May 5, 2013


Public Enemy Take a Victory Lap at Beale Street Music Festival

"Last time I came to Memphis, I got a big white clock around my neck," yelled Public Enemy's Flavor Flav at Memphis' Beale Street Music Festival. "As of April 18, I gave that clock to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

Two weeks after the pioneering hip hop group's induction into the Hall, the band performed their first U.S. show since their induction. With Professor Griff, DJ Lord, the S1Ws and a live band in tow, Chuck D and Flav hardly rested on their laurels, performing a career-spanning set that included "Bring the Noise," "Fight the Power," "911 Is a Joke" and "Welcome to the Terrordome." 

The players' roles have been defined for two decades, though it doesn't make it any less entertaining to watch. The S1Ws, clad in military gear, stand stoic when not performing choreographed, militaristic dance moves. Chuck is the gravitas and bandleader, cutting songs short when necessary and dictating sociopolitical edicts and maxims ("We got more hype believers today than f-ckin' ever," said the rapper before "Don't Believe the Hype.") 

And then there's Flav; 54 years old and more energetic than you'll ever be. If phrases could be inducted into the Hall of Fame, "Yeahhhh boy" and "FLA-VOR FLAVVVVVV" would be the first two. His energy is preternaturally boundless, running across the stage throughout the whole set and surprising the audience by hopping on bass and drums. 

The live band/DJ setup allowed the group to play their original tracks while augmenting them with lifted rock and funk riffs. "Black is Back" from 2007's How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? was performed utilizing the song's original version, sampling AC/DC's"Back in Black." (The group was forced to release an altered version over clearance issues.) Elsewhere, the group rapped over Chic's "Good Times" and Gang Starr's "DWYCK." 

Twenty-six years after their debut album, Public Enemy are still releasing new music and touring relentlessly. This isn't notable for rock, but a damn near miracle for hip hop. One of the group's last songs today: 2012's "I Shall Not Be Moved."