Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Public Enemy is riding the kind of groove that only the greatest groups ever get near. Harsh, hectic, undercut by an irritating background buzz that proves an excitant once you adjust, it turns urban stress into music, with relief of sorts provided by Chuck D.'s orotund preachifying, Flavor Flav's wild hilarity, and a pulse that kept you so busy dancing your ass off you forgot to worry about breaking your neck.

Despite all the pigheaded controversy PE has waded into, that sound has never quit. Its fierce militance has been bitten by hard guys both gangsta and political, its multilayered dissonance by everyone, but the originals are still the greatst. To complain that 1990's Fear of a Black Planet or the brilliant new Apocalypse '91: The Empire Strikes Black (Def Jam) break no new ground is like saying The Beatles' Second Album didn't top Meet the Beatles, or Sticky Fingers represented no advance over Let It Bleed.

Unlikely as it may seem, the first side/half of Apocalypse '91--which builds from a mouth-dropping we're-here shout to Flav's nasty, swinging, catchy I Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Niga, then winds down into the well-named How To Kill a Radio Consultant and an assualt on Martin Luther King Day boycotters--is Public Enemy's most exciting sustained sequence ever. The rest is more mortal, its failings pointed up by Chuck and Flav's latest antimedia whine. But the second side of Let It Bleed also has its duff moments. And 22 years later every one stands up.

Playboy, Sept. 1991


Aug. 1991 Oct. 1991