Yo! Bum Rush The Show was the debut studio album of influential American hip-hop group, Public Enemy. The album was released on February 10, 1987, making it thirty years old come its anniversary. It features a sample-heavy sound by production team, The Bomb Squad.
The group’s now famous signature logo, a black man in a rifle’s crosshairs, graced the album’s cover, of course, for the first time. The focal point, though, is the group together in a dimly lit room with Flavor Flav, and what you assume is the hand of an out of view Terminator X, reaching over to the deck turntables.
Chuck D, in turn, is illuminated under the overhead light, wearing white, and therefore the only one not wearing dark colours. Is he the anointed one?
A keen eye will also notice a phrase, banner-like, repeated across the width of the bottom of the album cover, below the album title, in small print: “THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBLE”.
The album peaked at number 125 on the US Billboard Top LPs chart and at number 28 on the Top Black Albums chart. NME magazine named it the best album of the year in its 1987 critics’ poll. In 1998, it was selected as one of The Source’s 100 Best Rap Albums. In 2003, the album was ranked number 497 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Firing off the starting blocks is “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which opens with urgent, badass guitar before Flavor Flav heralds the first Chuck D verse. “Suckers to the side I know you hate/My ninety eight” is then heralded by emphatic, funky bass for the chorus. Scratching, courtesy of Terminator X, reminds the listener that, rocking as it is, you’re dealing with a hip-hop track.
They then deplore that certain “Sophisticated B*tch”, next. This one’s also got some fairly dominant guitar on the track, both flourishes and a doomy hard rock and heavy metal type vibe going on. This one basically decries gold diggers of the female variety, turning their noses at regular guys like the Public Enemy boys.
“Never kept a name, never seen a face/She could pass ’em in the street like it never took place” really conveying the two faced nature of some of those of the opposite sex. Wailing guitar lines convey, perhaps in equal measure, both contempt and lust for this very sophisticated lady. “And still to this day people wonder why/Did he beat the b*tch down ’til she almost died?” ends it bluntly.
Weapons drawn, they tell you “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”, which’s chopped up in typical Public Enemy fashion.
“’Cos it’s plain to see, it’s a strain to be/Number one in the public eye enemy/’cos I’m wanted in fifty, almost fifty-one/States where the posse got me on the run/It’s a big wonder why I haven’t gone under/Dodgin’ all types of microphone thunder/A fugitive missin’ all types of hell/All this because I talk so well” a string of lyrical gold before heralding the chorus: “Get up, get down/Miuzi weighs a ton”.
It’s an absolute assault of noise, like the discovery of the electric guitar all over again. That ring of piano really the only real semblance of melody, but mostly deployed for its rhythmic nuances. The first instance of the pre chorus only a small sample of how Chuck races to the finish line for the chorus, stringing, as said, lyrical gold.
Run for cover from the “Timebomb”. It’s a funky one, more tuneful than maybe all preceding it. That wah-wah guitar helps the listener to harness lines like, “And hear my jam, with a funky piano”. The aforementioned a real sample of hip-hop history, sampled by the similarly legendary EPMD (“Funky Piano”). He goes hell for leather, right until the track’s very end. Hunger akin to classic era LL Cool J.
“Too Much Posse” is really where Flavor Flav is given some breathing space. “Either join the crew or get beat down” really putting across his point that Public Enemy are the posse. “Too, too, too much posse” emphatically hardcore, indeed. This like a statement of intent, how the group intended to take over the industry.
There’s a moral in “Rightstarter (Message To A Black Man)”, with that, “Mind over matter, mouth in motion, can’t defy it/’cos I’ll never be quiet” which’s absolutely ferocious. Horns, intermittent between sizeable scratches, make the backdrop loud and triumphant, the perfect foundation to lace big, bold raps.
“Mind revolution/Our solution/Mind over matter, mouth in motion/Corners don’t sell it, no you can’t buy it/Can’t defy it cause I’ll never be quiet/Let’s start this right” another line spat with sizeable venom. “As the world turns, it’s a terrible waste/To see the stupid look stuck on your face/Timebomb alarm for the world, just try it/Known to all zones as the one man riot” really enforcing you’re listening to the mind of a rebel in Chuck.
The self-referencing “Public Enemy No. 1” starts squidgy, Flavor heckling Chuck to spit that hook to the ensuing song. This rings out, the vocals reverberating as the backdrop drones mostly atonally.
“I’m not a law obeyer, so you can tell your mayor/I’m a non-stop, rhythm rock, poetry sayer/I’m the rhyme player, the ozone layer/A battle what? Here’s a bible, so start your prayer” really tells, bearing in mind hip-hop as the mainstream knew it was still in its infancy, that this is an art form.
It’s a real earworm, that monotonous drone making you absorb all you hear, whether the lyrics or the beat itself. Dramatic hits of cymbal snap you out this trance, brainwashed for the new subversive generation.
“M.P.E” is another sonic assault, via Terminator X and The Bomb Squad, sounding like, and it’s hard to verbalise, construction apparatus, like a crane or some sort of digger locked in construction site war. “My car is movin’, fast like a train/Never skid off the road, even in the rain” a good dose of braggadocio, witty and never put off course.
Title track, “Yo! Bum Rush The Show”, is chopped up with intermittent bass and crashing piano keys; the letter akin to, another construction analogy, a ton of bricks being dropped from height onto concrete streets. A whistle heralds the chorus, hardcore and almost shouted.
Scratching, expertly rhythmic, heralds drop after drop of brick load crashing onto roads below. “Get that sucker who shot that gun/Whip his monkey ass till it ain’t no fun” maybe a surprising attitude to criminality soon to ensue through the genre.
They urge you to “Raise The Roof”, and it’s perhaps more indicative of the oldschool than a fair slice of tracks on this album. Particular braggadocio, again, resurfaces, with the chorus a countdown to raise the roof. “I’ll quench your desire and raise the roof” perhaps indicative of this.
Intermittent and bassy, it rings out; blaring like a public address system for the streets and urban youth. “And for real it’s the deal and the actual fact/It takes a nation of millions to hold me back” emphasising a swagger that would carry onto the title for their equally seminal follow up, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
Then comes the “Megablast”, with lines, “Ya couldn’t make the money cause ya smoked up the product/Walkin’ round the town, skeptalepsy illaroduct/Can’t be trusted cause you’re living in the past/Ya should have kept yo ass away from that blast”.
Then “Oh, please, oh, please, oh please, just give me one more hit” another a real sample of hip-hop history, sampled by the similarly legendary Ice Cube (“Who Got The Camera”). The track features a peculiar vocal sample played in reverse, maybe akin to the nonsense blurted by drug addicts suffering from the megablast?
It’s farewell to the album with “Terminator X Speaks With His Hands”. It’s really an opportunity, “bass for your face”, for the resident super deejay to stretch his skills. Construction site wars recommence, cranes warring with diggers, and so on. “Yeah, that’s right. Kick it!” sees another, perhaps, overlooked member on this album, Flavor Flav, get the final word.
There are so many highlights on this album; you’d be aswell just stating the two tracks that don’t quite reach those peaks, “Sophisticated B*tch” and “Raise The Roof”.
Public Enemy really hit the ground running with this debut, and in some respects their first is largely overlooked when set against the likes of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet. What they maybe lack in political conscience compared to the above, they make up for with sheer energy and verve. Public Enemy’s Yo! Bush Rush The Show can be bought on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson
I have two copies of this album because it is that good