It’s been thirty years to the day since Public Enemy released Yo! Bum Rush The Show on February 10, 1987. I’ll admit that I was aware of acts like Public Enemy and N.W.A when I was in my teens, but I had no interest in them. At the time, to be honest, to a straight-laced suburban white kid, they were a little scary. Obviously, this was the pre-internet age and I had been raised to embrace the status quo, something that was clearly anathema to so-called “gangsta rap” outfits. And it was easy to buy in to all the talking heads spouting their nonsense about this type of music corrupting the youth and threatening the American way of life when I only heard that side of it.
Others may take exception to my timeline, but for me, Yo! Bum Rush The Show is the original gangsta rap album, even if much of what gets shouted on the album flies in the face of future gangsta tropes: there’s next to no profanity on the record, they eschew the use of firearms (despite standout cut “Miuzi Weighs A Ton“) and with the exception of the slightly dated “Sophisticated Bitch,” there’s very little in the way of the misogyny that characterizes much of early hardcore rap music. Up until 1987, most rap music was single-oriented and most of it had a novelty aspect to it. Yo… was a cohesive unit unto itself that works best as an album.
Headlined by Chuck D‘s massive voice and impeccable rhymes and anchored by Terminator X‘s skill on the wheels, Yo! Bum Rush The Show remains an incredibly listenable album to this day. Produced by Rick Rubin and The Bomb Squad, every track is succinct and powerful, throwing the outfit’s full weight at the listener from start to finish, never backing down, never taking a break. Flavor Flav, decades before he’d become a self-parodying punchline, is a vital part of the crew, conversing with Chuck D on songs, ad-libbing intros, and making the record feel like a total group effort.
The album leads off with Chuck D’s love song to his car, “You’re Gonna Get Yours,” a boast-laden tribute to his Oldsmobile: “Suckas to the side / I know you hate / my Ninety-Eight…” It’s a great opening cut in that it sets the stage for the energy and tone of the whole LP. It is loud, in your face, braggadocious, and one of the best summer cruising songs ever no matter what you drive. It’s followed up by the aforementioned “Sophisticated Bitch” about a girl who thinks she’s “all-that.” I’ve seen other revisionist reviewers take this cut to task as being misogynistic and out-of-step with the rest of the record, but I’ve always heard it as a take-down of someone putting on false airs. That is to say, what misogyny may be on display here is very specific to the subject of the song; it is not a broad-based (no pun intended) misogyny taking in all females.
Next up is one of the standout cuts on an album full of standouts, “Miuzi Weighs A Ton.” Despite the title, it’s not a gun-glorifying violence-promoting call to arms, but rather a boast about Chuck D’s raps being so devastating that he’s destroying all other hip-hop crews. “I’m a Public Enemy but I don’t rob banks / I don’t shoot bullets and I don’t shoot blanks / …If Miuzi wasn’t heavy I’d probably fire it / I’d make you walk the plank if I was a pirate” And while the pirate line is a little goofy in retrospect, it works within the context of this cut. Terminator X and the production crew provide an excellent scratch chorus (“Get down… Miuzi weighs a ton!“) that’s impossible not to sing along to. On top of all that, it doesn’t hurt that this song is the namesake for one of my all-time favorite cigars.
Make no mistake about it, this is a party album. The title song is a very literal account of taking over a club to which they’ve been barred entrance. “Megablast” is a strong anti-drug sermon. “Raise The Roof” is a straight up party anthem, and “Terminator X Speaks With His Hands” is a DJ spotlight, a crash course in mixing a good-time beat.
My favorite cut on the album is “Rightstarter (Message To A Black Man),” Chuck D’s call for people to make something of themselves rather than accept the hand they’ve been dealt. It’s an overwhelmingly positive message with the focus on striving for success more than it is on a history of oppression. Chuck D’s verbal onslaught is relentless and Terminator X pulls out all the stops on this track, scratching like a mad man, pulling together the sampled chorus of “Unity! And Hope!”
One of the most influential hip-hop releases of all time, Yo! Bum Rush The Show is still an amazing record thirty years later. If, for some reason, you don’t already have this in your collection, click on the link in the first paragraph (Amazon has it on CD for $3.99) and remedy that oversight. It took me a long time to get turned on to it – as I might have mentioned, I didn’t embrace it in 1987 – but now that I know it front to back, it is in regular rotation.