Musicheads Essential Artist: Public Enemy

Flavor Flav, left, and Chuck D, photographed on May 1, 1987
Flavor Flav, left, and Chuck D, photographed on May 1, 1987. (Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)
Musicheads Essential Artist: Public Enemy
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The groundbreaking hip-hop group Public Enemy ushered in a new era of politically and socially conscious rap music that influenced the next several decades of popular music.

Public Enemy began with a collaboration between the young artists Carlton Ridenhour (better known as Chuck D) and William Drayton, who would perform under the name Flavor Flav, in the mid-1980s on Long Island, New York.

While performing under the name Chuck D and Spectrum City, they released a tape called Public Enemy #1 that landed them on the radar of Rick Rubin, who signed the pair to the influential Def Jam label.

Backed by the Bomb Squad's sample-heavy beats and the scratching of Terminator X, Chuck D and his hype man Flavor Flav immediately drew attention from both fans and critics for their incisive, biting commentary on the government, the media, and the police — and their overall message of Black empowerment and liberation.

After a successful tour opening for the Beastie Boys in 1987, Public Enemy released a series of critically and commercially successful albums, including their debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show and the wildly successful Fear of a Black Planet, which was included on Rolling Stone's list of the greatest albums of all time and has been added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry.

Since their heyday in the late '80s and early '90s, Public Enemy have reunited regularly to perform together and record new albums. Chuck D continues to loom large as an influential figure in the hip-hop world, while Flavor Flav has also found success in reality television, starring in his own dating show, Flavor of Love.

Public Enemy were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, and in 2020 they were honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys.

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