PUBLIC ENEMY RIPS IN BKLN; Public fever for the Flavor's going strong
It's a big reflection of Flavor Flav's celebrity that Public Enemy gives him his own personalized entrance. "Say what you want, but we all got one of these in our family," explained front man Chuck D, as he affectionately introduced the clown prince of hip-hop to a thrilled crowd in Wingate Park in Brooklyn on Monday night. "The key is not to have two of 'em!"
Not everyone can see Flavor's appeal. Public Enemy purists have long been perplexed at Chuck D's decision to stick with him through arrests, drug addictions and, perhaps worst of all, shamelessly skeezing with Brigitte Nielsen in the cringe-worthy reality show "Flavor of Love."
But Chuck's foresight has paid off because, after 25 years of gradually dwindling musical exposure, Flavor's antics have helped to ensure that Public Enemy still have an audience of their own. And as the thousands in attendance in East Flatbush showed, it's sizable.
The bulk of their set (part of the ongoing series of free park concerts in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.) came from the group's two crowning achievements: 1988's "It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back" and the 1990 follow-up, "Fear of a Black Planet."
Those albums have aged far better than much of the hip-hop of the same period, but Public Enemy certainly didn't resort to producing simple facsimiles of their golden era. Cuts such as "Bring the Noise" and "Welcome to the Terrordome" were spliced with some rock 'n' roll DNA thanks to the band. The myth that the Long Islanders are merely a heritage act was further dispelled by "I Shall Not Be Moved," a typically righteous screed from their impressive (but almost entirely ignored) new album, "Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp."
When the various messages got lost in the blur of their music, Chuck was more than happy to provide snappy sermons about the dumbing-down effect of technology, the futility of chasing youth and the banality of radio.
But Chuck will be the first to admit that it's Flavor most people want. At one juncture, Flavor strapped on a bass guitar and began slapping out a funk riff while Chuck dished out a whip-smart freestyle rap. A little later, he turned his attention to the drum kit, tapping out a tight beat as Chuck performed the early classic "Timebomb." Not only were these moments successful in reaffirming Flavor's musical ability, they also shed some light on the bond that has kept Public Enemy's twin focal points united through a quarter of a century of insurgency and insanity.
Let's hope they keep it together for a little while longer, because hip-hop will never know a group like them again.