Old-man rap isn't always enjoyable, even for fans who are old men. An aging B-boy dragging himself back and forth across a stage and fumbling his lyrics is a painful reminder of how much time has passed and how none of us are what we used to be. But the rap legends of Public Enemy brought back nothing but good memories as they tore through a two-hour set at the Hat Factory on Friday night.
The show is part of the band's current tour, which is in recognition of the 20-year anniversary of its album, “Fear of a Black Planet.” Much of the show was dedicated to songs and skits from the platinum-selling release, a trend that other established rap acts are following and Chuck D says his group started.
“We were the first rap artists to actually do classic albums from end to end,” says Chuck D, from his studio in New York. He adds that European promoters who wanted something different from other classic artists generated the approach.
It's hard to imagine someone suggesting that Public Enemy liven up its stage show. On Friday, Chuck D was flanked by a stage-diving Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, DJ Lord and the group's choreographed security team, the S1Ws.
“We always had a stage show that went above and beyond,” Chuck D says.
The addition of the band allows the group to improvise, something that's next impossible when you're performing to music pressed into vinyl grooves. During the show, Chuck mimicked a stuck record as he repeated a phrase over and over until he was nudged by Flav. The group has had its share of tension over the years, but the rappers seemed to be having as much fun as the people in audience, which included a fan in her 60s who said the concert was on her bucket list.
“Fear of Black Planet,” the group's third album, might seem like an unlikely choice if you're looking for a soundtrack for a good time. The album touches on heavy subjects such as interracial relationships (“Pollywanacraka”), the response time of emergency medial services in urban areas (“911 is a Joke”) and empowering the African American community (“Fight The Power”). Chuck D remembers why the songs generated so much controversy.
“'Fear of a Black Planet' was controversial because you had ‘fear and black' in the same sentence,” he says. “A lot of things that we kind of like questioned are still remaining. ‘Fear of a Black Planet' was informative for its time 'cause it touched on a lot of issues that that the news stations didn't touch on, 'cause they weren't dealing from a black perspective.”
In the late 1980s Public Enemy was largely identified by the oversized clocks members wore, and time seems to have slowed down for New York-based crew.
“We have about five 50-year-old guys in a group and bragging about it, still daring anybody to keep up.”