ROYAL OAK, Michigan — While his sidekick Flavor Flav is in prison for parole violations, Public Enemy’s politically charged leader Chuck D isn’t about to let fans forget him.
Chuck repeatedly paid tribute to his clock-wearing court jester with testimonials and recorded vocals during the group’s performance Friday at the Royal Oak Theatre.
“Flavor Flav is still locked up in New York because of traffic violations. Let me hear from the Detroit Tigers fans who don’t like the Yankees. F— the Bronx. F— the Yankees. They did this to him,” the rapper said, referring to all things New York, where Flav was arrested and imprisoned.
Afterward, he whipped off the hooded sweatshirt that had been hiding his face and bounced around the stage like a boxer practicing for a round in the ring. The energy level in the room hit the water-damaged roof for “Welcome to the Terrordome.”
Two members of the Security of the First World book ended the stage, wearing bulletproof vests and holding swords. Their militaristic dance steps provided a backdrop to a handful of Public Enemy’s songs. Professor Griff traded vocal licks with Chuck D.
A good chunk of the show was devoted to Public Enemy’s political and social stances. Early in the show, Chuck shared his distaste for the president by flipping off a member of his posse wearing a rubber mask of George W. Bush during the song “Son of a Bush.” The Bush stand-in was accompanied by two “Secret Service” agents who followed him as he and Chuck D criss-crossed the stage. The crowd screamed as the “president” flexed his biceps and raised his arms in victory. Near the end of the song, he dropped to his knees and prayed.
The rapper told fans he is opposed to the United States interfering with other countries’ problems.
“They send people like us to war … They’re trying to become kings of the world like some new Hitler. We need to shoot this sh– down,” he said before seamlessly going into “Shut ’Em Down.”
The set list reflected Public Enemy’s history, touching on hits such as “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Bring the Noise,” as well cuts off of the group’s latest album, Revolverlution. Nearly in sync, fans lifted their index fingers in response to “Public Enemy No. 1.” Like its opening bands, Public Enemy suffered from a muddy sound mix that hindered performances and in-between banter.
The crowd was a diverse mix: Rockabilly cats mingled with rap fans, and gothic-clothed concert-goers camped out at a bundle of televisions.
Chuck D saw the concert as a way of teaching the crowd about music. He explained that “Detroit was always underrated on the rap” scene, before name-checking hometown rappers Insane Clown Posse and Esham. The rapper offered a vocal missive about Michigan’s musical history that included mentions of Motown, soul, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper.
“Let’s bring some soul to the f—ing place. With Revolverlution, we’re coming full circle,” he added.
Chuck dedicated the “rest of this night to Flav,” encouraging the crowd to show their love for his hypeman.
“I miss my man Flav. Really. How many of you miss Flav? I’d like to dedicate at least a moment of silence for Flav.” Instead, the band played snippets of Flav’s songs. “I had to do that for Flavor Flav, for real.”
Last Wednesday, Flav (born William Drayton) was sentenced to nine weeks in prison for multiple parole violations, which include missing appointments with his parole officer and failing to pay fines for traffic violations.
Midway through the set, Griff took over the mic as Chuck took a break offstage. Griff and Public Enemy’s band used the opportunity to share their influences, many of whom were rock artists.
During a Rage Against the Machine song, Griff, too, took a political stance, taking aim at Bush as well as the war with Afghanistan and trouble with Iraq.
“President George W. Bush stole the election like his father and his grandfather all did to get where they are today. I’m not doing this to ignite the Bush fans. … We got into a war that we American people know nothing about.”
Chuck D re-entered the stage for “Can’t Truss It” and “Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need” to close out the set.
Openers Dilated Peoples, Blackalicious and Impossebulls offered a mixed bag of performances.
The Impossebulls, a rap collective that dubs itself the first band to record an album exclusively using the Internet, hit the stage as ticket-holders were still filing in. Dilated Peoples — Evidence, Akaa and DJ Babu — inspired the crowd to rap along to most of the set. Those closest to the stage punched their arms in the air to the beat. But DJ Babu’s turntable skills surpassed the rappers’ performance.
Blackalicious’ set, on the other hand, was consistent. Gift of Gab and Lateef, accompanied by DJ Chief Xcel and two back-up singers, waxed poetic between songs, eliciting an enthusiastic response from the crowd. “This is what we wake up and feel. This is how we feel all day,” Gift of Gab said. He lived up to his name, taking deep breaths so that he could rap at lightning speed.
Lateef, who called his music “history in progress,” rapped “Sky Is Falling” as he crouched down near the ground. He introduced Gab into the song by waving his arm sharply toward him. Facing each other, Gab wiggled his arms and fingers at Lateef like a puppeteer leading his toy. “Alphabet Aerobics” was clearly a crowd favorite. As Gab shared Blackalicious’ version of the alphabet, the female back-up singer walked around the stage like a ring girl, carrying cards on which individual letters were printed.
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