The 10 Best Public Enemy Songs, Ranked

Who doesn't love Public Enemy?

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As we continue to celebrate this 50th year of Hip-Hop, we also continue to celebrate the legendary acts that helped make the genre what it is today. And with today being Flavor Flav’s 63rd birthday, we figured now would be the perfect time to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of Public Enemy. Formed in 1985, the hip group rose to prominence in the mid-1980s for their bravery and willingness to challenge and address issues such as the media and racism. The group’s first four albums all achieved either gold or platinum certifications and has since gone on to release eleven more studio albums solidifying its place in music history. With so much heat dished out their during career, it's definitely worth taking a look at the best Public Enemy songs that have stood the test of time.

Public Enemy is also credited with being the ones to define and create what is now known as rap metal (a mixture of rap and rock/heavy metal) and has received numerous prestigious accolades including the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Grammys, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

In honor of Flav’s birthday, here’s a look at the best Public Enemy songs ranked. Prepare your neighbors in advance.

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Can’t Truss It

Shut Em’ Down

You’re Gonna Get Yours

Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos

Rebel Without a Pause

Night of the Living Baseheads

Burn Hollywood Burn

Don’t Believe the Hype

Public Enemy No. 1

Fight the Power

10. Can’t Truss It

Year: 1991

Now let's kick off this list of the best Public Enemy songs on a high note! Released in 1991 off the album Apocalypse 91, “Can’t Truss It” was the most successful track off the record, tackling themes of slavery and racism, comparing the two to many elements of the corporate world. The video for the song was one that was in heavy rotation amongst BET and MTV, and in our opinion is underrated as a video. There are so many messages and hidden themes that you have to watch more than once to fully get it. One of their best for sure.

9. Shut Em’ Down

Year: 1991

Also released off Apocalypse 91 was the track “Shut Em’ Down,” which is another song and video that takes on the theme of different prejudices and world issues with lyrics such as “See the TV, listen to me, double trouble, I overhaul and I'm comin'. From the lower level I'm taking tabs, '' and “With a neck to wreck. Took a poll 'cause our soul took a toll. From the education of a TV station.” The song was also accompanied by a music video which was also equally dope (and the fashion in the video was sick as well).

8. You’re Gonna Get Yours

Year: 1987

While maybe not the most commercially successful track from the group, “You’re Gonna Get Yours” remains a song that has gone on to be more appreciated with time. Released as a single from their debut album Yo! Bum Rush the Show in 1987, the track has kind of gone on to form a life of its own as it was sampled by MARRS on their 1987 single “Pump up the Volume,” and has been the intro song for “Give It Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers during live performances.

7. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos

Year: 1988

“Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” is an absolute banger that was released off Public Enemy’s 1987 album Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, as the song itself tells the story of a man trying to escape prison. Fun Fact: The music video for the track was actually filmed in the abandoned Old Essex County Jail in Newark, New Jersey as it recreates the song’s storyline of a prisoner trying to find a way to escape. The song wound up peaking at No. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Singles.

6. Rebel Without a Pause

Year: 1988

Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back also gave us the gem “Rebel Without a Pause,” which was actually the very first song created for the album as Chuck D felt that their previous record Yo! Bum Rush the Show was already dated despite having been released just the year before. Public Enemy had just finished up a promotional tour with LL Cool J and Eric B. & Rakim when they began work on the album and was crafted with the intent to make harder faster beats. Needless to say “Rebel Without a Pause” was instantly deemed a classic, quickly becoming a fan favorite during the group’s performances.

5. Night of the Living Baseheads

Year: 1988

And just in case you forgot how many hits Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back gave us, let us remind you of the single “Night of the Living Baseheads,” which addressed the cocaine epidemic in the African-American community in the 1980s. The video for the song was a literal story as well with MC Lyte and Flavor Flav serving as reporters for the fictional tv news program PETV. Public Enemy was never afraid to tackle tough subjects, and while it may have gotten them heavily criticized back in the day, you can appreciate their willingness to speak on these issues in today’s climate.

4. Burn Hollywood Burn

Year: 1990

Featured on the group’s 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet, “Burn Hollywood Burn,” which is a knock on Hollywood and mainstream media. Another fun fact here: Ice Cube just so happened to be in the same studio at the same time, and hopped on the track as a feature. This is a reminder that not everything has to be planned for “content,” and that good things can come from being spontaneous as well.

3. Don’t Believe the Hype

Year: 1988

And just like that, we’re right back to Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back with quite possibly the most epic song from the album (and that’s really saying something here because every track on the album is great). “Don’t Believe the Hype” was a song centered around many of the controversial political events happening in the late 1980s and reached No. 18 on the U.S. R&B Chart. According to Chuck D, the song was inspired by the works and teachings of philosopher Noam Chomsky, and while the single addressed tough themes, it was still something to dance to as it did well on the U.S. dance charts as well.

2. Public Enemy No. 1

Year: 1987

It’s pretty fitting that one of Public Enemy’s first songs was entitled “Public Enemy No. 1,” seeing as though the actual phrase “Public Enemy No. 1” is a term that referred to dangerous criminals in the 1930s. You kind of have to be deep in the Public Enemy trenches to know this cut because it isn’t their biggest hit, and as mentioned earlier, the group moved pretty quickly with putting out their sophomore album because they felt their debut album (which “Public Enemy No. 1 was released as a single on) was outdated. It’s another gem though, and one that really allows you to appreciate their early artistry.

1. Fight the Power

Year: 1990

“Fight the Power.” The song that changed the game. It might seem a bit cliche to put “Fight the Power” as number one (and maybe it is), but it’s hard to argue the facts here. Originally recorded as the theme song for Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do The Right Thing,” the single reached the top of the Hot Rap singles chart and has since gone on to be considered one of the most prolific rap tracks of all time. In the decades since, “Fight the Power” has also become one of the theme songs for Black History Month and Juneteenth. Due to its cultural importance, thought-provoking lyrics, and booming production, this track takes top honors in this collection of the best Public Enemy songs.

Happy birthday Flav! If you want to help celebrate the occasion, make sure you stream Public Enemy all day long. 

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