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Public Enemy
Public Enemy-01-mika.jpg
Public Enemy performing in 2000
Background information
Origin Long Island, New York, U.S.
Years active 1985–present
Associated acts
  • PE 2.0
  • The Bomb Squad
  • Paris
  • Beastie Boys
  • Anthrax
  • Young Black Teenagers
  • Boogie Down Productions
  • Prophets of Rage
Members Chuck D
Flavor Flav
DJ Lord
Sammy Sam
Past members Professor Griff
Terminator X

Public Enemy is an American hip hop group formed by Chuck D and Flavor Flav on Long Island, New York, in 1985. The group rose to prominence for their political messages including subjects such as American racism and the American media. Their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was released in 1987 to critical acclaim, and their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988), was the first hip hop album to top The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll. Their next three albums, Fear of a Black Planet (1990), Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black (1991) and Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age (1994), were also well received. The group has since released twelve more studio albums, including the soundtrack to the 1998 sports-drama film He Got Game and a collaborative album with Paris, Rebirth of a Nation (2006).

Public Enemy has gone through many lineup changes over the years, with Chuck D and Flavor Flav remaining the only constant members. Co-founder Professor Griff left in 1989 but rejoined in 1998, before parting ways again some years later. DJ Lord also joined Public Enemy in 1998 as the replacement of the group's original DJ Terminator X. In 2020, it was announced that Flavor Flav had been fired from the group. His firing was later revealed to be a publicity stunt that was called an April Fools' Day prank. Public Enemy, without Flavor Flav, would also tour and record music under the name of Public Enemy Radio which consists of the lineup of Chuck D, Jahi, DJ Lord and the S1Ws.

Public Enemy's first four albums during the late 1980s and early 1990s were all certified either gold or platinum and were, according to music critic Robert Hilburn in 1998, "the most acclaimed body of work ever by a hip hop act". Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine called them "the most influential and radical band of their time". They were inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. They were honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the 62nd Grammy Awards.


1985–1987: Formation and early years

Public Enemy
Public Enemy's official logo

Public Enemy was formed in 1985 by Carlton Ridenhour (Chuck D) and William Drayton (Flavor Flav), who met at Long Island's Adelphi University in the mid-1980s. Developing his talents as an MC with Flav while delivering furniture for his father's business, Chuck D and Spectrum City, as the group was called, released the record "Check Out the Radio", backed by "Lies", a social commentary—both of which would influence RUSH Productions' Run–D.M.C. and Beastie Boys. Chuck D put out a tape to promote WBAU (the radio station where he was working at the time) and to fend off a local MC who wanted to battle him. He called the tape Public Enemy #1 because he felt like he was being persecuted by people in the local scene. This was the first reference to the notion of a public enemy in any of Chuck D's songs. The single was created by Chuck D with a contribution by Flavor Flav, though this was before the group Public Enemy was officially assembled. Around 1986, Bill Stephney, the former Program Director at WBAU, was approached by Sam Mulderrig, who offered Stephney a position with the label. Stephney accepted, and his first assignment was to help fledgling producer Rick Rubin sign Chuck D, whose song "Public Enemy Number One" Rubin had heard from Andre "Doctor Dré" Brown.

According to the book The History of Rap Music by Cookie Lommel, "Stephney thought it was time to mesh the hard-hitting style of Run DMC with politics that addressed black youth. Chuck recruited Spectrum City, which included Hank Shocklee, his brother Keith Shocklee, and Eric "Vietnam" Sadler, collectively known as the Bomb Squad, to be his production team and added another Spectrum City partner, Professor Griff, to become the group's Minister of Information. With the addition of Flavor Flav and another local mobile DJ named Terminator X, the group Public Enemy was born". According to Chuck, The S1W, which stands for Security of the First World, "represents that the black man can be just as intelligent as he is strong. It stands for the fact that we're not third-world people, we're first-world people; we're the original people". Hank Shocklee came up with the name Public Enemy based on "underdog love and their developing politics" and the idea from Def Jam staffer Bill Stephney following the Howard Beach racial incident, Bernhard Goetz, and the death of Michael Stewart: "The Black man is definitely the public enemy."

Public Enemy started out as opening act for the Beastie Boys during the latter's Licensed to Ill popularity, and in 1987 released their debut album Yo! Bum Rush the Show.

1987–1993: Mainstream success

Flavor Flav - Public Enemy- konser-Slakthuset-Malmö-1991
Flavor Flav performing in Malmö in 1991.

The group's debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was released in 1987 to critical acclaim. In October 1987, music critic Simon Reynolds dubbed Public Enemy "a superlative rock band". They released their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, in 1988, which performed better in the charts than their previous release, and included the hit single "Don't Believe the Hype" in addition to "Bring the Noise". It was the first hip hop album to be voted album of the year in The Village Voice's influential Pazz & Jop critics' poll.

In 1989, the group returned to the studio to record their third album, Fear of a Black Planet, which continued their politically charged themes. The album was supposed to be released in late 1989, but was pushed back to April 1990. It was the most successful of any of their albums and, in 2005, was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry. It included the singles "Welcome to the Terrordome", written after the band was criticized by Jews for Professor Griff's anti-semitic comments, "911 Is a Joke", which criticized emergency response units for taking longer to arrive at emergencies in the black community than those in the white community, and "Fight the Power". "Fight the Power" is regarded as one of the most popular and influential songs in hip hop history. It was the theme song of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.

Chuck D. Slakthuset i Malmö 1991
Chuck D. performing in Malmö in 1991

The group's fourth album, Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black, continued this trend, with songs like "Can't Truss It", which addressed the history of slavery and how the black community can fight back against oppression. The album also included the controversial song and video "By the Time I Get to Arizona", which chronicled the black community's frustration that some US states did not recognize Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday. The video featured members of Public Enemy taking out their frustrations on politicians in the states not recognizing the holiday.

In 1992, the group was one of the first rap acts to perform at the Reading Festival in the UK, headlining the second day of the three-day festival.

1994–2019: Later years and member changes

After a 1994 motorcycle accident shattered his left leg and kept him in the hospital for a full month, Terminator X relocated to his 15-acre farm in Vance County, North Carolina. By 1998, he was ready to retire from the group and focus full-time on raising African black ostriches on his farm. In late 1998, the group started looking for Terminator X's permanent replacement. Following several months of searching for a DJ, Professor Griff saw DJ Lord at a Vestax Battle and approached him about becoming the DJ for Public Enemy. DJ Lord joined as the group's full-time DJ just in time for Public Enemy's 40th World Tour. Since 1999, he has been the official DJ for Public Enemy on albums and world tours while winning numerous turntablist competitions, including multiple DMC finals.

PE at Vegoose 2007
Public Enemy at Vegoose in 2007. From left: DJ Lord, Chuck D, and Flavor Flav.

In 2007, the group released an album entitled How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?. Public Enemy's single from the album was "Harder Than You Think". Four years after How You Sell Soul ... , in January 2011, Public Enemy released the album Beats and Places, a compilation of remixes and "lost" tracks. On July 13, 2012, Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp was released and was exclusively available on iTunes. In July 2012, on UK television an advert for the London 2012 Summer Paralympics featured a short remix of the song "Harder Than You Think". The advert caused the song to reach No. 4 in the UK Singles Chart on September 2, 2012. On July 30, 2012, Public Enemy performed a free concert with Salt-N-Pepa and Kid 'n Play at Wingate Park in Brooklyn, New York as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series. On August 26, 2012, Public Enemy performed at South West Four music festival in Clapham Common in London. On October 1, 2012 The Evil Empire of Everything was released. On June 29, 2013, they performed at Glastonbury Festival 2013. On September 14, 2013, they performed at Riot Fest & Carnival 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. On September 20, 2013, they performed at Riot Fest & Side Show in Byers, Colorado.

In 2014, Chuck D launched PE 2.0 with Oakland rapper Jahi as a spiritual successor and "next generation" of Public Enemy. Jahi met Chuck D backstage during a soundcheck at the 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and later appeared as a support act on Public Enemy's 20th Anniversary Tour in 2007. PE 2.0's task is twofold, Jahi says, to "take select songs from the PE catalog and cover or revisit them" as well as new material with members of the original Public Enemy including DJ Lord, Davy DMX, Professor Griff and Chuck D. PE 2.0's first album People Get Ready was released on October 7, 2014. InsPirEd PE 2.0's second album and part two of a proposed trilogy was released a year later on October 11, 2015. Man Plans God Laughs, Public Enemy's thirteenth album, was released in July 2015. On June 29, 2017, Public Enemy released their fourteenth album, Nothing Is Quick in the Desert. The album was available for free download through Bandcamp until July 4, 2017.


Public Enemy was one of the first hip-hop groups to do well internationally. PE changed the Internet's music distribution capability by being one of the first groups to release MP3-only albums, a format virtually unknown at the time.

PE made contributions to the hip-hop world with sonic experimentation as well as political and cultural consciousness. With the successes of Public Enemy, many hip-hop artists began to celebrate Afrocentric themes, such as Kool Moe Dee, Gang Starr, X Clan, Eric B. & Rakim, Queen Latifah, the Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest.

The revolutionary influence of the band is seen throughout hip-hop and is recognized in society and politics. The band "rewrote the rules of hip-hop", changing the image, sound and message forever. Pro-black lyrics brought political and social themes to hardcore hip hop, with stirring ideas of racial equality, and retribution against police brutality, aimed at disenfranchised blacks, but appealing to all the poor and underrepresented. Before Public Enemy, hip hop music was seen as "throwaway entertainment". Public Enemy brought social relevance and strength to hip hop. They also brought black activist Louis Farrakhan to greater popularity, and they gave impetus to the Million Man March in 1995.

Group members

Current members

  • Chuck D (Carlton D. Ridenhour) – MC
  • Flavor Flav (William J. Drayton, Jr.) – Hype man, multi-instrumentalist
  • Sammy Sam (Samuel Kim) – MC, Music Producer
  • Khari Wynn – lead guitars, music director, MD, AMD
  • DJ Lord (Lord Aswod) – DJ
  • Davy DMX (David Franklin Reeves Jr.) – bass
  • T-Bone Motta – drums, percussion
  • S1W
    • Brother James (James Norman)
    • Brother Roger (Roger Chillous)
    • Brother Mike (Michael Williams)
    • James Bomb (James Allen)
    • The Interrogator (Shawn K. Carter)
    • Big Casper (Tracy D. Walker)
    • Pop Diesel (sometimes spelt Popp Diezel)

Former members

  • Terminator X (Norman Rogers) – DJ, Producer
  • Professor Griff (Richard Griffin) – Minister of Information
  • DJ Johnny "Juice" Rosado – DJ, Scratching, Turntablist, Producer
  • Sister Souljah (Lisa Williamson) – Minister of Information (took over Richard Griffin's place when Griffin left group)
  • Brian Hardgroove – bass, guitars
  • Michael Faulkner – drums, percussion
  • S1W
    • Jacob "Big Jake" Shankle
  • The Bomb Squad
    • Hank Shocklee (James Hank Boxley III) *original member
    • Keith Shocklee (Keith Boxley) *original member
    • Eric "Vietnam" Sadler *original member
    • Gary G-Wiz (Gary Rinaldo) (took Eric Sadler's place when Sadler left group)


Studio albums

  • Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987)
  • It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
  • Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
  • Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)
  • Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age (1994)
  • There's a Poison Goin' On (1999)
  • Revolverlution (2002)
  • New Whirl Odor (2005)
  • How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? (2007)
  • Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp (2012)
  • The Evil Empire of Everything (2012)
  • Man Plans God Laughs (2015)
  • Nothing Is Quick in the Desert (2017)
  • Loud Is Not Enough (2020) (released under the name Public Enemy Radio)
  • What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? (2020)

Collaboration albums

  • Rebirth of a Nation with Paris (2006)

Soundtrack albums

  • He Got Game (1998)

Awards and nominations

Grammy Awards

Year Nominated work Award Result
1990 "Fight the Power" Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group Nominated
1991 Fear of a Black Planet Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group Nominated
1992 Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group Nominated
1993 Greatest Misses Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group Nominated
1995 "Bring the Noise" (with Anthrax) Best Metal Performance Nominated

American Music Awards

Year Nominated work Award Result
1989 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album Nominated
1991 Fear of a Black Planet Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album Nominated
1992 Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album Nominated

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Public Enemy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Public Enemy para niños

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