APOCALYPSE 91: THE ENEMY STRIKES BLACK
Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black
Spin - Ranked #7 in Spin's list of the 20 Best Albums of 1991.
Melody Maker (12/91) - Ranked #21 in Melody Maker's list of the top 30 albums of 1991.
Rolling Stone (10/3/91) - 4 Stars - Excellent - "...attempts nothing short of setting a sociopolitical agenda for the black community....APOCALYPSE '91 needs to be watched..."
Spin (10/91) - "...The funk of R&B, the hooks of pop, the grind of metal...To listen to Public Enemy is to hear a bomb squad explode."
New York Times (9/29/91) - "...hip-hop's prophets of rage...with songs that mix political, personal and promotional statements in quick-cutting, often oblique language..."
Q Magazine (9/95, p.132) - 4 Stars - Excellent - "...fine by any but their own Olympian standards...showed Public Enemy ploughing old furrows..."
Melody Maker (7/22/95, p.35) - "...[album number] four was still massive, still mighty, it still thundered down on you with locomotive force. But cracks in the surface were starting to show...."
New Musical Express (7/15/95, p.47) - 7 (out of 10) - "...a more soulful, funkier stew than previously served but there were a couple of fillers....Good, but not as indispensable as its predecessors..."
It's a black thing, you got to understand," declaims Chuck D during the coda that concludes "Move!" - one of the many exhortatory blasts on the new Public Enemy album, Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black. You can believe him. The album, PE's fourth, attempts nothing short of setting a sociopolitical agenda for the black community in the last decade of the twentieth century. Toward that ambitious end it doesn't waste many words decrying the historical crimes of whites, though allegorical embodiments of white oppression - "Jack," "the other man" - turn up for cameos here and there. Instead, racism is simply assumed as an essential fact of American life, as elemental as the air black people breathe, the food they eat. Given that state of affairs, PE has set its mission as identifying and annihilating the effects of racism - the ways in which black people have been taught to aid in their own destruction - and forging a new black consciousness. Understanding the past is important, the group seems to be saying - "Can't Truss It," for example, recounts the slave trade in gripping terms - but only as a first step toward the real goal: creating the future.
Apocalypse 91 is introduced with the words "The future holds nothin' else but confrontation," just before DJ Terminator X and PE's production phalanx, the Bomb Squad - a shifting lineup that includes, in varying combinations, Hank and Keith Shocklee, Chuck D and Gary (G-Wiz) Rinaldi - unleashes the amazing buzz that has become Public Enemy's sonic trademark. A relentless siren over a throbbing bass and propulsive drum track, it's the perfect metaphor for the urgency of contemporary urban life. That opening statement, which leads into "Lost at Birth," and that distinctive sound set the tone for the entire album, but it's soon clear that part of the confrontation PE foresees must occur within the black community itself.
On "Nighttrain," which samples the James Brown track of the same name, Chuck D defines black identity as an issue that runs deeper than skin color. As a staccato beat drives him, Chuck vilifies thieves and drug dealers ("Self-hater trained/To sell pain") who prey on their own neighborhoods, warning that "you mustn't just put your/Trust in every brother yo/Some don't give a damn." Meanwhile, goosed along by a funky guitar sample and piano break, Flavor Flav, Chuck's antic foil, demands respect from blacks and whites alike on "I Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Niga."
"How to Kill a Radio Consultant" goes after radio in general for not playing rap but takes special aim at the conservatism of black stations - "When the quiet storm comes on I fall asleep," Chuck D complains. Another Flav showpiece, "A Letter to the N.Y. Post," attacks the notorious tabloid for racism ("It always seems they make our neighborhood look bad"), but Chuck doesn't spare the black weekly Jet for falling right in line: "Black newspapers and magazines are supposed to get the real deal from the source y'all/Sorry Jet you took the info straight out of the Post/Burned us just like toast." And while "One Million Bottlebags" takes a cue from the surgeon general and excoriates the liquor industry for excessive marketing to blacks, Chuck D wonders, above a slamming rhythm track, "But who drinks it like water/On and on until the stores reorder it?/Brothers cry broke but they still affordin' it."
This righteous self-criticism should not be confused with blaming the victim or excusing bigotry. The album views the present, after all, as "Apocalypse 91" and does not shy away from such terms as "genocide" ("One Million Bottlebags") and "holocaust" ("Can't Truss It") to describe the systematic assault of institutional racism on black people. But the point of this album is that unless black people unify in resistance, all will surely be lost. This idea is conveyed most chillingly in the brief segment that introduces "A Letter to the N.Y. Post." Over a country-style fiddle sample, a white man speaking in a genial Southern accent describes himself as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and offers the following remarks: "I'd like to express our deepest gratitude at the destruction of the inferior nigger race, and I'm especially pleased to report it's destroying itself without our help. To all you gangs, hoodlums, drug pushers and users, and other worthless niggers killing each other, we'd like to thank y'all for saving us the time, trouble and legality for the final chapter of riddin' y'all off the face of the Earth. Your solution to our problem is greatly appreciated, so keep selling us your soul."
Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black ends with the collaboration between Public Enemy and Anthrax on "Bring the Noise." One of rap's great anthems, Public Enemy's tumultuous version of "Bring the Noise" first appeared on the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1987 and the next year on PE's album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Anthrax adapted the aesthetic manifesto Chuck D articulated in the song's title to its own thrash-and-burn brand of metal and then invited Chuck to rap over the din. The result falls short of the original, but its heart - and its mind, and its message - is in the right place.
The message is that communities with very different values and ways of living can still learn from each other, live and create with each other. Understanding is how that happens. No one stands to gain if the apocalypse comes down, if the empire strikes back. Chuck D has called rap "the CNN of black America." Events are moving fast; Apocalypse 91 needs to be watched. (RS 614)
Apocalypse 91 finds the group more and more outspoken about their political position and beliefs - no holds barred. It begins with "Lost at Birth" proclaiming "Clear the way for the prophets of rage" and launches nearly directly into "Rebirth" in which the group lets their stance on alcohol consumption and the media be strongly known. In fact, the whole tone of the album is advocate of the abstinence of drug and alcohol use, leadership in the black community, and the senselessness of crime and violence. You gotta respect that.
On the other hand, you've got a song like "A Letter to the New York Post" in which Flavor Flav minces no words in his rebuttal to the Post for an article they printed on him for beating his wife, or maybe girlfriend - at any rate - the mother of his children. From the beginning sounds of a newspaper being set on fire to the unabashed dissin' of a major NY publication, this is one helluva strong track.
Another one of my favorite tracks is "Get the F--- Outta Dodge" which is a bit smoother than the typical PE tune and finds Chuck D harassed by a rookie cop for having his music too loud. It evolves and our hero is threatened and accused of fitting the description of a bank robber. It ends with Sgt. Hawkes, the rookie cop stating, "I'm the police and I'm in charge, and if you don't like it get the "bleep" outta Dodge".
Probably one of the most well known songs on the album is the collaboration with fellow New Yorkers Anthrax on "Bring Tha Noize". I first heard the original version on "It Takes a Nation..." so it took me a little while to get used to hearing a white guy with a New York accent rapping. Of course there are tons of NY white guy metal/rap cross-over bands now so I'm used to it at this point.