Public Enemy Number 1?

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June 18, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

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Well, it looks like I’ve reverted back to my junior high school days of listening to late 80s/early 90s hip-hop.  Back then there was no one I listened to more than Public Enemy.[1]  Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve re-discovered about 50 songs on itunes that I forgot I even downloaded as a 14 year old afro’d menace, one thing sticks out to me about Public Enemy more than it ever did.[2]  Front man Chuck D. may very well be the most charismatic rapper that will ever live.  Granted he’s probably the most intellectual, but I already accepted as a given by age 15.

First of all, you have to realize how difficult it must have been for a socially conscious rap duo, writing songs about civil oppression, political assassinations, and bondage to be as big as they were.  Now, they didn’t cross over into the mainstream as easily as N.W.A. did, but I’d say that within the hip-hop community, you couldn’t get any bigger than Public Enemy.  Anyone who’s listened to a PE song knows that this isn’t any other rap group; they had a message, a mantra, a theme…..and a drug addicted hype man who may or may not have an undiagnosed case of Tourette syndrome.  Not only did they have a message, but they were fronted by the most articulate and charismatic rapper who’s ever lived.

Well Andrew, what about Kanye West or some other guy that everyone else except you knows about?  Kanye is charismatic because he has swag, Chuck D. is charismatic because he makes you listen to him, and gets you to understand his point of view.  That is the kind of charisma that the president (not necessarily Obama, but any president in particular) should have.

Even though I disagree with Chuck D. on a great number of issues such as his anti-Semitism, his random fury directed towards Elvis Presley and John Wayne, and his insistence that Louis Farrakhan is a prophet, I’m still captivated by his charisma more so than most other artists save for Bono (when he’s not trying too hard to be charismatic) and Robert Plant (who is equal parts man and pure unadulterated charisma).  I was so intrigued by the way he spat off the rhymes in “By the Time I Get to Arizona” that is took me about 4 years to realize that the song is about him trying to assassinate the governor of Arizona for not celebrating Martin Luther King day.  After hearing “Fight the Power” for the first time I wanted to fight the power in any way I possible could, even though that’s pretty much impossible for a 16 year old white boy from Long Island to do.  To this day, I still think of myself as having lived through the crack epidemic just because I’ve listened to “Night of the Living Base Heads” on repeat for about an hour.  I think this because Chuck D. tells me to.

Whereas most rappers want the world, Chuck D. wanted/wants to change it.  And he wants to do so through rap music and his powerful (and educational) lyrics.  Even though we’re not very simpatico, I gotta give it up for Chuck D. and how he managed to turn an entire genre of music into an idea and a mechanism for change.  Even if it’s change that I don’t always agree with, if Chuck D. ever decided to run for president, as long as he only spoke in rap verses, there’s a good chance I’d vote for him.  Hey, we love good talkers in America, and Chuck D. was never a better talker than when he had a mic in his hand and a def jam to rhyme on.


[1] The irony is not lost on me.

[2] Yes, I had an afro as a teenager; actually it was more of a Jew-fro, but since I’m a gentile, I guess it just qualifies as really bad bed head.

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