More than any other Rap act, Public Enemy are credited with rewriting the rules of Hip Hop, both as a musical form and as a market force. To many, the group's arrival in the late 80s signaled Hip Hop's maturation into a serious art form, while broadening the genre's appeal to white Rock listeners. The massively influential crew's early releases — Yo! Bum Rush the Show, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Fear of A Black Planet — were landmarks, both for their militant, socially conscious lyrics and for their innovative, groundbreaking sound.
Public Enemy also introduced some of Hip Hop's most memorable performers. Lead rapper Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) used his imposing baritone to address a wide range of social and political issues relevant to the black community, frequently espousing a militant stance but taking a more nuanced lyrical attitude as the group progressed. Chuck's fierce intelligence and political consciousness was balanced by the broad clowning of sidekick Flavor Flav. Public Enemy's sound was every bit as revolutionary as its rhetoric, thanks to the group's in-house production team the Bomb Squad (led by Hank Shocklee), which layered a diverse array of samples to create dense, dark, often chaotic soundscapes that provided a vivid sonic counterpart to the group's vivid verbal eloquence.
Public Enemy's seeds were planted while Chuck D was attending Long Island's Adelphi University, where he DJ-ed on the school station and met fellow Hip Hop aficionados Shocklee and Bill Stephney. Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin signed Chuck D after hearing a tape of his rap "Public Enemy No. 1." Chuck then developed the concept of Public Enemy, enlisting Shocklee as producer and Stephney as publicist, and adding Flavor Flav (born William Drayton), "Minister of Information" Professor Griff (Richard Griffin) and DJ Terminator X (Norman Lee Rogers).
Public Enemy's militant leanings created controversy early in the group's career, with Griff generating controversy with a series of public statements that were widely perceived as anti-Semitic. Chuck apologized for, then dismissed, and subsequently reinstated Griff, before temporarily disbanding the group. Public Enemy returned (without Griff) for 1991's Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, which featured a new recording of "Bring the Noise" with thrash metal band Anthrax — a landmark collaboration that that launched the Rap Metal subgenre and helped to broaden Public Enemy's fan base.
After 1994's Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age was released to negative reviews and disappointing sales, Chuck D again disbanded Public Enemy and released his solo debut, The Autobiography of Mistachuck. After publishing his autobiography Fight the Power: Rap, Race and Reality in 1997, he reactivated Public Enemy once again, with the original Bomb Squad in tow, and successfully returned with the soundtrack album for Spike Lee's He Got Game and There's A Poison Goin' On. An early advocate of digital music distribution, Chuck pushed to have the latter album released as a download prior to its availability as a CD.
Public Enemy remained active through the 2000s, with such new releases as Revolverlution, New Whirl Odor, Rebirth of a Nation, How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul???, Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp and Evil Empire of Everything.