No rapper before or since has matched the righteous fury of Chuck D, the Long Island Hammer who railed against American rot and injustice with the keen mind of Aragorn, the blunt force of Gimli’s axe, and precision of Legolas’ bow.

With the help of his trusty sidekick Flavor Flav, the innovative production team The Bomb Squad, and the guiding hand of Rick Rubin, Chuck D forged four classic albums in five years: 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show, 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet, 1991’s Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black. Click through the gallery to revisit 10 of Public Enemy’s best songs from this era.


“You’re Gonna Get Yours” | Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987)

#TBT: Public Enemy

Chuck D on the making of Public Enemy’s debut album, as told by Westword: 

“We didn’t have much of a template to follow, although there was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run D.M.C. and Whodini. They did make a template for us as far as how we could make a blend between rap and rock and other sonic outbursts, and make it formidable on stage, with energy, passion and effort. But in ’87, ’88, we definitely had to look at other genres. We learned from the rock and roll guys, especially in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s – guys like Iron Maiden and Slayer. They had logos, they had a different sound that signified their identity.”

“Bring The Noise” | It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

#TBT: Public Enemy

“Throughout our whole career we’ve never repeated ourselves, never made the same album,” Chuck D told The Quietus. “That’s especially true for the first four. When we made Yo, Bum Rush The Show we made it from a New York standpoint, because that’s where we were at. I think the thing about It Takes A Nation Of Millions is it’s a global experience.”

“We wanted to also put together a concept album in the same realm as the classic albums,” he continued. “The Beatles, Earth, Wind, & Fire’s ’Gratitude’. We wanted to put together something that signified a live album, but also some great studio work. We had knowledge of ’James Brown Live At The Apollo’, we had knowledge of ’Sgt Pepper’ and ’Revolver’ by The Beatles, we were record collectors. So we wanted to make a ’What’s Going On’ of rap.”

“Rebel Without a Pause” | It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

#TBT: Public Enemy

Chuck D on the creation of “Rebel Without A Pause,” as told by Vibe:

“‘Rebel Without a Pause’ was like hearing a loud, jarring siren…a call. It was one of those things where when we recorded it we knew it has to be perfect. Because we needed a single that could smack the streets. We had to come up with something that matched what was going on musically, but with our own identity. And ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ matched that intensity. I went into the studio to cut the vocals. I stayed in the crib for a whole two days because I was so mad, yet inspired by Eric B and Rakim’s ‘I Know You Got Soul.’

“I had never heard a record that had smacked my face right off like, “What the fuck?!!!” Cats were so good that they made you damn near quit [laughs]. So I stayed in the crib all day and wrote “Rebel Without A Pause” with a combination of what Rakim and KRS were doing.”

“Don’t Believe the Hype” | It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

#TBT: Public Enemy

“The media has become fragmented,” Chuck D told Huffington Post in 2012. “There are so many different areas now where everybody has an opinion. We’re in a disinformation age, and an information blizzard, so people have to become better literate on disseminating information that’s coming out of more angles. It all goes back to what we said about ‘Don’t Believe the Hype,’ which is based on the author Noam Chomsky.” [S/o CHOMSKY.]

“Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” | It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

#TBT: Public Enemy

Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed Dean of American Rock Critics, called It Takes a Nation “the bravest and most righteous experimental pop of the decade—no matter how the music looks written down (ha ha), Hank Shocklee and Terminator X have translated Blood Ulmer’s harmolodic visions into a street fact that’s no less edutaining (if different) in the dwellings of monkey spawn and brothers alike (and different).”

Chuck D on the popular reception of It Takes a Nation, told by Vibe:

“When we finished It Takes A Nation a lot of the political messages on the album went over the heads of most people at the label. Contrary to popular belief, nothing we did was contrived. We were old enough to remember the ‘60s and ‘70s. That time was a part of us: the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, Nationalism, Do For Self…all of this stuff was instilled in us. But a lot of people at the label were clueless about black folks and our history.”

I got a letter from the DMV the other day. I opened and read it, it said they were suckers…

“Fight the Power” | Fear of a Black Planet (1990)

#TBT: Public Enemy

Bomb Squad head honcho Hank Shocklee on Public Enemy’s production style, as told by Keyboard Mag in 1990:

“We took whatever was annoying, threw it into a pot, and that’s how we came out with this group. We believed that music is nothing but organized noise. You can take anything—street sounds, us talking, whatever you want—and make it music by organizing it. That’s still our philosophy, to show people that this thing you call music is a lot broader than you think it is.”

Chuck D on the concept behind Fear of a Black Planet, as told by Spin:

“The whole concept is that there is no such thing as black and white. The world is full of different complexions. The difference between black and white is set up by people who want to remain in power. This black and white thing is a belief structure, not a physical reality. There is nobody on this planet who is 100 percent black or 100 percent white. This is not news to black people – black people know they’re mixed. The only reason that Public Enemy promote Afrocentricity and Back to Black is that we live under a structure that promotes whites. At the moment, we got to hold onto our blackness out of self-defense. The bottom line is that white comes from black – the Asiatic Black man – and Africa isn’t the third world but the first world, the cradle of civilization.”

“911 is a Joke” | Fear of a Black Planet (1990)

#TBT: Public Enemy

Chuck D on “911 is a Joke,” as told by Billboard:

“When we dropped “911 Is A Joke’ we were already overseas. We had left to go over to Europe in March, so the song was being debuted while we were in Europe. In Europe they were like, “9-11 is a joke?’ The didn’t know what 911 was. So we explained to people that 911 is the emergency system and how it doesn’t come to black neighborhoods on time, they’ll be delayed or get there whenever they get there. They would prefer a white neighborhood and will get there quick. They ignore us.

“911 Is A Joke’ was a title I wrote down in the beginning of 1989 and gave to Flavor and said, “Here I want you to write this song. Here’s the title, ‘911 Is A Joke,’ write a story about 9-1-1.’ It took a year, but Flavor was saying he had a personal incident that he could relate that to. At the end of the year when it was time for him to record he was ready. Keith had the track, and it was the funkiest track I heard. It reminded me of uptempo Parliament Funkadelic. Myself and Eric added the hooks and the arrangement to it. It only had two verses. We brought in a couple of Flavor’s friends from Freeport to do background vocals to give it that real back-in-the-projects feel.”

“Welcome To The Terrordome” | Fear of a Black Planet (1990)

#TBT: Public Enemy

Chuck D on “Welcome to the Terrordome,” as told by Spin

“‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ is a black male correspondent’s view of how we looked at 1989. I don’t look at 1989 like Ted Koppel or ‘Newsline.’ I’m not going to look at 1989 like the New York Times is going to look at it. I’m not going to look at 1989 like motherfuckin’ MTV is going to look at it. I’m looking at 1989 like a brother on the motherfuckin’ block to see how 1989 affected me and black America. That’s what ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ is about.”

“By The Time I Get To Arizona” | Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)

#TBT: Public Enemy

The year was 1990, and the citizens of Arizona had just voted not to make Martin Luther King. Jr.’s birthday a holiday. PE responded with “By The Time I Get To Arizona,” the music video for which depicted the group blowing up the governor.

“I was writing a lot of songs,” Chuck told Spin in 2011. “My anger was focused on Arizona and New Hampshire refusing to honor the King holiday. It was so much of a smack in the face that I said, well, this needs to be addressed.”

“Can’t Truss It” | Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)

#TBT: Public Enemy

Chuck D on “Can’t Truss It,” as told by Melody Maker:

“‘Can’t Truss It’ is about how the corporate world of today is just a different kind of slavery. We don’t control what we create. And because of the media, we don’t control the way we think or run our lives. We’ve got to limit working for a situation that’s other than ours. We have no ownership of anything. If you don’t own business, then you don’t have jobs. White people have jobs because they have business. They have institutions that teach them how to live in America. Black people don’t have institutions that teach them how to deal with shit.”