The Secret History of Public Enemy’s ‘Yo! Bum Rush the Show’
February 10, 1987, the debut album from the Def Jam recording group, Public Enemy, hit shelves and would go on to be one of the three most influential albums in hip-hop history. To commemorate and celebrate the project’s 30th anniversary, we proudly present to you the Secret History of Yo! Bum Rush the Show, featuring the players behind the project: Bill Adler, Bill Stephney, Eric Haze, Hank Shocklee + Chuck D about the inception of not just PE’s debut album, but of the group itself.
While writing lyrics for Public Enemy’s debut album Yo! Bum Rush the Show, a 26-year-old Chuckie Dee was literally and figuratively focused on the big picture. As a deliveryman for a black-owned photographic company in Hempstead, Long Island, he spent hours a day behind the wheel ingesting beats and talk radio between drop-offs.
“As I’m driving around in the car six or seven hours a day I have my cassette deck and I’m listening to WLIB religiously,” Chuck D says of the New York talk radio giant years before its format switch to Gospel. “Mark Riley would come on in the morning and Gary Byrd would come on in the afternoon. And the callers would call in from all over the city, Jersey and Connecticut talking about black issues and how we had to think outside of this box. So you had a consciousness that was raised in New York at that time that lead into the voting of David Dinkins.”
This mobile incubator was responsible for hip-hop’s pivot to more critical and conscious content. In 1986, the music industry had fully embraced their new revenue stream spawned by black-and-brown youth in these New York streets. But Chuck and his band of brothers—brothers Keith and Hank Shocklee, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and Terminator X—had no desire to be avatars for excess and machismo, but saw music as a means for galvanizing the masses. Yo! Bum Rush The Show would expose the government’s coordinated decimation of the black community under Ronald Reagan and New York Mayor Ed Koch. Def Jam Records was only three-years old, but had seen great success with releases from T La Rock, LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys leading to a distribution deal with CBS Records. There was a void for a voice that served up resistance between the revelry. Keenly aware of their audience of “kings, queens, warriors and lovers,” fraternities and sororities got shout outs right alongside the local hard rocks while simultaneously giving the middle finger to the cops. It was a dichotomy that had been instilled in Chuck and his peers as youths while attending Afrocentric summer camps at Hofstra University in the early ’70s.
“We all came up in the ‘Afro American Experience’ on the Hofstra Campus between ’70 and ’71. As young kids we were all bussed to this program, which was very radical. You had seminars with Muslims and Black Panthers and they were our teachers. College students. We were eight, 10 and 12. They disbanded it in 1972. We were bussed from Roosevelt, Freeport and Hempstead. Hank, Keith, myself and Griff were all part of it. So when we went back to school and they’d tell us that Columbus discovered America, we’d reject the agenda. This is the seed of what became Public Enemy.”
As focused as Chuck and his brothers were concerned, the path to Public Enemy’s debut album was far from linear. As a graphic design student at Adelphi University, Chuck was kicked out his freshman year for not attending classes, only to be reinstated and link with friends and future business partners like Bill Stephney, Harry Allen, Hank Shocklee and Andre Brown (better known as Doctor Dre of Yo! MTV Raps). As all of their academic and artistic interests converged via their campus radio show on BAU and parties thrown by the Spectrum City DJ crew — the ambition of Public Enemy was slowly realized.
“It was a throwback to our gigs. We knew that if you try to seal off a door and one toe gets in, you could have a 100 people behind you. If one toe gets in that door, it’s all gonna get in,” Chuck says of the title track. “It also stood for how myself, Hank, Keith, Eric, Bill, Flava, Griff, Dre and Tyrone were all gonna get into the music business. Rick Rubin wanted me to make Chuckie Dee records, but I come from a group aesthetic. I’m a group loyalist and if I get in we all come in. It was that attitude. Hank went into production, Bill [became] an executive, Harry went into writing, Dre went into radio and then TV and I went into being an artist. But we all came tumbling in off that one seed.”
Foundations At Adelphi
Bill Stephney, Radio Promotions Director at Def Jam / Producer On Yo! Bum Rush The Show
“I met Chuck in middle of 1982 at Adelphi University. He was two years ahead of me. I happened to see him in the Ruth S. Harley University Center on the first floor. He had on the silk, blue Spectrum City Crew jacket. At that point Spectrum was the top Long Island sound system DJ crew. All of the best parties—on Long Island at least—were Spectrum City parties. They had a fantastic reputation. So, if you saw anybody wearing one of those it was almost like seeing a member of Earth, Wind And Fire in your neighborhood. Why would someone as cool as that be in some place as uncool as Adelphi in Garden City? I introduced myself and said I’m on the radio station and Chuck knew that I was doing my radio show and had heard it and said he wanted to come up some time. I thought that was incredible. I always compare it to this 1980s Coke commercial with Mean Joe Greene. This cherubic kid is handing the Coke to Mean Joe and he says,’Thanks kid,’ and the kid goes crazy. I was that kid. That’s where things began.”
Hank Shocklee, Producer, DJ / Founder of Public Enemy
“I was the guy that brought everybody to the table when I found Chuck, who was doing an announcement at a party that I was going to, that was the first of many rap battles to come. But they weren’t called rap battles, it was just rappin’ when Chic’s “Good Times” got spun by the DJ. There was one mic and everybody had to bust a verse and all these cats were wack. So I had to sit through this nonsense and hopefully see somebody [I liked] because I was looking for an MC for my DJ set. And Chuck came on and did an announcement for a party and I was like, ‘Woah!’ He caught my attention more than the 50 other rappers up there. It took me two years to sit him down, for him to believe that he could be a rapper.”
Chuck D, Rapper / Founder of Public Enemy
“[I met Hank at a] ‘Thursday Night Throw Down’ party. Once again, Adelphi was the social center of Nassau County. It had a black student union and was the looser of the colleges. Everybody would go to the parties at Adelphi. Thursday night was black time. Eddie Murphy used to get on the mic and MC, while Keith Shocklee DJ’d. He was down with Spectrum. I was just a fan of Spectrum and Hank at the time. Hank was like the Afrika Bambaataa of Long Island. He’s the Phil Spector of Hip-Hop. He’s a master of records and also of sound. Back in the day when people had these super incredible sound systems, Hank would make the same sound come out of something one tenth the size and come out as clear as glass. He’s legit.
I first approached Hank being a fan saying I could do your flyers because there’s a couple events you guys are doing and whoever booked y’all did a fucked up flyer. This would never happen if you let me do the flyer. So, when I was at Adelphi we happened to be at the same place and I made an announcement. And he was like, ‘Yo, that was you? The dude that made the flyer? Larry T was the DJ from Freeport and he would let me get on the mic because he would get tired of other people getting on. Hank was looking for an MC, but I was like these guys are the pros, so I had to think about it over a weekend and then I agreed. And they were the most professional DJ outfit I’ve ever seen to this day.”
“There was a class at Adelphi called “Black Music and Musicians” taught by a wonderful professor from Brooklyn, the late great Andrei Strobert. His cousin is James Mtume. Dr. Strobert was a drummer and he taught two semesters about the history of Black Music. We had a textbook, “The Music of Black Americans” by Eileen Southern. Me, Harry [Allen], Chuck and Doctor Dre were in that class together.”
“What that class gave us was an understanding that hip-hop and rap music were a combination of a lot of different art forms and that it was indeed high art. And Dr. Strobert taught us the elements and vibrations of where the music could come from, the power of what it could do and how essential it was to our fabric of human beings. We had the light bulb go off that hip-hop does that same thing for us and wasn’t just an adolescent fancy. So the class was essential to take, but it was also a joy because my cohorts all saw the same picture. I was already involved with Hank with Spectrum City and went from there to the radio station so it was full circle. That class was an asset to my life. He was radical in his teaching—the radicalization of music and how it can break down barriers.”
Becoming Public Enemy
“I left Adelphi to work at the CMJ New Music Report. I’d been interviewing to take a radio sales position at local adult contemporary station WYNY 97. That gig paid almost $40K starting. I’m 21 and single [with a gig at] $40K starting. I was like woah! I was completely prepared to do that. This was ’85. I had met Rick Rubin in the summer of ’84 right after he had released “It’s Yours” by T La Rock and Jazzy Jay. Around early ’85, he started offering me various positions. Then I’d ask how much it paid and he’d say I don’t know if I can pay you but come work for me. Towards the latter part of ‘85 when Rick and Russell [Simmons] secured their distribution deal with Columbia Records they threw a big party at Danceteria. Around then Rick asked me again to come work for Def Jam but I told him I had other offers. At a certain point they made an offer with some semblance of a salary, not as much as the sales position, but enough that made sense. This was the end of ’85 and they didn’t have an office for me and I’m still the “Beat Box” editor at the CMJ Music Report. I officially moved into the Rush Productions office around March of ’86. I’d been working out of my house and then meeting Rick at the dorm and later his apartment.
After I left Adelphi, Andre Brown, Doctor Dre from Yo! MTV Raps fame took over my radio show and turned it to The Operating Room. Chuck and Flavor [Flav] created this brag-and-boast freestyle rhyme called “Public Enemy #1” as a promo for Dre’s show. [It was] one of those tracks you hear exclusively on WBAU. Rick hears it and just falls in love with his voice. DMC is walking around with it on his box playing it for everybody. They were big fans of PE. The same way PE saw them as the Beatles of our generation. So there’s this mutual admiration society that includes PE before there was a PE record. It created this viral demand for Chuck to do something recording wise. Prior to PE there was a member for Spectrum City named Butch Cassidy who was also an MC. They had a single on Vanguard Records. The A-side was ‘Lies‘ and the B-side was ‘Check Out The Radio’.
Vanguard was a dance music label [and] I think their biggest record was by a young lady Alisha called, ‘Too Turned On‘. It was one of those Madonna clones from that era, so I was like what do these guys know about hip-hop in ’84 / ’85? But Hank, Chuck and Butch Cassidy release the single, but it didn’t do anything. No one was checking for it at all and Chuck is very competitive. He’s a very proud man. We do better radio than the guys who do radio professionally. So our goal and direction was radio. Even though we had close friendships with that world, we never thought ourselves as musicians or creating rap groups. We were radio guys. Now the notion of turning Chuck D back into a rapper again was a difficult premise in 1986 because he had that bad taste in his mouth and we all wanted to be on the radio. We wanted to be Frankie Crocker.
I was working for Def Jam and CMJ at the same time [on the low] and I had written a concept for a super group that was the combination of Run-DMC and The Clash. You could make music you can hear on the street but having the political urgency of The Clash. That would be the optimum group for the period. So we took that concept and refined it. I remember coming back to the 510 South Franklin Street studio in Hempstead where Spectrum built their headquarters we were trying to come up with the name of the group. And Chuck had written the name ‘Public Enemy’ on the white board from the brag-and-boast freestyle that he had given Dre. That’s like Public Image Limited, that’s Johnny Lydon from the Sex Pistols. That was his group after he left The Sex Pistols. I love it. That sounds very British to me. That becomes the birth of the concept and also the justification for Chuck to say this will be different from ‘Lies’ and ‘Check Out The Radio’.”
“It wasn’t anything crazy. I had the song ‘Public Enemy #1’ and we had the white boards. I was still a loyalist to Spectrum City, but Hank was just like, ‘Call it Public Enemy, man.’ It was that simple. It was like in Coming To America when Eddie Murphy gets his tail chopped off and calls it a haircut. That’ll be $10. Then it all started to make sense.”
“Our whole mission was being an outsider coming into the game to change the game. That’s why we weren’t ‘the rapper and the DJ.’ It was a coup. It was an organized coup. You not supposed to know who the rapper was or who produced the record. What PE represented was neither one of us becoming superstars. It was in opposition of that. It’s supposed to be the community coming at you. It’s why we had the S1Ws. No one was supposed to know their role, but it was paramount, because everybody needs backup. People overlook the little things. It was a fight to get Flav into the group because Rick Rubin only wanted to sign a rapper. Everything had this concept of built-in stardom. We didn’t want that. We wanted to be the Black Panthers. This was about creating awareness. It’s not about getting our bling on. If it was about getting money it was only so we could fund the cause. Today, cats are getting money but there is no cause they’re funding. So now other people are funding your causes. And they’re using your cause for something other than helping you.”
Making The Album: The Mission
“So PE was the answer to all this energy that’s going on. The difference back then is that everyone was so passive, sitting in front of the television set because of that despair and hopelessness. We had to do something that was dynamic, not something that was entertaining because entertainment was part of the pacification. Entertainment has been weaponized now, and it’s an odorless, tasteless drug. It’s the same thing as crack was back then, destroying lives. But they found a way for it to be done more subtly. We needed a wake up call. What was the wake up call? Yo! Bum Rush the Show. We had to break into the business. At the time there was a ban on any artist being signed at a major record company. The labels ran out of money because of the extravagance of the disco era. So that means when we got a deal it was a 12-inch deal because there was no money to give you for an album. And the 12-inch deal was $5000: make the record, deliver it, go home and don’t come back here.
This is a time when everybody else was hybriding with live musicians and drum machines. Run-DMC and Whodini were using keyboard players, bass players, guitar players. All we had was five grand, so you can’t hire musicians with five grand. The record had to be made from what I had—my records. And I knew at the time it could fly under the radar because nobody had done it. People had done it with snippets but I wanted to compose the whole thing only using the samples inside the drum machine and using the DJ as the musician. Scratches and cuts were the instruments being played in this [album]. Then taking little snatches of records to build them up and create an idea. That idea had to be grounded in the grit, the backdrop of pain, angry and angst, because my community was being shredded. It had the backbone of racism we were feeling that was analog back then. Therefore PE was that awakening, it needed to be loud and obnoxious. It needed to be inharmonic because harmony represented compliance.
When making the records I had to go to INS Recording studio, which was located around Wall Street. It was a little dingy room that had an [affordable rate]. They offered me a time that I could come in after the sessions were done. Mantronix was in there renting it out all day long and half the night. So I had to wait for him to finish at 2 or 3 in the morning and then we could come in because we were paying them a quarter of the rate they’d get for prime time. Keith Sweat was in there with Vincent Davis and Teddy Riley making the first Keith Sweat album. I could hear things while I was waiting. When they opened the door, I’d hear snatches of stuff and it would be pre-game hype. I couldn’t wait to get in and rip what they’re doing to shreds—that was the mindset. That’s how we had to do it. Then it made me realize I had a chance to deliver seven songs. We were just supposed to go in there and do a single. But I said let’s give Rick seven songs. We were there everyday. Me, Chuck and Eric Sadler. This was in ’86. Before then we were at 510 South Franklin. That was my headquarters where I had all my records and DJ equipment.
My DJ equipment turned into a production studio but we didn’t have the tape machine or console. But I had a couple of cassette players and at that time you were lucky to have a dubbing cassette because you could do multitrack recording. The end product sounds like shit but the ideas are what you want to get out. Once you have the idea set in stone you can go into a pro studio to flesh it out. We had to be fast and efficient. We’re coming from Long Island to go into the city, so there’s travel cost and gas. Going into the city was the battle grounds, there was no time for playing games. That’s just me because I have ROTC training. I’m always thinking strategic and I advise everyone to have at least two years of military training. You’ll be surprised how it shapes your thinking and forces you to be super efficient. Nothing is wasted. So making this record, nothing could be wasted. We don’t have that luxury.”
“I was friends with Vincent. He had a label deal with Electra and I had interviewed him for CMJ Music Report about two years prior because he had Joe Ski Love and Chuck Chillout. Just a young guy doing it. We didn’t know that history was happening in those studios. It’s 2:00 a.m. and I have to be at work in the morning at 10:00 a.m. It was an absolute killer!”
Making The Album: The Process
“You don’t make records to fill an album. You’re making records all the time. Let’s go back three years. If the record was released in ’86, in ’83 we laid the groundwork. You’re building your arsenal. Your weapons are your tracks, your ideas. That’s your ammunition. So we made tracks all day. My job was to look at the tracks and see which one looks like it’ll give you the mood of whatever the track was gonna be. You can’t have a track called ‘MyuzieWaysAton’ with a Rhodes piano. Nothing good is done sequentially. It’s all done in the moment, but you gotta know your tools and your skills have to be up to par. There may be a track that will spark the writing and a title. Or you could have a verse and a title and a track can be sparked from that idea. That’s the groundwork. So when people ask, ‘What were y’all thinking?’ it was a building process. Now, how do you mix and match the frequencies to produce the outcome you want. Making the record is a combination of physical, metaphysical and spiritual energies.
When you’re listening to Chuck and Flavor, what you’re listening to is two different frequencies coming together to make a chord. Flav is an octave higher than Chuck, which adds for a nice, unique blend. Attack and release: Chuck is giving you the attack, Flav is the release. Musically. So their vocals gotta be EQ’d that way so you’re taking advantage of their strong points. The one thing that’s most important with both of those guys is that they are both intelligible. I can hear phonetically every consonant and every vowel. That’s why Flava was there. It wasn’t his job to get lines. His job was to add punctuation. Punctuation is what makes language colorful. He added a warmth and friendliness. He’s very inviting while Chuck is standoffish. He’s attacking you. So you can’t be assaulted for but so long before you’re like ‘enough’. From a radio perspective Chuck is the record and Flav is the DJ. The hardest thing in the world is to make the complex simple.”
Bill Adler, Former Publicist at Def Jam
“The thing about PE is that they were so self-contained. They came up with this concept and animated it and defined it in a variety of different ways. They have a mission of their own as well as a musical mission, which is astonishing. Then you have Chuck who is more than a great poet. He’s an astonishing graphic artist. He designs that logo and it’s absolutely brilliant. Down the road he would design album covers for them. “Don’t Believe The Hype” is a collage of newspaper clips that I’d been collecting and Chuck mushed it together and designed the cover. They’re just astonishingly self-sufficient. They also seized a moment. The culture was ready for it. My job was so easy compared to Bill Stephney’s because radio was such a conservative medium. It didn’t stop him from doing brilliant work. There wasn’t a print journalist who didn’t have more editorial freedom than any radio jock.
The Songs of Yo! Bum Rush the Show
“I never really did have a ’98 Olds. It sat on cinder blocks. I actually had a Mercury Zephyr. My very first car was a ’68 Chavelle that I put a ’69 bumper on, because back in the day you had to put a car together. My first player in the car, I went to the junkyard and bought an 8-track player with a cassette converter [laughs]. But the song was a dedication to the ’98 Posse, a group of Long Island thug gangsters that always came to our events. They used to have LI sewed up so much that when cats came from Queens and Brooklyn to party in Roosevelt, if they had any beef the ’98 Posse would cut off the Parkway and say there ain’t no way to get up out of here. They had a systematic gangsterism with those cars. It was strictly Long Island. You didn’t need a car really in Brooklyn or Queens. That’s why on the back of the Yo! album cover, instead of side-A and side-B it’s the E and the F to signify the E and F trains, because you had to take the E and F from Queens to get to LI.
The ’98 Posse would come to the events and they thought they could just do their thing but they were juxtaposed by the S1Ws, which was Unity Force, which was Professor Griff. It was about 60 of them and they wasn’t having it. You weren’t coming into a Spectrum City, WBAU gig and fuckin’ it up. Eventually the S1Ws gave the ’98 Posse room to be the only thugs there. People wanted these events to keep happening, so the security of the S1Ws offset the ’98 Posse, eventually they teamed up together to keep the problems out. You not coming from Brooklyn or Queens to start no shit. ‘Cuz we’ll bust ya ass, cut the parkway off and if you get thrown in Nassau County [jail] all you gonna see is us. That was like ’84 and that was a very rare time in Long Island. That’s probably the most unified it ever was and ever would be.”
“You’re talking about a time when the rap industry was all about I got money, I got big cars, I got gold, I got the chicks, we livin’ it lovely. When you’re bum rushin’ the show you gotta come in the gate like a lamb. You can’t come in the gate [yelling]. You won’t get in the gate. You gonna come in the party, sit in the back and watch these suckas. Then I’m gonna slowly but surely move my way up to the microphone and grab the mic. When I took my first demo to Russell [Simmons] and it was ‘God Bless U.S.,’ he said nobody wanna hear that conscious shit. This was ’86. That’s when he told us to go see Rick Rubin. And the record we delivered was a beat-and-rhyme with scratches on the vocal but he didn’t want to hear it. We really wanted to get that record to Run-DMC, but we didn’t think they would even entertain a record coming from us. I didn’t think people wanted to hear it, I thought they needed to hear it. Coming out of that era, that mindset needed to be attacked. The mind of the laid back cat. The mind of the cat who didn’t want to go out and fight. I just wanna party. We saw the dumbing down back then. We said people need to be educated. That was the thrust behind it. But we had to use the tools of entertainment. And “You’re Gonna Get Yours” was an idea because we had love for our cars. We’re in the suburbs and you don’t get around anywhere without a car. We wasn’t living in the urban areas where you could drop a token and get on a subway. That wasn’t available to us. So [to us] our cars were everything.”
“[Hank’s] notion of the car being central to suburban culture is spot on. At this point MCs are either bragging and boasting about themselves or some possession. In this case, the cherished item was the car. Long Island black youth culture of that era, you couldn’t live without transportation. Hempstead, Roosevelt, Freeport and Westbury are all towns in Nassau County, but they’re not within walking distance at all. PE’s headquarters are in Hempstead though the core guys are from Roosevelt. Their music HQ was located in a building owned by a dentist named Dr. Gantz in Hempstead. But Chuck, Hank and Keith live in Roosevelt. So the only way they’re getting there is with a car. The studio was across the street from my old elementary school and walking distance from my house, so our sense of space and location had to incorporate the automobile. This is pre-polemic Public Enemy. This is PE with some political sensibilities but the interesting thing about Yo! is that in contrast to It Takes A Nation, it has touches of [politics] but it’s also brag-and-boast rap. It was attempting to be where rap was at that point.
“This was really ‘Public Enemy #2’. I had made it as a BAU promo also on another piece of music. It was basically a redone beat of “Substitution,” and Bill [Stephney] thought we could do it over. We slowed it down and used the ‘PE #2’ lyrics. That was the first example of ‘Cram Sampling’ — how many events can you put in a small space of time. So when it came to the break, ‘Rock’ was Aretha Franklin, ‘Get Up’ was another break and Flavor said, ‘Get Down’ and Bill said, “My Uzi weighs a ton.’ We wanted to make the breaks eventful. We wanted to make a difference between the verse and the hook.”
“Again, PE is navigating and negotiating between being a socially relevant, smart college group and trying to appeal to hard rocks. So gun references are there and it created a dilemma for me as the promotional guy, marketing guy and label exec, but also co-creator. I tried not to censor Chuck too much as a producer. You’ll probably note on Yo! that we didn’t use the N-word much at all. Chuck wanted to but I said no, we don’t get down that way. There was a line ‘beat a brother down,’ and Chuck originally said, ‘beat a nigga down’ and I changed it. They listened to me on that one, but I was against Flavor being in the group. I wanted us to be more political. I was like, ‘He’s a clown!’ But they were right. Hank said if Chuck is gonna be the radio announcer with the preacher’s voice you need some contrast. I didn’t see it then but they were right. So with ‘Uzi,’ I come up with the justification for talking about guns in the Crack Era. I came up with the ‘Fear of a Black Hat’ kind of justification: “The uzi is the mind and the words are the bullets.” That was just bullshittin’ trying to make sure we could get on the radio in different places. Both Red Alert and Chuck Chillout loved the break and that’s me saying, “My uzi weighs a ton”. That’s why I had to justify it. I think that was Hank’s idea for me to come in with the radio announcer voice saying, ‘My uzi weighs a ton’.
I think that’s the first instance where folks start to get a sense of what PE and The Bomb Squad can be from a production standpoint—for layering and orchestrating samples. There weren’t many tracks at that point that took so many references and bits to make something new. Even though it was a chorus it gave a window into what PE would be later on from a production standpoint.”
“This was more freestyle. ‘I go ooh and aah when I jump in my car…” Chuck does not get the credit he deserves as one of the greatest MCs. His voice and delivery come from the party era of hip-hop when you had to have a great voice, throat and diaphragm in order to rock a park, a community center, a skating rink or an auditorium. People talk about mumble rap but I understand why it’s like that. These kids aren’t out here trying to entertain 3,000 kids in a park. So on ‘Time Bomb’ you hear Chuck as an MC flowing on top of a beat. I listen to this as a biased musician, his cadences and patterns where he is putting in triple notes and 16th notes as words and people don’t understand musically what he’s doing and how unique of an MC he was by virtue of this musicality.”
“I met Kareem Adbul-Jabbar about five years ago and we became very good friends. I tell him all the time that you’re the first word I uttered in my career. ‘Time Bomb’ was the first song we recorded. We’re good friends and I’m honored that he knows my name.”
“Flavor is a big Last Poets fan and what’s underrated is the depth of Flavor’s music knowledge. We all had to deal with the drug element in our communities so to attack it was the dialogue about it. I never did any drugs but you turn to the left, you turn to the right among your family and friends and [you saw the impact] of what was happening during R&B. R&B is [Ronald] Reagan and [George H.W.] Bush. We remember a time when you really couldn’t find guns and drugs in the black community, but then by 1980 they came flooding in. ‘Megablast’ addressed those issues.”
The Public Enemy Logo
“It wasn’t patterned after Run-DMC. It’s patterned after a b-boy, E-Love, who was with LL Cool J. Run-DMC signified the epitome of b-boys in ’85-’86. I was looking at a Right On! Magazine and I did my art shit. I put a target over it. I got it from a TV show that was talking about an old gangster movie about G-Men. They used those stencil letters for the Public Enemy. And I did that logo with the target over it for an imaginary group. Back at BAU, we used to have imaginary groups that we would put on flyers to make them fill out. You’d have a main name and then have to create some people. So the name of the group was ‘Funky Frank and the Street Force’. I made a logo for them, but they weren’t a group that I knew. So when PE became a reality I saw the logo I made for Funky Frank and the Street Force and snatched it. Sometimes your achievements are beyond the text and the type. You should try to create a logo that says it without you reading it. Eric Haze cleaned it up on the first album and I could always nail it, but when it came time to do it professionally, Eric Haze knocked out the clean, clean version of it. My dirty version is 87%.”
The Album Cover
“The front cover was taken at 510 South Franklin, downstairs in Eric Sadler’s studio. Glenn Friedman set it up. It actually came off of a drawing that I drew. I sketched it out for Glen and then Glen actually shot it. When you hear people talking about the lab that was it. When we approached Glen we said we’re conjuring a plan and looking at blueprints. This is dead serious. It ain’t no joke. Flavor probably got the most menacing looking period on that cover. The back cover was shot at one of the few McDonalds that had to come down. It was in Hempstead. The ’98 Posse lent Flavor the bubble jacket coat. That’s how gangster they were. The McDonald’s is no longer there but PE still is.”
“I was the original designer and art director at Def Jam but I was independent. I had my own design studio. About three years in they asked me to come in-house but I had a broad client base at that point so I helped Cey Adams get the Drawing Board up and running. The PE album cover was the second or third album cover that I was formally hired by CBS and Def Jam to art direct and design. Yo! was the first LP cover I was formally hired to be the art director of. When I was hired to be the art director, Glen had taken the photo already and Chuck had already sketched out the original design for the logo. It was his original idea. I produced the logo. I type-setted, cleaned it up, made the circles round and centered the crosshairs. Then PE came to my studio with the photo in hand and we made a group decision of which photo to use from the proof sheet. From then on it was my baby to run with designing it with Chuck. I delivered the print production ready mechanicals. There was no Macintosh yet or high tech computer. The layout and production and designs I did were in a series of black and white overlays. At that point in time the only way you saw the finished color results was when the proofs came back from the printer.”
“John Leland, who is now a staff writer at the New York Times, reviewed their first album in the Village Voice. He’s a brilliant guy and there was no overstating the importance of the Village Voice in terms of the success of rap music. The editor was Robert Criscow and he was very open to this form of music and he cultivated writers who were interested in rap among other things and gave them space to write at length and in-depth. They wrote about Grandmaster Flash in ’82, they were on it. Leland writes a review of the first album and the headline was “Noise Annoys”. He’s talking about that really deliberately ugly tone that opens up “Public Enemy #1”. It was sampled from the J.B.’s and John hears it and praises it from a punk rock perspective. Like why would you do something so deliberately ugly. Chuck saw the headline and got really mad. He sat down and wrote “Bring The Noise”. He said you thought that was noisy? We’re really going to bring the noise. If you ask him today if it was a positive review he probably couldn’t tell you because he didn’t read it. But I’m here to tell you it was a positive review. You can find it online.”
“I read the headline and got pissed off [laughs]. Then I read the whole thing. We’re full of piss and vinegar and always ready to fight. I wanted to be the guy that worked with Bill Adler to shut up all the people who were coming down on Run-DMC. I remember Bill handling the Long Beach incident with Run-DMC where they tried to blame them for something that happened. So I told Bill I wish they’d come after my ass. Little did I know that I would have a heap of shit to deal with a couple years later that was even over my head. Be careful what you fuckin’ ask for [laughs].”
“Yo! was the embry… the template that allowed us to push the envelope. It was the gateway drug so that Nation of Millions could come next. That’s why Yo! is the most forgotten one, but it’s the only Gold record I have on my wall. It’s a symbol. It’s why the dollar bill has George Washington on it. Even though Yo! wasn’t the groundbreaker — it was the beginning of this saga called Public Enemy. Without that beginning there would be no two, three, four or five [albums] later because in the record game it’s all about how you enter. You enter wack, you leave wack. Very few people think about the sequel. That’s what Yo! was about.”
“Critical response from the rock-n-roll critic community was through the roof. [Among] folks who were die-hard fans of Run-DMC and The Beasties—it was mixed. It didn’t sound like Whodini or The Fat Boys, it didn’t sound danceable or clubby. So the reaction was OK from a black standpoint. On the mix shows we started to hear “Miuzi Weighs A Ton,” while “Public Enemy #1” wasn’t getting touched on the radio. “Rebel Without A Pause” was related to the lack of black reaction that we got for much of Yo!. That compelled Chuck and Hank to go back in after listening to Eric B and Rakim, taking in that black reaction to Yo! wasn’t what it should have been.
At that time the sales for Yo! topped at 200,000 compared to Beastie’s 4 million and Raising Hell’s 4 million and 2.7 million for Bigger and Deffer. What’s PE [not] doing? It’s really at that juncture that I also made the decision to leave. I had tremendous responsibility at Def Jam and we were getting offers to do production as The Bomb Squad. I’m getting pulled everywhere. Artists on Def Jam were complaining about the time I was spending with PE. Some folks thought I was playing favorites promoting PE, so I had to take a step back as an everyday producer. So Hank and Chuck record the demo for ‘Rebel’ in Hempstead and record it at Chung King. That’s where the new Public Enemy is born.”
“Dante Ross was an assistant at Def Jam at that time. He and I were sent to California in 1987 to secure the Beastie Boys a skateboard deal. But out on that trip we had a very early white label copy of Yo! Bum Rush the Show and we bumped that hard for a about a week at a trade show. We turned on a generation of skate kids to Public Enemy for the first time. We were rocking that tape on the PCH bumping “My ’98” and that shit was so fucking hard to us.”
“Yo! Bum Rush the Show was the key to unlocking the world for PE. When It Takes A Nation Of Millions took off and made us popular in the States, we were already big overseas. Yo! MTV Raps was a TV show about rap music that had its pilot in the UK in the summer of 1987 [via MTV Europe] and it was named after Yo! Bum Rush the Show. That album brought a new era of rap to London. We did the Jimi Hendrix thing. He went to the UK, tears up the rest of the world and came back. That’s what happened to Public Enemy. Fear of a Black Planet was our World Record, but Yo! was our “let’s get the fuck up out of here” record and then we’ll come back.
Jerry Barrow is the founder of NODFACTOR and a veteran journalist with stints at The Source, Scratch Magazine and The Urban Daily. on Twitter @JLBarrow.