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December 7th, 2012




9:20 a.m. CST, December 6, 2012

Public Enemy hasn't mellowed much with age. Wednesday at a near-capacity House of Blues, the reengaged rap ensemble stormed through a 70-minute set that frequently resonated with the intensity of a hardcore punk concert. Absent auxiliary flash or calculated posturing, the group's concussive material exploded on impact, with a live band and deejay building dense walls of sound over which the yin-yang tandem of Chuck D and Flavor Flav exchanged verses.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary and recent nomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Public Enemy isn't taking the career benchmarks lightly. The collective released two new records in the past months and organized its current tour as a revue featuring similar golden-era hip-hop acts. Speaking as the event's master of ceremonies, Chuck D played history teacher and intellectual advocate. He interviewed opening artists, praised Chicago's early adoption of hip-hop and cited several local figures (George Daniels, Pinkhouse) for helping develop the genre.

Reflecting his provocative and prolific presence on Twitter, the emcee refused to hold back or back down. In a venue renowned for catering to such interests, he assailed celebrities, VIP sections and high-priced tickets. The commentary paralleled socially resilient messages on in-your-face tunes like "Shut Em Down," "I Shall Not Be Moved" and "Can't Truss It." Rooted in classic soul grooves and smothered in percussive beats and turntable scratches, songs teetered on the brink of chaos and raged with heavy-metal rawness. Chuck D's booming voice, seemingly hooked up to a built-in megaphone, increased the ferocity. Words were thrown akin to a prizefighter's punches. He landed verses as quick jabs, and turned refrains into uppercuts.

Where his partner evoked drill-sergeant intimidation, Flavor Flav provided balance via goofy humor, physical antics and exaggerated diction. Wearing a mink jacket, titled baseball cap and multi-striped shirt, he was a hype man, court jester, sidekick and con man rolled into one. For all his annoyances-an overlong stopover on drums, rambling banter, repeated interjections-Flavor Flav contrasted starkness without distracting from the music. Along with Chuck D, he ran and jumped around the stage, both displaying an excitability that at one instance witnessed them collide mid-leap with one another.

Fitting for a group that blurs distinctions, Public Enemy invited funk artist Steve Arrington to sing parts of his oft-sampled "Weak at the Knees" during "Fight the Power." Augmented with a wailing saxophone, the anthem became a free-jazz jam, a call to awareness in which every instrument and voice shouted on equal terms.

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Copyright © 2012 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC






The Hip Hop Gods tour featuring Public Enemy (pictured above) rocked a crowd of several hundred strong in Boston on Sunday.

Lauren Carter

You could say the all-stars aligned.

Sunday night at Royale, a diverse array of classic hip hop rulers staged a show that lasted more than four hours, mixing wisdom with entertainment and touching on everything from the Illuminati to the ills of commercial hip hop. Boston rap veterans Akrobatik and Edo G shared the stage with national legends. College professors in the crowd mingled with their students. And the only thing hanging from a rapper's neck was a lanyard.

It was the Hip Hop Gods tour featuring headliner Public Enemy, with frontman Chuck D acting as emcee, host and hip hop professor. Between sets he chatted with artists, reminisced about early '90s tours and schooled fans on all things hip hop, from Boston's relevance in the rap scene to the meaning of the phrase "word is bond."

"This is more than a concert," he said. "It's a movement."

If typical rap shows are studies in misguided thuggery, Sunday's spectacle was a reminder that the true tenets of hip hop - knowledge, wisdom, authenticity, skill and innovation - are alive and well. Rappers kept the energy high but never delivered empty verses, acting as teachers sent to uplift rather than fake gangstas sent to make it rain.

Trio Son of Bazerk delivered an animated opening set and sent one of many shoutouts to the late, great Boston-born emcee Guru. Dinco D of Leaders of the New School got calories burning with his verse from "Scenario" and Schoolly D - jacket open, no shirt on - delivered hard-hitting rhymes with a decidedly sexual edge. Brother J of X Clan had "no time for booty rap" as he focused on dropping knowledge and calling for unity, peace and justice.

Boston icon Akrobatik appeared on stage at Chuck D's request and unleashed a rhyme that took aim at skinny jeans, corporate pimps, fantasies sold for profit and other evidence of hip hop's downfall.

Monie Love reminded the audience that female rappers can remain relevant while fully clothed. Paying homage to females in hip hop, she celebrated femcees including Queen Latifah, Lil Kim and Salt-N-Pepa, invited Boston ‘brother' Edo G on stage and spat slick verses from "Buddy," "It's A Shame" and "Monie In The Middle" that proved her mic skills haven't slipped.

A set from Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers was among the night's highlights, as he dropped blistering a cappella verses between pushing albums and t-shirts. In a 20-minute span, he managed to touch on Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records, the Illuminati, slavery, white supremacy, inner-city murder rates and failing public schools, eclipsing what the average rapper covers in an entire career.

But of course, the night's peak was the hour-long set from Public Enemy. For anyone who doesn't count Lil Wayne as their personal hero, and maybe for some who do, it all felt epic. There was the giant banner with the in-your-face logo. The security-dance brigade S1W (Security of the First World) who alternately stood watch and engaged in their unique mix of dance and military drill. The thunderous and politically-charged music that changed the face of hip hop.

Chuck D bellowed over DJ Lord and a live band on tracks including "Welcome to the Terrordome," "Bring the Noise," "Can't Truss It" and the set-closer "Fight The Power." Quintessential hype man and sidekick Flavor Flav appeared in a mink coat, later pulled his signature giant clock from under his shirt and took center stage for "911 Is a Joke."

Flav is obviously the quirky counterpoint to the hard rhyming Chuck D. But don't let the clocks and reality TV stints fool you; under that viking hat there's a revolutionary hiding. Flav closed with a sermon against racism and separatism, reminding the audience that peace and togetherness create power.

And with that, the show officially ended and fans bum-rushed the stage for autographs.

In one sense the concert felt like a throwback to the past, but it was also a vision of the future - the beginning of a movement dedicated to revitalizing hip hop and taking back the power and control that is rightly due to the gods.




Maybe the Mayans were right, perhaps the world IS ending this month. If that's the case, I consider this Hip-Hop Gods Tour as "God" himself delivering the perfect parting gift to the hip-hop community. We, as hip-hop fans, got much more than we deserved last night in Boston. Public Enemy. Awesome Dre. Schoolly D. X-Clan.

50 For me, seeing this line-up live was something like seeing the Avengers movie earlier in the year. As a kid you grew up hoping it would happen, then you let cynicism get the better of you until one day BAM! There it is, bass in your face (not an 8 track). I rolled to the show with a bunch of my boys, super unfashionably early, so as not to miss an act. I people-watched for awhile and marveled at this wide array of fans were in attendance - year old rock dudes who easily could be Anthrax roadies, chicks with blue hair, chicks who dressed for a Drake show, Rick Rubin impersonators, the F.O.I. (Fruit of Islam), and more were in the building. Time slowly ticked as we anticipated who'd set the show off. One of the first faces we saw belonged to Chuck D. Wait, that's Chuck D, the leader of PE, the face of the tour, he's supposed to be backstage hiding until the wee hours of the morning right? Nope.

Imagine being in the theater watching the Avengers, and two minutes into the entire production, Robert Downey, Jr, comes out and starts shaking hands and telling you what you're about to witness over the next few hours. This is what Chuck D, arguably the most influential and significant voice hip-hop has ever had, did last night. He appeared on stage early, when the crowd was still hiding by the bar. This wasn't Rory Sparrow poking his head out of the curtain before showtime, this was Michael Jordan coming out, telling the crowd he's about to rain a few jumpers over Craig Ehlo. He interviewed the artists on stage after each set. He brought out Keith F'in Shocklee. There were moments where icons such as Schoolly D, Code Money, and Chuck D were on stage together, making small talk and laughing about Schoolly D's bizarre and explicit stage show. Schoolly performed "Saturday Night," "Smoke Some Kill" and "P.S.K."...and frankly, with him striding across the stage, mic in hand, playfully (?) forcing women to grope him, the 909 never sounded better.

Detroit's Awesome Dre performed "Murder One" and "You Can't Hold Me Back," both of which had me going berserk. I've documented just how influential Dre's debut album was to me, and to see him LIVE after 20+ years was something I never thought would happen. Yes, I was a grown man jumping up and down, shamelessly reciting the words line for line. At the end of his set, he took time to shout out "Boston hip-hop legend Edo G" and followed it up with "and my man Esoteric, where's Esoteric at?" Gulp. I never saw that coming, and there I was, standing front row at his feet. It was awkward for me, but I had no choice but to identify myself as the super-fan in the front row. My wife always says I constantly find myself in random Ben Stiller-esque scenarios and that was no different. Later in the night, I'd reclaimed my front row position, with Awesome Dre, to watch Public Enemy slam through the chaotic "Welcome to the Terrordome" and "Can't Truss It.

" Spazzing out to PE, standing (sometimes jumping) next to Awesome Dre, was surreal. Surreal might be a cheap word to describe it, but my ears are still ringing and I'm taking the easy route. The S1W's were in full uniform, marching, moving, and terrifying the first five rows as though this were 1988. Was Flavor Flav there? Yes. Was he unpredictable? Yes. Do I think the S1W's had to keep an eye on him just as much as they did the crowd? Perhaps. Chuck's voice is still as thunderous as ever. His Pirates hat still casts that iconic shadow over his face. He still throws the mic to himself and swings it like Roberto Clemente. Professor Griff was in total effect and delivered his lines off "Night of the Living Baseheads" flawlessly. He might be drinking whatever Richard from "Lost" was, because he hasn't aged a day.

Speaking of eternal youth, earlier in the night, Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers hit the stage and performed "Rock Dis Funky Joint" and a Shakiyla-load of new material that was lyrically some of the most thought-provoking bars of the night. It was impossible to catch every jewel he tossed at the crowd, but one thing I know: if he debuted today, under an alias, he would destroy 95% of the "politically concious," "battle rap," and "gangsta" rappers out. That is not a theory or an opinion, that is universal truth, much like the fact "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back" is the greatest rap album ever.

One memorably ironic moment for me last night was harmonizing with Uno the Prophet as Brother J delivered his famous "how can polar bears swing on vines with the gorillas?" line during the X-Clan set. Uno had suggested recording a "Touchy Subject 2″ to me (we were building on it as the song was blasting) as Brother J deservedly caught our attention with that once-controversial lyric. I'm proud of fellow Boston emcee Akrobatik who, when called upon by Chuck D for an a capella, delivered with ice in his veins. What a moment for Ak. If Chuck D was the MVP of this smoothly run show, then DJ Johnny Juice had to be runner up and maybe even have grounds to demand a recount. He put in work on the turntables and on the mic, for multiple acts, and he knew everybody's material cold.

That man deserves his props. I was wondering how Son of Bazerk would go over with the youth and the casual fans, but they put on a well rehearsed routine that murdered it. Monie Love brought out Edo G. Dinco D fearlessly held it down for his missing partners Charlie Brown, Milo, and that guy Busta-something. Guru was honored (RIP), Professor X was honored (RIP), and the peace was kept all night. Shouts to Karma, Jared, Beyonder, Mr. Jason, Dan Ladd, Mike, Tim, Tommy 2-Step, Leedz, and all the people I had the pleasure of taking in this show with. What an unforgettable experience. So, if the Mayans were right, and the world is ending...what a way to go out for a hip-hop fan.



Live Review: Public Enemy at Chicago's House of Blues (12/5)

By Michael Roffman on December 6th, 2012 in Concert Reviews, Hip Hop

"I'm sitting on a stool, I feel like Sam Cooke," a very wise Chuck D observed early Wednesday evening. A restless crowd at Chicago's House of Blues regaled the Public Enemy frontman with applause and respect, though they didn't want to hear stories about the history of hip-hop. Instead, they pined for "Bring the Noise", "Welcome to the Terrordome", or simply the slightest notion that the night's main headliner would be gracing the stage sometime soon. Much to their chagrin, they'd have to wait another hour.

So went Chuck D's latest experiment - The Hip Hop Gods Tour - a series of events that celebrate the Golden Age of old school hip-hop, specifically through performances by X Clan, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, Monie Love, Son of Bazerk, Wise Intelligent (of Poor Righteous Teachers), Awesome Dre, and Davy DMX. With Chuck D as the host and emcee, each performer hits the stage to deliver not only their music, but some historical context surrounding their work and how it impacted the hip-hop culture yesterday and today.

In theory, that sounds like an ingenious idea, something that diehard enthusiasts of the culture should appreciate. The problem, however, is that not everyone is a prospective scholar, and such was the case with Chicago's beer-soaked audience. As Chuck interviewed Schoolly D, several patrons shuffled away for beers and a couple screamed out for more Public Enemy singles, as if they expected the guy to just immediately jump into song.

It was ridiculous. Hell, when Monie Love came out for her performance - admittedly, the strongest of all the opening veterans (side note: How good is "Monie in the Middle" still? Damn.) - she had to call out someone on their lewd and awkward behavior. So, yeah, some things on paper just don't always translate well.

It definitely built up the anticipation for Public Enemy, though. Now, one would think three straight hours of old school hip-hop would fry the nerves, sending even the most ardent supporters into the streets. But, by the time Chuck D, Professor Griff, DJ Lord, and the remaining backing band and military dancers(!) hit the stage, the room just turned into a riot. From there on out, not one person could complain at the barrage of greatest hits that satiated the fans one by one. And once Flava Flav hopped on out, at first wearing a fuzzy robe and later donning his trademark clock, the fans appeared as if they were about to burn down the place.

Both Chuck and Flava are well into their fifties by now. Yet they have more energy on stage than just about any other hip-hop act on the circuit today, including youngsters like Odd Future. As expected, Flava assumed the persona of the uber-talented, bratty loud mouth with ADHD as he pogoed around, traded fist pumps with his adoring fans, strapped on a bass guitar, twisted around Chuck D, talked ad-infinitum, and topped it all off with a drum solo. Chuck D, on the other hand, chugged right alongside him, never leaving the microphone for more than 30 seconds at a time.

That energy, though, saved the night from feeling like a retread of greatest hits, which is essentially what it was, despite the fact that they've released two new albums this year. Save for "Timebomb", which isn't really that rare or deep come to think of it, every cut on the setlist could have conceivably fit on a retrospective album. At one point, they went on a bender that included "911 Is a Joke", "Welcome to the Terrordome", "Show ‘Em Whatcha", "Bring the Noise", and "Don't Believe the Hype". It was a pummeling experience that just grew louder and bigger and crazier with each ensuing cut. There was just no moment of respite, it was an all out war on the senses.

Chuck D also kept things local by bringing out a bevy of Chicago talent, including an historical legend like Uncle George Daniels. This additional facet spun the night into something unique and also shed layers on a genre that seemingly feels overdrawn these days. Hopefully those that weren't stumbling back and forth from the bar, or waiting impatiently for "Fight the Power" (which, okay, was beyond rad live), took something home with them. It would just be a shame if all that good will towards history went to waste. Having said that, this writer wouldn't be opposed to Chuck D hitting the blackboard anytime soon. Guy's got game for education.



Public Enemy #1

Rebel Without a Pause


911 Is a Joke

Welcome to the Terrordome

Show ‘Em Whatcha

Bring the Noise

Don't Believe the Hype

Can't Truss It

He Got Game

Shall Not Be Moved

Harder Than You Think

Shut ‘em Down

Flava Flav Drum Solo


Fight the Power




Posted by: Chris Riemenschneider under Music, Minnesota musicians Updated: December 7, 2012 - 2:20 PM 0 commentsprint

Following Chuck D around town Thursday was vaguely reminiscent of covering Prince's three-gig 7/7/07 marathon -- except the Public Enemy frontman was promoting rug-swept hip-hop pioneers and social justice, not perfume. Here's a brief recap of the legendary rapper's long day in Minneapolis, part of the three-week Hip-Hop Gods Tour:

HIP-HOP GODS PRESS CONFERENCE: "This is born out of how tours used to be in the ‘60s," Chuck told a dozen or so reporters and photographers inside First Avenue's Record Room on Thursday afternoon before soundcheck. He had almost as many musicians with him as there were journalists on hand, including Monie Love, Schoolly D, Dinco D (from Leaders of the New School), Wise Intelligent (of Poor Righteous Teachers), Awesome Dre and pioneering DJ/producer/bassist Davey DMX. Alas, no Flavor Flav, though. "There are 35 of us spread between two buses," Chuck said with something of a pained look on his face.

Awesome Dre, back, talks at the Hip-Hop Gods press conference in front of Chuck D.

Most of what the ringleader's other statements echoed our interview with him leading up to the show about finding new ways to promote "classic" -- don't call it "old-school" hip-hop. Monie Love added an extra level of importance to the effort, though. "Right now, our little girls are so lost," she said, describing her own mission statement on the tour as "reintroducing" the idea that "they don't have to be standing in a video with champagne pouring down their T-shirt to have a role in hip-hop." On the other hand, Schoolly predictably lightened things up when he explained his goal at the shows: "I'm here to provide the sex, drugs and rock ‘n' roll. People still need to have a m.f.-ing good time. That's my m.f.-ing job."

Toward the end, Chuck invited out Brother Ali -- who snuck in mid-conference -- to talk about what was coming next.

OCCUPY HOMES RALLY: It looked like a keg party as you approached, with several dozen people loitering outside a house near Phelps Park in south Minneapolis with cups in hand. There was a celebratory aspect to the dinnertime event, too, as the house in question was one whose owner actually returned from the brink of foreclosure with the help of the Occupy Homes Minnesota activists/volunteers. Brother Ali and his special guest showed up to continue raising awareness for the ousted home owners who haven't been so lucky.

"I grew up in the era of R&B," Chuck told the crowd through a bullhorn on the home's front steps. "That's Reagan and Bush," he added to laughs, going on to talk about seeing "boarded up cribs when so many people were living on the streets" in his childhood hometown of Roosevelt, New York (on Long Island). It pains him to see that happening again. Talking specifically of the financial blunders behind a lot of today's foreclosures, he said, "Never have so many been screwed by so few."

Mutual admirers for a couple years now -- Chuck guested on Ali's last record, and Ali is on a new PE track -- the two rappers went around thanking and hugging attendees but did not treat them to any kind of performance. That would come much later that night.

Slug and Brother Ali with PE.

HIP-HOP GODS CONCERT: "Give it up for your own hip-hop gods," Chuck yelled to the crowd as both Brother Ali and Slug of Atmosphere came to the stage near the end of Thursday night's nearly five-hour show at a full-capacity First Avenue. The two Minneapolis rappers did the scene proud freestyling while Chuck's usual hype man, Flavor Flav, sat behind a drum kit and pounded out the beat to the 1987 Public Enemy classic "Timebomb." In short: Something you don't see every day.

As Chuck promised, the entire concert was far from ordinary -- at least in modern hip-hop terms. His all-star team rapidly took turns at the plate, starting with Awesome Dre and Son of Bazerk and culminating with X-Clan's Brother J and Dinco D before the PE finale. Chuck introduced each act, and made all of them tell the crowd their Twitter handle, website, etc. It was maybe the most professionally minded tour in hip-hop history. Highlights among the performances included Schoolly D's raunchy and rowdy set -- sorry Chuck, but you have to call that stuff "old-school," in the best possible way -- along with Wise Intelligent's truly dazzling display of rhyme skills.

As if hearing Monie Love deliver "Ladies First" isn't enough of a memorable experience, she also talked about how much performing in Minneapolis meant to her. For starters, she fondly remembered the three weeks she spent with Prince at Paisley Park writing lyrics for his then-girlfriend Carmen Electra's 1993 rap album ("What are you laughing at? It was a check," she deadpanned to the crowd). Then, she graciously used up a chunk of her set time to let budding local rap star MaLLy deliver his aptly named gem, "Shine" (word from MaLLy afterward was that she discovered him via Twitter).

PE didn't take the stage until well after midnight, and well after the show started to feel like it was dragging on. It continued to plod along, too, as Flavor Flav goofed around for several minutes following a fiery "Rebel Without a Pause" at the start of the set. Momentum picked back up with "Welcome to the Terrordome" and then dwindled again. Things finally got on track permanently with "Bring the Noise," which was followed with a visceral montage of "Don't Believe the Hype," "Can't Truss It," "He Got Game," the monstrous new single "I Shall Not Be Moved," "Shut Em Down," "By the Time I Get to Arizona" and finally "Fight the Power." As the clock neared 2 a.m., the "classic"-aged crowd looked too tired to fight much, but it was a powerful finish nonetheless.