An intimate live recording from the undisputed champions of hip hop
With the exception of Kraftwerk, who are without doubt the closest thing electronica has to its own Beatles, it’s hard to think of a band with a bigger influence on electronic music than Public Enemy. Their dense, intense, multi-layered productions shaped the dance genres that came after them – from the sample explosion of Coldcut and M/A/R/R/S to rave, jungle, drum ’n’ bass, trip hop and big beat – even more than the hip hop they paved the way for.
Now in their mid-50s, they don’t tour quite as often as they did, but studio-wise they have never let up, in recent times delivering new albums every couple of years. ‘Live From Metropolis Studios’ is, as the titles suggests, a live offering but having been recorded at the London studio in front of just 125 extremely lucky punters, it has an unusually intimate feel. Not that Public Enemy have gone soft on us and cracked open the acoustic guitars for an ‘MTV Unplugged’-style pedestrian stroll through their finest moments. Not at all. Over the 21 track selection here they prove they’re just as capable of whipping up a blistering intensity as ever.
The interplay between their two frontmen – the earnest preaching tones of Chuck D and the diametrically opposed Flavor Flav, the court jester of proceedings – is key to their appeal of course. Admittedly they’ve had nearly 30 years to perfect it, but the verbal sparring is effortless and breathtaking, even on lesser known album tracks like ‘Night Of The Living Baseheads’ and the thunderous rampage of the underrated 1991 single, ‘Shut Em Down’.
But equally important is the music: the powerful sound of crackly breakbeats, rough-cut samples and dexterous scratching. A million people – probably literally – have aped their style since, but no one can do it quite like this. The chunky sax that blazes its way through ‘Show Em Watcha Got’, the brutally simple two-note Buffalo Springfield sample that underpins ‘He Got Game’, the lively breakbeat on ‘Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man’, which could easily have been made yesterday… They’re all executed with a character and irresistible grooviness that shows little sign of deserting them yet.
As you’d expect, a hefty portion of the tracklisting is devoted to the stone-cold classics culled from their first three records, ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’, ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back’ and ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’. It’s an impressive bedrock of anthems, from early singles ‘Bring The Noise’ and ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ to ‘911 Is A Joke’, ‘Fight The Power’ and ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’, all celebrated in their full glory here.
But there’s also plenty here to suggest it might be worth looking up a few of their more recent offerings that may have passed you by. For example, the 2013 double whammy of ‘Hoover Music’, which pits Rage Against The Machine-style riffing against their trademark funkiness, or the block party exuberance of ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’.
All in all, ‘Live From Metropolis Studios’ is a fitting testament to a band who changed music forever in so many ways, and have refused to sell out or compromise ever since. Respect is due.