Public Enemy: Prophets Of Rage


If, like me, you grew up in the 80s, loved loud music and winding up your parents, there's a good chance you were into Public Enemy.

At one point they were the biggest thing in hip hop and were hugely popular in the UK with both indie kids and rock fans alike.

I was definitely one of the latter, mostly into hard rock and heavy metal. Hey, I was only 13.

Professor Griff, Flavor Flav and Chuck D, with the S1Ws and Terminator X behind.

So, as a (sort of) grown up, I was very excited to find myself directing Public Enemy: Prophets Of Rage - a programme for BBC Four on these icons of popular culture.

Although it took some time to secure access to interview the key members of the group - Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Professor Griff - they were very accommodating in helping us to make this programme and I was surprised at their candour and openness when it came to the interviews.

I think (and hope) it makes for an insightful and enjoyable watch.

Like thousands of other young kids, Public Enemy were my first introduction to hip hop.

It wasn't hard for me to make the transition from metal to Public Enemy: the sheer power, energy and noise coming from a Public Enemy album was just as loud as any heavy metal band I'd heard.

Plus the lyrics weren't about winged avengers or satanic goblins - they were actually saying something important.

Of course it helped they looked and sounded cool too.

The serious Chuck D spitting righteous anger; his comedic foil Flavor Flav clowning around the stage with a giant clock around his neck.

Both backed up by the military-trained Professor Griff and his Uzi wielding security force the S1Ws. Maybe that's what was worrying my parents...

But what they didn't appreciate was the strong message the Public Enemy members were conveying.

Growing up in the leafy lanes of Warwickshire I certainly wasn't learning anything about black consciousness or the civil rights struggle from school or my peers.

It was the same for several of the contributors in this documentary - both American and British.

Rappers Darryl 'DMC' McDaniels and Method Man told us they had to listen to Public Enemy records to find out what Malcolm X was all about.

So despite all the controversy that surrounds Public Enemy I think their lasting legacy is a very positive one: they made a generation aware of racism and the need for equality at a time when the civil rights movement was in decline, especially in America.

And due to the far-reaching fingers of pop music their message connected with a white, middle class kid in a small English village. As I'm sure it did with thousands of other young fans in similarly remote places around the world.

Preview of Public Enemy: Prophets of Rage

Having finished making the programme I think what sticks out for me most, aside from the sheer creativity of their music production, is their unwavering commitment to getting that political message across.

With the risk of sounding like a miserable old man (which I'm fast turning into I admit), it seems a world away from the bling obsessed elements of today's hip hop.

For me, a good measure of a classic band is their longevity.

Public Enemy leader and lyricist Chuck D calls his group the Rolling Stones of the Rap Game and that's exactly who they are.

They tour the world playing their extensive back catalogue to legions of adoring fans and they're still turning out quality material.

In making the documentary, we went to Montmartin sur Mer in France as this was the only place we could get an interview with Flavor Flav and some of the other band members.

I caught them playing a festival there and they put on an incredibly lively and exciting show.

They've settled on just the right combination of live instrumentation, incredible deck skills (from very talented Terminator X replacement DJ Lord) and just endless energy from both Chuck and Flav. Despite the fact both of them are over 50.

The Beastie Boys aside, there aren't many other of the older hip hop groups turning in shows like that.

Unfortunately that gig did mark one of my greatest regrets in life.

We'd just finished filming Flav's interview and he said to me and the cameraman: "We're all going for dinner and then ten pin bowling - you should come along."

Well, it sounded like an amazing opportunity but we'd been up since 5am.

We weren't going to finish until late and we had a whole day and night of filming lined up for the following day. Plus our hotel was an hour away.

So, unbelievably, for the sake of feeling "a bit tired", I turned him down. James Hale not in full effect.

Imagine going drinking, eating and then ten-pin bowling with one of the biggest names in the history of hip hop?

What an idiot!

James Hale is the producer and director of Public Enemy: Prophets Of Rage.

Public Enemy: Prophets Of Rage is on BBC Four on Friday, 9 December at 9pm.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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