In early 1987 Public Enemy released their debut album Yo! Bum Rush The Show for emerging Hip Hop label Def Jam. The Beastie Boys had set a standard of Hip Hop tomfoolery the previous year with their own slow burning debut Licensed To Ill. As strong and indeed classic as Licenesed To Ill is, Yo! Bum Rush The Show was the first hardcore Hip Hop album. The raw sound was like nothing heard before, The Melody Maker mused in a review “it wasn’t just a new sound, it was like being struck by a meteor”.
I first heard the album via a tape a friend lent me. I had heard Licensed To Ill but Public Enemy’s debut really did move Hip Hop a whole leap from the Beasties debut. Videos of the band appeared on Channel 4, live performances in small New York clubs showcased a whole new musical scene. The group appeared driven. Militant almost.
You’re Gonna Get Yours gets the party started. Vinyl samples and a distant riff the Red Hot Chili Peppers would lift for Give It Away play out as Chuck D delivers the most robust of vocal styles. Brief interjections from Flavor Flav show no signs of the humour that would emerge on later albums. The sound draws parallel with hardcore punk and Public Enemy already sound like the most real of deals.
Sophisticated Bitch rolls next. A driven yet funky sound. Slow yet powerful. The track is a problem for Public Enemy when looked back upon due to it misogynistic vibe. No excuse, but this vibe was all to prevalent in Hip Hop in the late 80’s – pity the genres finest exponents had to jump in too.
Miuzi Weighs A Ton delivers astonishing wordplay and the coldest of beats. The sharp sound is lyrically spewed over and Hip Hop is changed in one fell swoop.
Timebomb licks in with a funky beat. Again a cold stark sound provides a backdrop and Public Enemy sound so serious the album chills the listener to the very core. “South African Government wrecker” – Hip Hop lyrics had never wrung this hard. The track is far more influential that it has ever been given credit for.
Too Much Posse sees Flavor Flav provide that much-needed anti-dote to Chuck D. It is the psychotic Robin to Chuck D’s Batman. Fast urgent and oh so on it. Terminator X delivers driven beats. It is another winner.
Righstarter has all the ‘ah yeah’s’ of 80’s commercial Hip Hop but again Public Enemy pull the sound, message and delivery much, much deeper. “Some people fear me when I talk this way, some come near me – some run away” – Public Enemy know exactly where they are going on this track.
Public Enemy No. 1 mixes the whole formula. Flavor Flav intros with a fast rap before a gunshot and the most assured rap delivery ever heard circa 1987 from Chuck D sees him have no peers at all. The band arrive. A funky backdrop is blended with music that sound like the world going crazy, with the madness in the background the MC’s continue without a flinch.
Yo! Bum Rush The Show drives with more messages both crazed and serious. Chuck D and Flavor Flav pass the mic and the album continues with no let up.
Raise The Roof “testing 1-2, the house is now on fire” – the track is more subtle but still blazes harder than any rap album had ventured. Slow chord changes give the feel of a doom rock song. Public Enemy push Hip Hop forward so much with their debut – it is a feat from the genre that could never happen again to this extent.
Megablast on my first listen to the album was the ‘Wow’ factor. The coldest and hardest drug message in Hip Hop conjures up the sound of crack. With no real exposure to the drug one feels the power of the drug in this euphoric, twisted tune of powerful genius. Looped backtracks show the group have strong musical understanding and it works so effectively that the mild hazed Beatles, Husker Du et al – drug references seem quaint by comparison. That’s what the album does so uniquely. It brings the sound of the ghetto to the masses. There is no class divide. No National inclusion. Kudos.
M.P.E. closes the album with loops and ‘tomahawk slam’ stark drum samples.
Yo! Bum Rush The Show did not chart in the U.K. It’s highest charting single hit Number 88. This was no failure but more clear proof of a group way ahead of their time.
Public Enemy would follow the album with the greatest Hip Hop hardcore album of all-time It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and then the widely praised Fear Of A Black Plant. I believe their debut is clearly their 2nd best album largely due to the electric shock it gave those that cared to tune-in back in ’87…