Although it's sometimes hard to remember, there was a time when Flavor Flav was part of something better than naming women "Deelishis." The eccentric hype-man's more recent VH1-ed pursuits seem to contradict his background in Public Enemy, which has served as one of the most able hip-hop conduits, bringing the often-grim realities of the black male experience to the larger American populace.
Their music hardly less relevant now, PE's second and third albums (It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet) were particularly spoiled with tight rhymes and unguarded and apt observations on being black in the USA. Public Enemy relies primarily on MC Chuck D's agonizing lyrics ("The minute they see me, fear me/I'm the epitome—a public enemy/Used, abused, without clues/I refused to blow a fuse/They even had it on the news/Don't believe the hype") delivered in his trademark commanding boom. Rounding it out is Flavor Flav's "aaaah forget about it" humors and backup from a variety of players, most significantly Professor Griff.
The beauty and import of PE rests on steady race commentary, especially when it extends into criticism of unexpected institutions—Flav may be wearing stupid sunglasses and a massive clock when he raps about fruitless emergency services, but "911 Is a Joke" was a damning assessment of ineffectual public services in black communities. Transcending the limits of albums and live shows, anthemic PE song "Fight the Power" was used by Spike Lee in his early and most incisive film Do the Right Thing as both a narrative tool and a catalyst for a series of explosive events.
Still at it, an '05 album includes Chuck spitting out the line, "Now I'm pissed." Keep it coming.
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Public Enemy with X-Clan and the Banned at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com. Mon., 8 p.m. $30-$33. All ages.