Welcome to the jungle, we take it day by day / If you want it you’re going to bleed, but it’s the price you pay / And you’re a very sexy girl, it’s very hard to please / You can taste the bright lights, but you won’t get there for free / In the jungle, welcome to the jungle / Feel my, my, my, my serpentine / Oh, ah, I wanna hear you scream
It’s hard to imagine today just how raw and exciting the major-label debut from Guns N’ Roses sounded in the summer of 1988. Appetite for Destruction was loaded with much of the piss and venom that had been missing from rock-music for over a decade. Even the tracks that are now so overly familiar (Welcome to the Jungle or Rocket Queen) sounded nearly revolutionary. The music had an honest hostility that felt oddly heroic. There were certainly more lethal bands; the underground was flush with goth, punk and industrial band’s that challenged every possible cultural and musical norm. But GNR was different.They weren’t just flirting with the cult level commercial success of, say, the Damned (in the U.S.). Axl Rose and Company had set their sights on the top of the mainstream charts. Our boys wanted to be proper Rock Stars.The band’s Children of the Damned persona stood in perfect contrast to the pampered and compromised aesthetic that had hijacked the music industry. Feel my serpentine? Damn…that sure felt right. And to their credit, GNR did articulate the percolating bile of the post-Reagen generation. You could feel the need for something to change. For better or worse, Appetite for Destruction WAS the punk revoluntion finally making it’s way to the shores of the American mainstream.
Brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters. I don’t know what this world is coming to…
Public Enemy opened their second full album with an unmistakable sonic attack; the combination of the live audience introduction of Countdown to Armageddon & the rap/metal blast of Bring The Noise, flexing the perfect one-two punch. Bring the Noise immediately hitting the listener hard with a direct, high-pitched screech of pure sonic-noise. (Actually, the included “screech” is a 3 second sample of the alto-saxophone slide or glissando taken from the song, The Grunt by the J.B.’s). It’s more then a trick or gimmick used to get our attention. Bring The Noise is the wake-up call to the nuclear apocalypse. The early warning that the listener should be prepared for a musical onslaught. There is an aggressive, complex and avant-garde rhythmic-noise that flows through the center of the track. This rhythm (or motorik) pushing the music forward through the dense and complex arrangement. Nation is a public service announcement that the entire shit-show is on the of brink. In much the same way that the Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bollocks erased everything that came before; Nation is both an ending and beginning. There is no turning back once you’ve heard the groups message; the soul is opened and the mind is forever scarred.
And somehow these two very different albums are forever fused together for me. Fused? Sonically and philosophically GNR’s Appetiate and PE’s Nation would appear to have little in common. But back in the summer of 88 these two albums dominated the cassette deck in my 77 Plymouth Duster. Bouncing between Mr.Brownstone and Don’t Believe the Hype, the two tapes became almost interchangeable. And this story really could have ended right there. Only it doesn’t. Because there IS a difference between these two pieces of music. And it’s a significant difference that was revealed over that long, hot summer of 88. Public Enemy‘s Nation is about much more then just the obvious heat and rage and rebellion; PE uses their music to provoke and ignite our sense of justice toward the human family. And the deeper we listen, the more their music reveals. While Appetite may have articulated a certain working-class frustration that I found (and still find) appealing. It was Nation that appealed to my head and my heart.
Power, equality / And we’re out to get it / I know some of you ain’t wid it / This party started right in 66
With a pro-black radical mix / Then at the hour of twelve / Some force cut the power / And emerged from hell / It was your so called government / That made this occur / Like the grafted devils they were
Built on a brilliant sample of the Issac Hayes‘ song “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” (from Hot Buttered Soul), Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos is PE’s most direct challenge to the American political system; giving us the story of a black, conscientious-objector that refuses to heed the call-up to serve in the American military. The result is a lengthy incarceration with little hope for justice. Here PE exposes one of America’s best-kept, dirty secrets; there are currently 2.2 Million people in the federal prison system*. With over 50% serving hard-time for non-violent offenses and the economic crime(s) of being poor*. That’s a 500% increase in just 40 years*. This massive increases in prison population is the direct result of policy choices made within the federal criminal codes. Policies that increased the penalties on offenses like drugs, prostitution and gambling. Since implementation of these draconian criminal codes the number of those incarcerated specificly for drugs skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 430,926 in 2019*. And these harsh laws, policies and codes are then imposed directly into minority communities by unsympathetic judges and prosecutors looking to score re-election points with the constituencies.
Of those convicted, nearly 60% will then participate in “work-rehabilitation” programs ordered by federal judges. As of 2021, those prisoners were then “paid” between $0.23 to $1.15US per hour by private employers that use prison labor to make their products. This rehabilitation program reeks of a modern slavery system. The Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) was authorized by Congress in 1979. Institutionalizing a policy of forced prison-labor within the prison system. Currently, this privatized prison industry generates about $4 Billion dollars per year in profit for corporations. Remember, the promise of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was to abolish the use of slave labor anywhere in the republic. Instead, it is one more betrayal. Just another lie in the land of the free and home of the brave?
Public Enemy pushes these facts into the face of a nation caught in it’s own dystopian dreamscape. The majority population conveniently forgets or pretends that these issues of slavery and injustice do not exist today. Preferring to believe that the crimes of the nation have long ago been washed away by time and good intentions. Malcolm X explains in his Autobiography; “American society makes it next to impossible for humans to meet in America and not be conscious of their color differences. And we both agreed that if racism could be removed, America could offer a society where rich and poor could truly live like human beings….The white man is not inherently evil, but America’s racist society influences him to act evilly. The society has produced and nourishes a psychology which brings out the lowest, most base part of human beings.”
The song Bring The Noise begins with a short, spoken-word sample of “Too Black, Too Strong” just as the full fury of the track snaps into place. The sample is a quote from Malcolm X’s famous, Fire & Fury Grass Roots speech. Delivered at the historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan on November 10, 1963, Fire & Fury Grass Roots is a turning point in the struggle for freedom. X’s speech is direct and clear in the call for real revolution. The opportunity to repair the injustices of the past was rapidly eroding. What else could be done? Would the nation let this last opportunity slip away from our grasp? Unfortunately, we already know the answer. The American political system was clear in its lack of response/concern; since 1963 the city of Detroit has become an international symbol of economic and cultural decline. Whatever is reported in the media, block-after-block of the city’s neighborhoods are literally burnt-down and disintegrating from poverty. The only investment is from the systematic re-gentrification with wealthy business owners purchasing all prime real-estate. Let us collectively face these facts; there will be no economic investment into the neighborhoods of Detroit or any other city. Or more importantly, there will be no justice for the citizens. Malcolm X’s Fire & Fury Grass Roots speech was the call for revolutionary justice. And 25 years after his call, Public Enemy reaffirmed the same revolutionary need.
To paraphrase Dr. Cornel West, the American philosopher and intellectual, who recently spoke on the topic of the current state of the American political system; the system is now completely broken and closed to us. No positive action is possible from government. Now we look to the gifts of Malcolm X, John Coltrane, Martin Luther King Jr, The Last Poets, Chris Hedges and Public Enemy to provide hope for change. Only revolutionary voices can save the world now. The system is broken and has only fear, greed, hypocrisy, resentment and envy to offer us. The new guild-posts are living only among us. We must now struggle collectively for revolutionary change. And we struggle until the system will crush us.