Public Enemy is enjoying of one of the biggest years in its storied history. In 2012 the group turned 25 (an eon in the hip-hop world), released its 11th and 12th LPs, and most notably, received a bid for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. These milestones would date any group, but no matter: Public Enemy MCs Chuck D and Flavor Flav have embraced their veteran designation.
At the Ogden Theatre on Saturday night, Public Enemy brought a veritable mix tape of golden years hip-hop legends along with them in a bill they’ve dubbed the Hip Hop Gods. While old heads relished the likes of X-Clan, Monie Love and Schooly D, the uninitiated were slated for a primer in hip-hop roots — whether they liked it or not. Depending on your camp, the three hours of opener was either worth the money or time spent cursing the Ogden’s no re-entry policy. Those who tuned in were treated to a showcase of vintage quality interspersed with tales of yore and laments for the state of modern hip-hop, courtesy of Monie Love and Chuck D, the evening’s moderators.
Around midnight, Chuck D hit the stage to show why he can speak with authority on the subject. Backed by a band and a pair of soldiers in combat fatigues, the hip-hop elder statesman strode on stage, followed soon after by the screech of “Rebel Without A Pause.” Flavor Flav joined in just in time for his first hype man sub-verse, and the game was on. Though initially clock-less, Flav soon tossed aside the furry parka he’d emerged in and pulled out his signature massive time piece, quipping, “This is my American Express—I don’t leave home without this shit.”
Under the shadow of his Pittsburgh Pirates cap, Chuck D gave the crowd the straight dope, delivering his characteristically syncopated lyrics of fury on Public Enemy classics like “Bring The Noise” and “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which sprawled on about 10 minutes and had Flavor Flav leaping around the stage, kicking the air and laying down a bassline.
The duo matched the energy of today’s young guns, but did so while simultaneously distancing themselves from modern acts. At one point, lesser-known Public Enemy player Professor Griff chimed in to testify to the audience about the Illuminati’s cultish grip on millennial hip-hop, which happened to be the thesis of his new book, available at the merch table.
Despite all of the divisive talk on the topic of “real” hip-hop versus the new school, the night ended on a positive note, as Flav implored everyone to “stick together and build a wall of unity.” While it was a poor choice of visual metaphor, Public Enemy did just that on Saturday night, as the old and the new in the audience joined together, raising their middle fingers in a farewell salute to one of hip-hop’s greatest.
Karson Brown is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.
Dylan Owens is a new contributor to Reverb.