Reliving “Apocalypse ‘91” – The Enemy Strikes Back

Reliving “Apocalypse ‘91”  – The Enemy Strikes Back

By 1991, seminal rap group Public Enemy not only had rewritten the story of hip-hop and popular music but had offended and unwillingly threatened the white power structure as well.
It seemed that everyone at the beginning of the new decade had a problem with P.E.
Their music cut right to the heart of white racist America and all oppressive forces in a musical tapestry that truly sparked the “fear of a Black planet.”
Led by the commanding baritone-voiced Chuck D. who wielded the presence of a modern b-boy African chief, complete with Pittsburgh Pirates baseball hat, P.E. baseball jacket and Jordans, his presence harked back to the days of regal like Black entertainers like, Muddy Waters, Paul Robeson and Nina Simone.
Flavor Flav, the comedic court jester and hip-hop’s first hype-man was the perfect light-hearted relief to Chuck D.’s serious-as-cancer rhetoric which echoed the words of Malcolm X., The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Louis Farrakhan.
But even though Flav sported a huge clock hanging from his neck across his chest and some of the most colourful outfits this side of Liberace, you got the feeling that he wasn’t as outlandishly lost and clueless as he may have seemed as he constantly shouted: “yeeeeeeah boyeeeeeeee!”
To quote Flav himself: “Don’t worry, Flavor vision ain’t blurry.”
They were backed by a real-life security team called The S1Ws a.k.a. The Security of The First World. On stage they marched and drilled, resembling The Black Panthers and The Fruit of Islam.
Professor Griff (The Minister of Information) led the S1W’s onstage, starting concerts by shouting: “consider yourself warned…!”
All this backed by the and manic scratching of Terminator X. who never spoke.
P.E. was accused of being racist, anti-American and pro-violence. None of which they were.
The Red, Black and Green Machine as they were known were simply pro Black, pro reparations and pro self-defence.
But by 1989, it seemed like it was about to all fall apart. Their anthem Fight The Power” featured in the classic Spike Lee drama “Do The Right Thing,” was identified as a call to arms as Lee’s masterpiece was accused as a call for Blacks to attack whites.
Then there were the anti-Semitic remarks made by Professor Griff in an interview with The Washington Times that eventually got him thrown out of the group for years.
Those remarks threatened the existence of the group as Chuck disbanded Public Enemy for a minute.
Then in a fit of rage and passion after a press conference announcing the removal of Griff from the group, he drove to a friend’s home in Connecticut late at night listening to an instrumental given to him by the group’s production team The Bomb Squad, led by brothers Hank and Keith Shocklee and Eric “Viet Nam” Saddler.
The instrumental would become another P.E. classic “Welcome To The Terrordome,” the lyrics of which Chuck composed on that trek to Connecticut.
The masterpiece followed the group’s 1987 debut, “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” and its 1988 classic sophomore, “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back,”
It contained classics like “Fight The Power,” “Welcome To The Terrordome,” 1990’s and “Fear Of A Black Planet” as well as “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” and “Anti-Nigger Machine,”
It was 1991 and P.E. had a classic to follow up but they were war torn by now. Griff’s departure offended some of the more hardcore fans.
Flav’s battle with hard drugs threatened the validity of the group that recorded anti-drug anthems like “Night of The Living Bassheads.”
Also P. E’s support of Nation Of Islam leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, mentioned on classic tracks like, “Bring The Noise” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” appeared to almost seal the fate of the group.
To show the world the group’s commitment to saving Black people, they flipped the script and turned towards their own community, holding Black people accountable for their own demise.
“Apocalypse ‘91” – The Enemy Strikes Back opens with the prophetic words: “The future holds nothing but confrontation,” in the album’s intro “Lost At Birth” which then transitions to “Rebirth” in which Chuck steals back Black manhood:
“Never could follow man with a bottle, he’s a baby with a beard and not a feared role model/ and they ask me where I get it, I got it from my pops/ with a man in the house all the bullshit stops.”
The album then kicks into, “Nighttrain” which deals with Black-on-Black crime:
“Apocalypse ‘91” is hip-hop’s first hardcore record. Unconventional, raw and rugged. P.E. is not looking to be played on an RnB quiet storm radio.
The only track that even borders on conventional music is the album’s first single “Can’t Truss It” a play on M.C. Hammer’s huge hit at the time “Can’t Touch This”, tells the history of slavery which bought Black people to North America in just over five minutes: “I know where I’m from, not dumb ditty dumb, the base Motherland, the place of the drum/ invaded by the wack diddy wack and left us faded.”
Flav then holds court announcing that the party is over on “I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Nigga!”
In “How To Kill Radio Consultants,” Chuck threatens mainstream radio that refuses to play music that will inspire the liberation of Blacks
Then there’s the dramatic “By The Time I Get To Arizona.”
Maine and Arizona were the only two states that refused to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King birthday as a national holiday. After Maine relented, Arizona remained the only culprit.
The songs explore the fantasy of kidnapping the state governor until they recognize Dr. King’s birthday.
In the intro, the group’s new female member Sista Souljah, wishes them good luck in abducting the governor who refuses to recognize the works of a man “who tried to teach white people the meaning of civilisation.”
Sista Souljah’s platform with the group at the time was so influential that presidential candidate Bill Clinton would use misunderstood remarks that she made about Black-on-Black crime to attack Democratic opponent Jesse Jackson because of his affiliation with Souljah.
We may never know what the song’s content or its equally violent music video’s impact was but soon after Arizona recognized King’s b-day.
On “1 Million Bottle Bags,” Chuck takes on malt liquor manufacturers who targeted their product almost exclusively to Blacks.
In “Letter To The New York Post” they took on the 200-year-old tabloid for continuously reporting negative stories about Blacks.
On “Get The F$#@ Outta Dodge” Chuck takes aim at Black cops that try to move ahead in their careers by harassing Blacks.
Chuck also attacks corporations like Nike who exploit the Black community with high priced basketball shoes but give nothing back.
Not long after the record came out, Nike pledged more community involvement.
The album closes with an updated version of their 1987 classic “Bring The Noise” with heavy metal band Anthrax.
That collaboration may have proved to have been the most threatening track on the album with a white heavy metal outfit shouting words like “Farrakhan” and “rap is not afraid of you” and getting their young white fans to shout those words along with them.
“Apocalypse ‘91” The Enemy Strikes Black, the birth of hardcore hip-hop sounds as fresh and relevant today as it did 30 years ago.
As a matter of fact, just YouTube the album, listen to the words and try to convince yourself that it wasn’t written last summer.