Review: Public Enemy @ The Espy

Thursday May 17, The Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda, Melbourne

Public Enemy are not your usual hip hop outfit. Their career has spanned 25 years during which they have become one of the most famous and influential groups on the planet. Not only has their music often broken new ground but they are also rightly known as the pioneers of political hip hop.

Prior to Public Enemy most political artists were known for having one or two political songs. Public Enemy, and in particular their front man Chuck D, helped create the idea of an entirely political hip hop outfit. Public Enemy has become well known for its social commentary on issues ranging from racism, poverty, the media, corporate greed and national liberation.

The show at the Espy in St Kilda was part of a national tour taking in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne as well as the Groovin the Moo festival. On this tour the group performed with a live band and played what was really a ‘best of’ set mostly consisting of material from their early albums ‘Yo! Bum Rush the Show’, ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ and ‘Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black’.

Some of the highlights included Rebel Without a Pause, 911 is a Joke, Welcome to the Terrordome, By the Time I Get to Arizona and Fight the Power. The group also played a special medley in memory of recently deceased artists Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch of the Beastie Boys and Chuck Brown. It was noted that on one of their first tours in 1987 Public Enemy opened for the Beastie Boys.

The Espy set was littered with comments from both Chuck D and his partner Flavor Flav against racism and against the sexist, commercial rap music that dominates the charts today. Chuck D railed against many of the rappers of today who have nothing progressive to say. “That’s the only reason why you would need to bring women up on stage and try to strip them after only 15 minutes of performing” he said.

He also spoke about some of the negative aspects of social media telling people to “get off Facebook sometimes and put your face in a real book” – a message that was also no doubt aimed at some of the more non-political hip hop artists.

The group announced that they will be releasing two new studio albums in 2012. ‘Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp’ will be released in June while ‘The Evil Empire Of Everything’ will follow in September. The Albums will feature a number of special guests including Brother Ali, Henry Rollins and Tom Morello.

One can only hope that these albums will not only help politicise a new layer of people moving into struggle but also help inspire a new generation of political hip hop artists who will help provide the soundtrack to the new and exciting political period we are moving into.

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