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Published: Friday, 2/9/2007

Reunited? - Public Enemy: Hip-hop's voice

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The band we need the most right now is the one and only Public Enemy - not a band at all, but (arguably) the greatest of great hip-hop artists. The band we need the most right now is the one and only Public Enemy - not a band at all, but (arguably) the greatest of great hip-hop artists.
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Reunited, and it feels so good.

It does?

It does. Don t ask why it feels so good to know Van Halen is (probably) getting together this summer for a tour with original singer David Lee Roth. Don t ask

why two decades after splitting up to do battle with James Taylor for middle-of-the-road supremacy we can t wait for Sting and the Police to put aside differences and charge $85 a ticket for their summer reunion.

But we can t.

The reunion tour is the cornerstone of a played-out concert industry inevitable, creatively destitute, the last refuge for pop scoundrels. And yet, can t we do better than the Eagles again?

With summer concert schedules just around the corner, we got to thinking: If reunion shows are unavoidable, why not suggest a couple of bands we want to see

reconstituted for a summer tour?

(That said: Don t go ahead with the reunion album. We really don t want to buy it anyway.)

The band I most want to see this summer on a reunion tour has not actually separated. That would be Public Enemy. Sorry. I guess I'm not following rules. You'd think this would be easy, too. The idea was simple. 1. What band do you want see do a reunion tour? 2. The original members must be alive. 3. The band must not be together.

That rules out my first five choices, the Clash and Led Zeppelin and the Replacements and AC/DC and Run-DMC - at least one founding member of each has died. The original members of Television - the Allman Brothers of '70s art punk - are alive and (very rarely) play shows; and as nice as it would be to see influential power-pop act Big Star do a reunion tour (and occasionally, it does), co-founder Chris Bell died in a car crash nearly 30 years ago.

So it came down to three.

I considered the Kinks. (Yep, everyone's alive, the famously combative Davies brothers having not yet murdered each other.) A reunion of the great Husker Du, that Minneapolis relic of college-rock radio, has been rumored for ages, and with the Pixies and Mission of Burma reunited (however tentatively), children of the '80s indie scene might yet have their oldies tour.

But the band we need most right now is the one and only Public Enemy - not a band at all, but (arguably) the greatest of great hip-hop artists. If the Kinks, Husker Du, and Public Enemy share anything, it's that they were influential, ahead of their time, and in their day, even within their scene, they were overshadowed by more popular acts. A proper, enthusiastic reunion tour of each would give balance to the universe, that rare chance to watch musicians wrestle with what was lost (and gained) since they've been gone.

In hip-hop - in the 20 years since Public Enemy's debut, "Yo! Bum Rush the Show" - what's been lost is nearly as heavy as what's been gained. See, Public Enemy never entirely broke up. Its signature DJ, Terminator X, left in the late '90s. But the core members, Chuck D and Flavor Flav - hip-hop's David Letterman and Paul Shaffer - have toured as recently as December. Its last studio album came out in 2006; and its new live album came out Tuesday.

Did you have any idea?

For all practical purposes, the Public Enemy we need is an outline of its former self. What's missing - what I would love to see return, in triumphant form - is the old urgency. Not that Chuck D isn't as committed as ever; his sideline as a lecturer is no less sincere than his music. (The latest albums aren't even bad.) What I want is a reunion of intent, that famous teakettle whistle from Terminator X, and a Flavor Flav more interested in being a foil than a reality TV superstar on a series so tawdry and condescending I bet it pains Chuck D, the former "CNN of hip-hop," to even pay for cable now.

What's missing without Public Enemy is a hip-hop act that looks outside itself - unrelentingly. What's shocking about the music now is how uninterested it seems to be with the members themselves. It's forever standing up for others. I know socially committed hip-hop acts still exist (Dead Prez, Common), but none has matched message with innovation the way Chuck and Co. did. None even seems to attempt this. Hip-hop has been a naval-gazing form for ages, and not that rock isn't at the moment, but the times demand a Public Enemy.

So Chuck, Flav, Terminator.

Get together with, oh ... the Roots. A slamming band. Alternate with the old turntable stage act. Leave the fake Uzis and lockstep dancers at home. (It was corny then.) Unlike rock, hip-hop has no relevant act more than a decade old. You can be that act. Bush, Katrina - the topics are ripe, and the anger is out there. Reclaim what was once yours. Voice your opinion with volume. And I will be there.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com or 419-724-6117.



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