Thursday, June 13, 2013

Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show - 1987

The vinyl of this album is so hard to find,
we had to photograph our own ratty-ass copy.
Chuck D, Flavor-Flav, Terminator X, and the Bomb Squad get things going in a nasty, nasty way on their debut LP.  Brought to you by the infamous Rick Rubin in his early producing days, Yo! Bum Rush the Show carries just as much bombast and bomb blasts as any album we've ever heard.  Similarities to Rubin's prior work with Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys are evident: there's the humor and swagger, the occasional guitar solo (Vernon Reid of Living Colour makes some nice contributions), and hard rock edge.   Still, Public Enemy is very much its own thing.  Plenty of echo, funk sampling, and vigorous verse punctuate nearly every track.  Yo! is replete with scratches, thumps, screeches, and explosions piled on over sirens and whining terror that drone and halt amongst the carnage.  It's surprisingly listenable, due to the dominant verbal stylings of Mr. Chuck D.  He gets in on the humor often and rhymes like a cocky, tough guy.  A lesser MC could easily doom the record, but Chuck comes off with power and a literary complexity that is well apart from his peers. "Suckers to the side I know you hate my 98!"  Flavor-Flav does his part as well, pitching in often clownish asides that help the listener to catch a breath in between screeds from Chuck D.  Flav is often referred to as "the hype man," but he more than holds his own on his verses here.  He flexes a style that is gritty and ridiculous, particularly on "Too Much Posse."  His voice sounds like he just ate a handful of gravel and nails.

"Megablast," an ode to horrors of the crack epidemic, is an ugly and rough-edged production that is in no way warm or inviting.  Flav and Chuck pass verses back and forth over the spare drum loop leading into a backwards verse and repeated chorus "Oh nigga nigga please, just give me one more hit."  The VVers are more familiar with its later incarnation: the track Tom Morello and Boots Riley (aka The Street Sweeper Social Club) did as a shout out.  Two totally different songs and both well worth your time.

Public Enemy Number One, One, One, One! samples our favorite wordsmith Kurtis Blow's "AJ Scratch" from Ego Trip on the namesake track (though, when listening to the two tunes back-to-back, we can't hear it, we tried).  Chuck brings fury and sick boasts one after the next.  It is relentlessly catchy.  You will be chanting "one, one, one, ONE!"

Check out "You're Gonna Get Yours" for some sweet underlying bass guitar in the hooks.  They even compare their 98 Oldsmobile to Green Hornet's Black Beauty:
  Smoke is comin' when I burn
  Rubber when my wheels turn
  Tinted windows--super bad
  Lookin' like the car the Green Hornet had
It's a pretty corny boasting and bravado track that could just as easily have been on a Sir-Mix-a-Lot album.  Why it holds up is due to Chuck D's flame-throwing interplay with Flav and the raw production.

The album is laced with lyrics that make you stop and think "Did I just hear that?" Take "Timebomb" where midway you hear, "I'll be the burger--you can be the bun, girl."  It's crass, but in no way mean-spirited. The album has a few lyrics that come off misogynistic, which can be a bit jarring. Thankfully they go by quickly. "Sophisticated Bitch" is the most obvious offender. It calls out uptight ladies that think they are all that, but are really closeted sex freaks. It's over the edge at times. If it's about a specific woman, then it's his personal view, but if it's a taken as a jab at women in general it's kind of ugly. The bulk of this album though is social commentary of urban life. Take this verse from "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)":
  I'm on a mission to set you straight
  Children-It's not too late
  Explain to the world when it's plain to see
  To be what the world doesn't want us to be
Chuck D has a knack for his verses sounding optimistic and menacing all at once.  He's all in for this debut.  As always the lyric sheet is useful for keeping up with the rapid flow, but it is fair to mention that often this sheet is way off.  Especially when things get going full force the typist just cannot keep up with Flav.

We picked this up at the Record Exchange that briefly existed in Takoma Park for two bucks; probably cheap due to the ratty condition of the sleeve.  We never see this record in stores and in trying to research anything about it, there is next to nothing to be found.  These VVers feel it just does not get the props it deserves.  And by the way, what's with "E" and "F" sides to the record?  Where's A, B, C, and D?  No one knows.  Last note: from the perspective of us vinyl lovers, the cover photo prominently features the members of the group reaching out for a turntable.  Flavor-Flav wants his vinyl!  

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