Despite the wet afternoon's non-stop downpour plus a sketchy job by the sound man for over half of the four hour event, Sunday's Public Enemy headlined show in New York City's Central Park was both inspiring and entertaining. The always outspoken Chuck D shared many insights and personally invited hip-hop creator DJ Kool Herc onto the bill, as well as genre pioneers the Cold Crush Brothers, the recently reformed group Son of Bazerk, Kendo the Almost Famous, and Brooklyn-based, Ghana-born emcee Blitz the Ambassador. Add to that a supercharged (musically & politically) set by Public Enemy (PE) with a full live band, featuring a drum solo by Flavor Flav and scratch routine by DJ Lord, that included PE ripping through a barrage of familiar hits like "Don't Believe the Hype," "Bring The Noise," and "Fight The Power" that had the rained on but happy and totally packed outdoor audience singing and dancing along every note of the way. The concert was also a celebration of 20th year anniversary of Fear of a Black Planet.
Constantly touring the world, it is not often that Public Enemy gets to play back on their home ground. "We only play New York City about every five years-- like an eclipse," noted Chuck D, adding that PE have nothing but major love for NYC. And clearly from the enthusiastic reaction of the all ages but mostly mature hip-hop audience that had packed into Central Park's SummerStage, everyone else felt similarly about the political hip-hop group from Long Island. 23 years ago they released their landmark debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show and in the years since the Chuck D led group has never stopped demonstrating their love of hip-hop or their commitment to always being outspoken against social & political ills.
At 3pm DJ Kool Herc, the man who can be credited with creating hip-hop back in the early seventies, opened with a one hour set that began with Nina Simone and went on to include lots of old school soul, funk, Latin, disco, and rock, such as records by the NYC Peech Boys, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Gary Glitter, P-Funk, and Aretha Franklin. Not long after Herc's diverse set began the rain started to fall down and continued for the rest of the event, but that didn't dampen the vibe of the crowd. It seemed most of the audience had grown up on PE's music and had gathered for some body-moving & thought-provoking music. And that's what they got! At 4pm exactly, African born political rapper Blitz the Ambassador took to the stage and rocked it nonstop for 50 minutes.
Backing the Brooklyn based, Ghana born emcee (who moved stateside ten years ago at age 18) was his tight nine piece band that included a smoking horn section. They began by launching into a couple of songs off the artist's 2009 slept on album Stereotype. After a couple of songs, Blitz talked about his personal history of coming to America. He also spoke about how, when he was just ten years old, PE came to play his African country and were the first major rap group to come to Ghana. With the powerful message in their music, they had a most profound affect on his life as an individual and an artist. "So being up here on this stage is beyond an honor and a privilege," he said.
Before Blitz and his band began a set of Afrobeat music as backing for his rapping, Blitz said that back in Ghana, he "grew up on Afrobeat." The songs they played (with Blitz on African drum) will be on his still-in-production next album, which is due out sometime next year; it's an album that Blitz wrote all the music parts for as well as his rhymes. Nearing the end of his set Blitz held up a T-shirt bearing his eye-catching Stereotype album, which he said was inspired by his less than positive feelings towards the state of commercial radio when it comes to playing hip-hop with any type of message. He and his band then roared into a supercharged, energetic horn-driven rendition of the PE influenced "Kill The Radio" off his second album in 2009, the all live band (no samples) StereoLive.
After Blitz exited DJ Kool Herc returned with a reggae set that included such crowd pleasers as Dawn Penn's "No No No." Then up on stage for back to back very brief sets were two Slam Jamz (Chuck D's label) artists: Kendo the Almost Famous, whose current single is "Rock Harder" and BOMB Squad- related old school live group Son of Bazerk. The once wonderful, way ahead of their time Son of Bazerk, who recently returned to the music world after a two decade absence, delivered a short but lackluster set (only partly the sound man's fault) that actually got them booed.
But even the afternoon's bad sound, which continued for the first couple of PE songs, didn't faze the dedicated audience, who went crazy once PE finally hit the stage at 5:25pm, with Flavor Flav getting the loudest applause. The legendary hip-hop band launched into "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" and stayed onstage for over an hour and half, delivering mostly classic late 80's/early 90's tracks with the occasional newer PE track thrown in. "911 Is a Joke" was well received despite Flav's mic being way too low, but thankfully the sound was sorted by time they got to "Bring The Noise," which, like "Welcome to the Terrordome," "Shut Em Down," "Burn Hollywood Burn," "Don't Believe The Hype," and every other familiar PE song they performed, got everyone in the park loudly singing along.
Between songs Chuck D had much to say, including how he felt his hype man had been pimped/exploited by VH1. Before playing "By the Time I Get to Arizona" he talked about the recent controversial AZ immigration law SB 1070 and the unfortunate relevance of this PE song, nineteen years after it was written. At another point Chuck D talked about how "fucked up" radio is, how radio stations "are scared they might lose their ratings" and how contemporary hip-hop artists are "scared" to speak their mind on records because they won't get airplay or will get dropped by their labels. "A lot of scared shit going on," he summed up before introducing the next song and encouraging people to "Download this record for free on publicenemy.com. It's called 'Say It Like It Really Is.'"
DJ Lord scratch solo excerpt from August 15th Central Park show (2010)
During the show the PE live band performed an all instrumental, hard rocking song and Chuck D brought
up the pioneering Cold Crush Brothers to do a quick set. DJ Lord, who does the job once held by Terminator X, did a nice solo scratch routine (see video above) and Flavor Flav, who plays 17 different instruments, got on the drums and killed it while one of his young family members rapped. On stage Flav introduced numerous younger family members-- both his many kids and his grand-kids (even momentarily slipping up on some names!) and allowed each to give a shout out, including his adorable young granddaughter Brianna, whose "What up New York City" got loud applause.
During another break between songs Flav talked objectively about the late great NY hip-hop radio DJ Mr Magic, who he recalled was the first to play the Long Island group's music on the air when he played "Public Enemy No 1." He said the influential DJ was quick to mention how he was far from feeling the then new group and their record. "Magic dissed the shit out of it. You know what I'm sayin'? And he didn't know that your man Flavor Flav was listening and recording that shit. So I said, 'OK Magic. Seeing how you want to diss us, I know how to get you back. I'm gonna take your voice. I'm gonna put it on a record and this shit is gonna be huge," said Flav, to much cheering. "Mr Magic, I miss you. We love you. We wish you was here. But nobody told you to say that shit," added Flav, before jumping into song in question, "Cold Lampin' with Flavor" off PE's second album, 1988's It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back.
Flavor Flav @ Central Park Sunday talking about Mr. Magic's PE dissAt 6:55pm Chuck D launched into the fitting final song of the day, "Fight The Power," with Flav leading the audience in a chant of "Hell Yeah" & "New York City." And after everyone had left the stage Flav spoke for a couple of short minutes, offering a life message of "love yourself" followed by the two words that became catch phrases not because of PE but because of reality TV: "Flavor Flaaaaaaav." And those last two words of the night, as delivered by the king of hype men himself, were being repeated by many in the thick crowd as it slowly snaked its way out of Central Park and back onto the New York City streets.
PE @ Central Park SummerStage "Bring The Noise" -- poor sound quality, but you get the vibe