15 Underrated Public Enemy Songs
By Stereo Williams
To say that Public Enemy's discography has no shortage of classics is quite the understatement. From the early power of "You're Gonna Get Yours," to the groundbreaking "Rebel Without A Pause," evocative "Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos," inescapable "Fight the Power" and the brilliant "Can't Truss It," P.E. has a litany of songs that are burned into Hip-Hop's greater canon.
But there are those tracks, deep album cuts, lesser-celebrated singles, that are as effective and inspired as P.E.'s most well-known songs. So we've corralled some of the best of Public Enemy that you might not always hear, but that everyone should check out if they need a crash course on a group that sits on the short list of the greatest of all time.
"Son Of A Bush"
A blistering hard rock track from their 2002 project Revolverlution, the George W. Bush criticism was in full effect at the height of the "War On Terror." Chuck D squares his sights on Dubya and the age of the Patriot Act. Over production that makes you want to mosh your way to revolution.
"Resurrection" feat. Masta Killa
An excellent track from the criminally underrated He Got Game soundtrack, Wu-Tang Clan mainstay Masta Killa brings a dose of that Shaolin grime to a track that features Public Enemy at its most Wu-esque. The sonic backdrop proved Hank Shocklee and Co. still had their ear to the ground in the late 1990s.
It's early P.E. at their stripped-down, minimalist best. Over a skeletal production, Chuck and Flav broadcast their crew and toss off non-sequiturs that indicate just how idiosyncratic and unique the group was -- even at this early stage, no one sounded quite like them.
"Raw Shit" feat. MC Ren
Rap designated as "gangsta" was never all that far from rap designated as "political," and the Villain In Black's guest appearance here makes it all the more apparent. N.W.A. and Public Enemy were more two sides of the same coin, as opposed to polar opposites, and MC Ren shines on this banger from P.E.'s indie years.
"Lost At Birth"
This is how you open an album. The wailing, cacophonic masterpiece that is "Lost At Birth" kicks off things for Public Enemy's fourth album, Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black and it's a long time before you even hear Chuck start rhyming. But it all announces the fire inside -- and for what it's worth, the song was prominently featured in the stoner classic Pineapple Express.
"Prophets Of Rage"
A sample of James Brown's "Cold Sweat" carries things on what still stands as a highlight from It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. It's hard to describe any track on Public Enemy's most mythic album as "underrated," but this grenade gets overshadowed by classics like "Rebel Without A Pause" and "Don't Believe The Hype."
From one of P.E.'s best 2000s albums, "Amerikan Gangster" is Chuck taking shots at the hypocrisy in the way America views hustlers and murders vs how America romanticizes its own history of hustling and murdering. Public Enemy is here to remind you that the biggest gangster you've ever heard of is Uncle Sam.
A riff that could give any 80s rock band a run for its money and misogynistic verses that wouldn't sound outta place coming from Ice Cube. It's one of the more problematic tracks in P.E.'s canon, that's undeniable. It's also a scorcher; featuring a stellar sample of "Groove Line" by Heatwave and none other than Vernon Reid on guitar.
"Catch The Thrown"
Using a clever turn of phrase to wink at Kanye and Jay-Z's "luxury rap" affectations without explicitly calling them out; this Cormaga and Large Pro-assisted track highlights another of the more underrated tracks in P.E.'s catalog. The bass-heavy groove is perfect, as Chuck and Co. name-drop George Zimmerman and Occupy movement.
"Unstoppable" feat. KRS-One
Public Enemy's final album for Def Jam (until this year's What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?) was one of the group's best, and this track is a standout on a soundtrack full of them. KRS guests with a scorching verse, showing anyone who still doubted that he's one of the most consistently strong lyricists in the game.
"Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need"
The opening track from 2002s Revolverlution is low-key perfect. Referencing Stax Records and Mumia Abu-Jamal, Chuck is in his bag here, with Flav giving perfect seasoning to the entree. Echoing "Fight the Power" and featuring some of Chuck's best rhymes (and that's saying something)
"I Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Niga"
By 1991, "nigga" had become a prominent fixture in mainstream Hip-Hop. Chuck and Flav had something to say about the term; with this Flav-driven showcase from the severely underrated Apocalypse 91... We won't get into whether or not Flav sticks to his anti-nigga stance, just know that the song jams.
"Harder Than You Think"
Public Enemy was on a creative roller coaster in the early 2000s, but it goes without saying that How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul is one of the group's 21st century high points. An epic single that deserved so much more attention when it was released in 2007, it offers a take on culture at the tail end of the Dubya days.
"Give It Up"
After 1992, the Death Row and G-Funk takeover of Hip-Hop's mainstream was in full swing, and Public Enemy fought to maintain their own voice in an era of fashionable gangsta-ism. The video for this single from 1993s Muse-Sick-N-Hour-Mess-Age got significant airplay in the summer of 1994, and it was one of P.E.'s strongest mid-90s tracks.
"Shut 'Em Down (Pete Rock remix)"
It's perfection. Pete Rock was the new producer on the block when he got the chance to remix a single from the biggest rap group in the game. The result was an amazing cross-mingling: Chuck D and Flavor Flav's unique chemistry set against the soulful boom-bap of vintage Soul Brother sounds. It's one of the best remixes in Hip-Hop history; and one of Public Enemy's strongest tracks ever. Which is significant considering the original is a classic itself.