Carlton Douglas Ridenhour was born August 8, 1960 in Queens, New York.
Chucky, as he was known, considered Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and his father as his heroes. As he grew older, music became his life with the politicized music of Gil Scott-Heron being very influential to young Ridenhour. His parents wanted to instill black pride in the teenaged Chucky. They sent him to a summer camp ran by a former Black Panther party member, who taught him about black history.
After graduating from Roosevelt High School, he attended Adelphi University on Long Island getting a degree in graphic design. While there, he used his graphic design skills to make posters for the local burgeoning hip-hop scene on Long Island.
Ridenhour joined the radio station WBAU, which was located on Adelphi’s campus, and was asked by the radio manager, Bill Stephney, to work with fellow campus DJ Hank Boxley. Stephney gave them their own radio show which they named “The Super Spectrum Mix Show.” Chucky Ridenhour took the name Chucky D and Boxley became Hank Shocklee for the show.
Elsewhere, out in Greenwich Village, at New York University, an 18 year student named Rick Rubin started his own record label from his dorm room, which he named Def Jam. His first signing was a punk band named Hose. But Rubin quickly became a fan of the new hip hop scene around New York.
Chucky D and Shocklee had begun deejaying local parties and roller rinks using the name Spectrum DJ Crew. During their performances Shocklee started scratching while Chuck would freestyle over the music.
Chucky and Shocklee recorded a track to be used as a promo for WBAU, which they called “Blow Your Mind,” using a cassette recorder in the radio studio. Chucky was working for his father as a part-time furniture mover and decided to play his cassette for his co-worker named William Drayton.
Drayton was born in Freeport, New York in 1959. He was a child prodigy, playing piano by age 5 and eventually mastering 15 different instruments.
Chucky and Drayton had become fast friends after Drayton had come into the studio as part of a group called Sons of Beserk, for whom he was playing keyboards. At that time, he was going by the name MCDJ Flavor while trying to get his own rap career going.
Chucky felt that his demo tape needed a new beginning and ending to it and he asked Flavor to add his own thing to “Blow Your Mind.” With Flavor’s addition, Chucky renamed the track “Public Enemy #1.” They played the track on WBAU and it was an immediate local hit and its popularity spread. This was due to the fact that their radio station was one of the most popular stations for DJs to record off air mixtapes. Those tapes began being traded all around New York.
During this time, Rick Rubin had become friends with another Adelphi student, Andre Brown. Brown was part of a DJ Crew that Rubin had seen at several parties around Long Island. Brown went by the moniker Dr. Dre. (And yes it is that Dr. Dre…that is if you are thinking of the Dr. Dre that was partners with Ed Lover for years on the radio and Yo! MTV Raps.)
Dre had taken over Bill Stephney’s job as the station manager and was a huge fan of “Public Enemy #1.” He gave a tape of the song to Rubin.
Coincidentally, Rubin had also hired the guy who had given Chucky his start on radio, Stephney, as an A&R man for Def Jam. Rubin was such a big fan of Chucky D’s rapping that he told Stephney to sign him to a contract.
First, Chucky dropped the Chucky moniker for the more adult sounding Chuck D, then he would only sign if they also signed his fellow Spectrum DJ crew members, too. The crew of Hank Shocklee, Hank’s brother Keith and their friend Eric “Vietnam” Sadler were now known collectively as “The Bomb Squad.” Stephney agreed, and they were signed to contracts to serve as Chuck D’s producers.
He also asked his friend Drayton to join him as a second voice on the record. Hank Shocklee suggested Drayton should have a name like legendary rapper Grandmaster Melle Mel. So he dropped the MCDJ Flavor name and started going by Flavor Flav.
Chuck brought in a fellow local DJ, named Norman Rogers, who he felt was the best person he’d seen work the turntable.
Rogers was going by the name DJ Mellow D, but Chuck D changed his name to Terminator X since he was “terminating all the things we think we believe and don’t really know about.”
Chuck invited another local DJ crew known as Unity Force to join the group. They had done many of the same parties that Chuck’s crew had done in the area. Re-branded “Security of the First World” or S1W.
They served as beret-ed bodyguards and/or dancers and/or lecturers at concerts or something. I’m really not 100% sure what it is they did, but they were there. They were a rotating group of guys that sort of came and went. The main member of S1W was Richard Griffin.
Griffin, known as Professor Griff, was born in 1960 in Roosevelt.
His official title in the group was “Minister of Information.” He was the member of the group that gave the interviews and…ummm..did some other stuff I guess.
Chuck decided to name the group after the song which got him signed: Public Enemy.
In autumn of 1986, Chuck D, Rick Rubin, The Bomb Squad, and the rest of Public Enemy went to Spectrum City Studios in Hempstead, New York to record their debut album.
The Album Cover:
The cover of Yo! Bum Rush The Show shows the whole group gathered around a turntable in what appears to be a warehouse or a basement with an unseen person’s hand (Hank Shocklee’s?) about to push the button to begin the turntable, thus starting their music revolution. Flavor Flav is reaching over to grab the microphone. Chuck D. is the only member dressed in white. According to Jeff Chang in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Chuck D is in “Muslim white” and is representing the “riot starter.” I’m not sure about that, but okay, if he says so. There is a bright light that is causing a lens flare which looks almost like a floating eyeball at the top.
This was also the first appearance of the Public Enemy logo.
It was designed and drawn by Chuck D himself. The person silhouetted in the crosshairs is E-Love, a member of fellow Def Jam artist LL Cool J’s crew and not a police officer as some have speculated. He was simply used a model for it; it was not meant to be a threat on E-Love.
The title is written in orange, and below that is the phrase “The Government’s Responsible” repeated over and over almost like breaking news scroll on a TV. Which I think is what they were going for.
The back cover has a picture of the group leaning on their cars in a McDonald’s parking lot.
It is not intended to be a statement pro or con towards McDonald’s or anything. The McDonald’s just happened to be the main hangout for everyone during their recording in Hempstead,
The track listing has something odd, interesting about it.
The two sides are listed ‘E’ and ‘F’ instead of 1 and 2 or ‘A’ and ‘B’ as they usually are. You can tell by looking at the color scheme that they look like subway train logos. Research tells me that the ‘E’ train goes from Jamaica, Queens to Manhattan, while the ‘F’ Train goes through Queens to Brooklyn including through Chuck’s area of Roosevelt. The two sides are separated by the Public Enemy logo in red. It feels almost like it is saying that “some of us took the ‘E’ train while the rest of us took the ‘F’ train, and we all came together to form Public Enemy.”
The back photo shows from left to right: Chuck D, (I think) Brother James Norman, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, Professor Griff, and (I think) Brother Mike Williams (the S1W guys are hard to identify.) They are all leaning on their Oldsmobile 98’s with the lights on with Mickey D’s in the background. The one part that is odd to me is that Chuck D. has a bag between his feet, I’m not sure what that is supposed to signify. Also, notice that Chuck has a stopwatch around his neck and Flavor Flav is not yet wearing the clock around his.
The bottom of the back has the Def Jam logo and production credits.
The innersleeve has lyrics on one side and credits with a large Def Jam logo on the other side along with what appears to be a picture of a shooting target.
I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of Yo! Bum Rush The Show released on Def Jam Recordings in 1987.
(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs. As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience.)
The album opens with “You’re Gonna Get Yours,” a song about his 98 Oldsmobile, which we saw on the album’s back cover. It is kind of a lo-fi recording. I really like the way it opens, you can tell something cool is about to happen. Flav’s interjections add a nice touch to Chuck’s rapping. The samples include wheels screeching sound effect. I guess the awesome opening track streak continues.
“Sophisticated Bitch” has a great guitar riff as Vernon Reid of Living Color plays on this track. It is a story song about a woman who only cares about wealthy guys. Kinda proto-“Gold Digger.” I like the beat, but the story goes on too long and why does he care so much about hating on this chick? I does come across as a pretty misogynistic song.
“Miuzi Weighs A Ton” is one of the most famous tracks from the album. The “uzi” in the song is his mind and his ability to make rhymes. The track is great, as is the sampling on it. The hook is killer. So far the opening three tracks of this album are not much a departure, subject-wise, than what other hip-hop acts were doing at the time: singing about their cars and wealth, sorta misogynistic, and “I’m the best rapper” stuff. No matter what it is about, this track is really awesome. I love it.
“Timebomb” is the first track with anything resembling the more political Public Enemy work. For example, the lyric “South African government-wrecker,” but mostly it is another “I’m the best” cut. Reminds me more of Run-DMC’s style than Public Enemy’s. Not bad, not great, but somewhere in between. Let’s say that it is just okay.
“Timebomb” immediately transitions into “Too Much Posse.” It is the first track with Flavor Flav on lead. Even the sample is a generic drum beat. Nothing of interest.
Side One closes on “Rightstarter (Message To A Black Man)” is the first real socially conscious song on the album. It is a really good track with great scratching by Terminator X. Chuck D is calling for a revolution of the mind by the black people of America, which will lead to real revolution. This is much more of what I want to hear out of a Public Enemy track. Great stuff here.
Side Two opens with a redux of Chuck D’s first recording “Public Enemy #1.” Due to its tape hiss at least some of this I think comes from the original radio studio tape recording, although I think Chuck’s vocals were re-done. I kind of like the homemade quality of the track. The echo chamber vocals reminds me of those cheesy local live read radio commercials.
It has a catchy hook, plus I like the droning synthesized sound in the background. I admit it is a little basic, but still it is a good track.
“M.P.E.” is another “I’m the best rapper” song. I’m not a big fan of those usually. I do like the repeating “Public Enemy” sampling, though. Chuck D and Flav trade verses here, which I like. Overall, not bad, but nothing too great. I will say, though, that you don’t hear too many ‘The Amazing Kreskin’ namedrops in rap songs anymore.
“Yo! Bum Rush The Show” is the one track I think of when I think of this album, partially because it is the title track, but also it has a cool Herbie Hancock “Rockit“-esque vibe to it’s opening beat. Apparently it samples “Shack Up” by Banbarra. I dig the samples and the deep bass here. It is a really great song. This actually rocks for a rap track. Flavor Flav acts real tough in this one. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone less intimidating than him.
“Raise The Roof” a lot of stuff going on in this track, especially on the chorus. It is interesting how different this early form of Public Enemy is than what would come later. Good track. One line in this song will be important soon for Public Enemy: “Takes a nation of millions to hold me back.”
“Megablast” is about the, then, new problem of crack cocaine in the hood. Odd use of vocals with Flav and Chuck rapping at the same time which causes a bit of chaos on the song, and the end is backwards masked. I think the style is supposed to exemplify the way someone on crack would talk and act. I like this track. It’s unique.
The album ends on “Terminator X Speaks With His Hands” which is just a turntable sampling track. Terminator is sampling “Just Kissed My Baby” by The Meters which was also used on “Timebomb” on side one. It kinda makes the album end on an anti-climax.
So much of this album’s reputation is how it “dropped a bomb” on the rap industry by mixing loads of sampling with politicized lyrics. But instead, it seems like much of the album is an example of young hip hop fans doing their own version of the music that was already around, however with a heavy dose of sampling beats. Still you can tell this is a new group to pay attention to, and they really did some very good stuff here.
The album’s sales were pretty good for a debut album, reaching #125 on the Billboard albums charts and New Music Express ranked it as album of the year. It has long been considered one of the most influential hip hop albums of the 80’s.
They promoted the album by opening for another Def Jam hip hop group, The Beastie Boys, who were on their License to Ill tour throughout 1987. This gave them much more exposure on a national level.
With their first album under their belt, Public Enemy would return to the studio, this time adding in much more politicized fare to their lyrics, and that’s when most people feel they hit their peak and truly changed the world of hip hop.
That part of the story will not be told until entry #48. However, I will get to a later part of the Public Enemy story first when I reach entry #296.
My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:
RS: “On the debut by Long Island’s hip-hop revolutionaries, rapper Chuck D and his production crew the Bomb Squad introduced a booming new sound and an urgent social and political message to rap, especially on “You’re Gonna Get Yours” and “Miuzi Weighs a Ton.”
I should first say that the album is no longer included on the updated 2012 Rolling Stone 500 list.
See this is exactly the kind of review that I keep reading all over the internet, but this was not the album that introduced “an urgent social and political message to rap.” I wonder if whoever wrote this listened to the album or read the lyrics to those two songs, because neither really has a social or political message. Do they even try for accuracy?
Despite not being as “socially conscious” as people seem to remember it as being, it is still a pretty solid album. There are a few less than stellar tracks on the album, and in a way I think it would be improved as a whole with just a rearranging of the track listing. I think if the album closed with either “Miuzi Weighs A Ton” or the title track, it would be vastly improved. They really should’ve ended it on a song instead of a sample. As I have said before, flow is important to an album. Still, while it may not be as innovative as it’s reputation, it still has some great work throughout.
3.5 Stars out of 5, recommended with some reservations
My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:
1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses
2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters
4. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres
5. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up
6. Outkast- Aquemini
7. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign
8. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs
9. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show
10. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!
11. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail
12. Eurythmics- Touch