold over allegations of anti-Semitic remarks in an interview with David Mills of the Washington Times. The veracity of that claim is not the subject here. The flap had the potential to damage P.E.’s rapidly increasing status, but unsurprisingly the group didn’t let the controversy slow them down one bit. The polemics are stronger than ever and the beats are just as solid as they were on Nation of Millions. In fact, Fear of a Black Planet is so strong, it made it into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2004.
Probably the best-known song off of Fear of a Black Planet is one of Flavor’s: “911 Is a Joke.” The only other Flavor-led track on the album is this one – a hard luck story mostly told from the second person in Flav’s loopy, instantly recognizable rasp. As always, production crew Bomb Squad finds the right backing for the song, sampling both the J.B.s and Bobby Byrd. It’s not coincidence that my interest in Public Enemy declined once Bomb Squad stopped producing their albums. The video is pretty low budget (Chuck D doesn’t even appear in it), but I dig it. This track is a perfect tonic to loosen up to between Chuck’s high strung raps.