Public Enemy’s ‘State Of The Union (STFU)’

Speaking truth to power has been standard operating procedure for Public Enemy since the group released its 1987 debut single, featuring classic cuts “You’re Gonna Get Yours,” “Rebel Without A Pause,” and “Miuzi Weighs A Ton.” Coming out of the gate strong amid the Reagan era, spouting Black outrage and ultra-political lyrical brilliance: “From a rebel it’s final on black vinyl / Soul, rock ‘n’ roll comin’ like a rhino,” Public Enemy made civil disobedience their calling card—their vocation.

Now, some 33 years later, the United States’ presidential administration goose-steps deeper into an Orwellian nightmare every day. The seemingly endless COVID-19 pandemic has killed nearly double the number of Americans who died as a result of the VietNam War. The streets in every major city are alive with fiery protests over police brutality. “The Terrordome” has come to your home.

The group’s co-founding vocalists, frontman Chuck D and hype man Flavor Flav, backed by powerhouse DJ Lord have risen again from the smoke and ash of so much turmoil with “State of the Union (STFU),” a new song and video that jump-starts Public Enemy’s timeless charge. When Chuck D raps, “History’s a mystery if y’all ain’t learning / End this clown show for real a state bozo / Nazi cult 45 Gestapo,” his intentions are made blisteringly clear. Now is the time to fight harder than ever against the forces of racism, tyranny, and oppression. “The rest of the planet is on our side,” Chuck says. “But it’s not enough to talk about change. You have to show up and demand change. Folks gotta vote like their lives depend on it, ’cause [they do].”

Invoking the power of the voting booth is an unexpected move in an era where the electoral system appears to have been hijacked; everyone from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp have thrown wrenches into the gears at the poll booth. But the system is good and worth fighting for. It’s how laws are passed, and without it the Republic is lost. “Better rock that vote or vote for hell,” Chuck D raps as the song plays out.

Chuck and Flavor’s matter-of-fact delivery is particularly haunting in “State of the Union.” There is no joy when Flavor Flav delivers his repeating mantra: “State of the union, shut the fuck up / Sorry Ass mother fucker, stay away from me.” Chuck’s counter rhyme, “Vote this joke out or die trying,” is a no BS assessment from the weary but empowered outfit. The energy is propelled forward by DJ Lord’s spectral boom-bap rhythms and DJ Premiere’s bold, old school production. The cumulative experience and wisdom of Public Enemy’s decades-long legacy of navigating media pitfalls and broadcasting righteous sedition rings loud and clear under the hue of DJ Premiere’s modern sheen.

“State of the Union (STFU)” bears the marks of a more experienced outfit following P.E.’s 1980s peak when the group led the charge to “Fight the Power” in the streets of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, alongside hundreds—thousands of outraged New Yorkers. The instinct is there, sharper and more focused. Public Enemy has persevered in darkness amid eras of great change in the past. But when it comes to unfucking the world in this lifetime, the greatest obstacles lie ahead. STFU! Press play and let it ride.


Classic City Wax compilation captures a moment in Athens hip-hop

One of the more popular numbers from Athens rapper Squalle’s repertoire is a song called “Til We Fall.” For the artist born Torrance Wilcher, and raised in the Rolling Ridge and Pauldoe neighborhoods, the song is a hardcore statement of purpose.

“I’ve been on my mission from my birth,” Squalle rhymes. “My ambition I would like to give to the Earth/ And since you’re Mother Earth, you can share it with the world/ I wanna be the truth that our boys and our girls see/ I learned I was created from the dirt, so I gotta show these trees where they started from first.”

Squalle’s words are a community rallying cry—a decree to set an example by always remembering where you came from and never forgetting where you want to go. “Til We Fall” is one of 12 songs featured on a new compilation LP titled Classic City Wax, Vol. 1. The record is a survey of Athens’ brightest hip-hop artists, from Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Linqua Franqa to rising artists LG, Motorhead 2x, Son Zoo, LB, Kxng Blanco, DK, Cassie Chantel, The YOD, Caulfield and elder statesman Ishues. Continue reading at Flagpole Magazine.

Atlanta Music News: Soul Food Cypher turns 8 + new music from Upchuck, Arbor Labor Union, DKA, and more in the February issue of CL

THE CREW: Soul Food Cypher is calling on 100 emcees to join their ranks. Photo courtesy Soul Food Cypher

Since 2012, Soul Food Cypher has convened on the fourth Sunday of each month to showcase the positive and constructive role that rap music can play in shaping daily life. By concentrating on expanding consciousness through the craft and ingenuity of freestyle rap and spoken language, SFC builds structure by facilitating regular cyphers (a group of freestyle rappers rhyming in a cyclical motion, following each other’s lead) that foster creativity and a sense of camaraderie within the city’s underground hip-hop scene.

“Our aim is to provide Atlanta’s lyricist community with a safe and nurturing environment where their voices and artistry can grow,” says SFC’s executive director Alexander Acosta. “We look to solidify the art of freestyling as a genuine aesthetic to the wider artistic community and carry this rich tradition to the next generation.” Continue reading at Creative Loafing.

‘Flagpole’ feature: First Tuesday connects homegrown Athens, Atlanta hip-hop

john.AVERAGE photo by Deseri Rice.

Tuesdays have always been hip-hop nights for Athens—at least where Montu Miller is concerned.

Miller is the COO leading the charge for local promotions company AthFactor Entertainment. Alongside DJ Chief Rocka, he hosts the First Tuesday hip-hop series at The World Famous. First Tuesday was built on a foundation Miller started circa 2005, when he launched Tasty Tuesdays at Tasty World. Over the years, the event has bounced around downtown venues such as Caledonia Lounge and Live Wire, until settling into its current digs at The World Famous. In September, organizers will celebrate the monthly gathering’s third anniversary there.

The aim for First Tuesday has always been to facilitate Athens’ hip-hop scene with an event that fosters creativity by strengthening the community through networking and friendly competition.

“For years, we’ve invited out artists from the Eastside, the Westside, the Stonehenge community—bringing everybody together, so we have a more cohesive scene,” Miller says. “There really is just one community with a few little satellites and branches, but it’s all moving together as one at this point.” Read the full story at Flagpole.

Photographer Lyle Owerko’s ‘The Boombox Project’ offers lessons in urban Americana

Photo courtesy Lyle Owerko.

While nursing his morning coffee in his Tribeca apartment, Lyle Owerko‘s voice perks up over the phone as he recounts the chain of events that led to the creation of his first photography book, The Boombox Project. Subtitled, “The Machines, the Music, and the Urban Underground,” the book is more than just a collection of photos that fetishize the so-called “ghetto blasters” or “ghetto briefcases,” a term Spike Lee dismisses for its racist connotations in the book’s forward. At its core, The Boombox Project is both an oral history and an anthropological study. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, hip-hop, punk, and new wave were all at a flash point. The one thing that tied them all together was the ever-present but often-overlooked icon of the times—the boombox.

Owerko’s boombox series shows off the sleek designs and battle scars of this once ubiquitous machine. In the book, he juxtaposes his crisp color photos, which are set against a stark white backdrop, with a collection of historical images that illustrate the boombox’s cultural significance. Owerko likens its role to a “sonic campfire” around which people would gather to laugh, dance, tell stories, and exchange ideas.

To accentuate the reverential photos, Owerko conducted interviews with a cross-section of voices from the times: DJs, producers, and several generations of New York City hip-hop artists, including Fab 5 Freddy, LL Cool J, DJ Spooky, and Adam Yauch, aka MCA, of the Beastie Boys.

But before Owerko becomes too engrossed in tales of nostalgia, urban Americana, and his own passion for these antiquated pieces of stereo machinery, he relates the dark tale that ultimately helped fuel The Boombox Project. In late summer 2001, Owerko returned to New York for a photo assignment after a six-week stint in Africa. Visible from his living room, Owerko had always thought of the World Trade Center as the metaphorical tree in his front yard. “I could look at the towers and tell what the weather was going to be like by how much of them that I could see,” he says.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was up early, jet-lagged, and still functioning on Africa time when he heard the first plane slam into a tower. He hadn’t yet unpacked his camera bag, so he grabbed his gear and raced toward the buildings to see what was happening. “I composed a shot that showed one tower that was still virgin and untouched next to the other tower that had this gaping hole in the side of it,” Owerko recalls. “I put the sun behind myself and composed these two shots of the tower with the sun in the perfect lighting position, and that put me in the perfect place to catch the second plane hitting.”The image he captured of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center appeared on the Sept. 13, 2001, cover of TIME magazine, just 48 hours after the attack. In 2005, the American Society of Magazine Editors ranked it as one of the 40 most important magazine covers of the last 40 years.

Accolades aside, witnessing such death and destruction was traumatic for Owerko. But in the years following the 9/11 attacks, when the War on Terror was in full swing, the idea for The Boombox Project began to grow. “When everyone else was showing the worst side of mankind, I thought why not try to find something that really shows the best of mankind?” Owerko says.

The project was initially conceived as a series of 40 to 50 portraits of boomboxes, with a plan to have someone write an introduction, which Owerko hoped would lead to a book deal. But as the photos materialized, he began to see the boom box as a larger metaphor for free speech, empowerment, innovation of youth culture, and the powerful effects of pop culture on the voices of many generations.

Throughout the book, Owerko combines vivid color photography of various boom box designs, with portraits of dancers, rappers, and rock musicians, ranging from LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys to Bruce Springsteen and the Clash to shape a coherent and surprising narrative of the machine’s history and legacy.

In addition to its social, political and historical contexts, the book traces the equally intriguing evolution of boombox aesthetics.

“I was falling in love with the objects, and I wanted to celebrate the fact that they were beat up,” he says. “At the time of the photos we were really just being bombarded with so much militaristic imagery, that when I was designing the images, the boomboxes took on sort of a militaristic look themselves, and they had lived through an embattlement of the times—the late ’70s and early ’80s—that was a really tough time in America’s history.”

Owerko claims to own somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 boom boxes, many of which will be on display with the traveling exhibit accompanying the book tour. The artist bubbles with childlike enthusiasm when he talks about some of his favorite makes and models. “My favorite is the Sharp GF-9696,” Owerko says. “That one and the Rising 20/20, which was the first mint vintage one that I found.”

The boombox gracing the book’s cover now resides in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum as part of its permanent collection. “It’s a great-looking box with the crash bars on it,” he adds. “It looks mean.”

“Boomboxes are a kind of hidden archaeology for me,” says experimental hip-hop/trip-hop turntablist/producer DJ Spooky, who contributes to the book’s oral history. “I had forgotten how influential they are until I saw Lyle’s book. I don’t have a particular, specific boombox favorite. I just live through the memories that Lyle’s book brings back.”

A version of this story was first published by CL, Atlanta. June 21, 2011, when the Owerko’s show appeared at Jackson Fine Art Gallery.

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