These days, the name Flavor Flav invokes an image of a caricature and his catchphrase, “Yeaaaahhh, boyyy!” while Chuck D has parlayed his music career into a series of TV and movie appearances.
But when the Long Island contingent of Flav (William Drayton), Chuck D (Carlton D. Ridenhour), Professor Griff (Richard Griffin) and Terminator X (Norman Rogers) met at Adelphi University in the mid-‘80s and bounded onto the music scene with their acclaimed 1987 album, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show,” and its 1988 successor, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” it was their fearless blending of rock, rap and politics that made even those uninterested in the rap community take notice.
As their career progressed into the late-80s, the group crossed genre lines by landing on the dance, R&B and rap charts. But it’s their No. 1 hits, “Fight the Power” and “911 is a Joke,” that remain their signature statements.
The Public Enemy influence, however, stretches beyond hip-hop, as artists ranging from Bjork and Ben Harper to Nine Inch Nails and Duran Duran have either covered or sampled the group’s work or cited their uninhibited lyrical honesty as an influence.
In 2013, Public Enemy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making them the fourth hip-hop act to be honored.
They are also prominently included in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture as a significant political, artistic and culture force.
Celebrate Black History Month
Throughout February, we’ll spotlight a different African-American pioneer in the daily Living section Monday through Thursday and Saturday. Go to myAJC.com/black-history-month for more subscriber exclusives on people, places and organizations that have changed the world, and to see videos on the African-American pioneer featured here each day.