Ranking the Album is a feature in which we take an iconic or beloved record and dare to play favorites. It’s a testament to the fact that classic album or not, there are still some tracks we root for more than others to pop up in our shuffles. Today, in honor of it recently turning 25, we rank the tracks of Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet from worst to best.
How do you follow a classic? If you’re Public Enemy, you make another. In 1988, the group bum rushed the show with their powerful sophomore album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, one that still stands as a seminal rap artifact today, and they established themselves as the militant, sociopolitical voice of black oppression. With a strong singles run, including “Rebel Without a Pause”, “Bring the Noise”, and “Don’t Believe the Hype”, the group became an unlikely commercial success, taking edgy shots at white pop culture icons and weaponizing black nationalism. Elvis was a hero to most, but he didn’t mean shit to them. Louis Farrakhan was their prophet. They were voicing their opinions with volume, and Chuck D was the mouthpiece of their radical brand of social commentary, one that knew no bounds.
With the huge cultural impact of It Takes a Nation… pushing them to platinum status, Public Enemy doubled down on their politically charged message with their 1990 follow-up, Fear of a Black Planet. The album was inspired by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing’s theory of “Color Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy)”, with a thesis spelled out by the album’s title, and the result was another masterstroke. Fear of a Black Planet, which has been preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry, is a black empowerment piece with strong criticisms of institutional racism, and though not Public Enemy’s best work, it is the truest to the group’s core mission statement. Here, Consequence of Sound editors and staffers rank every track on the album, exploring why it remains one of rap’s greatest and most controversial albums 25 years later.
20. Final Count of the Collision Between Us and the Damned
Track #: 19
What feels like a funky and forgettable, album-ending cooldown actually turns out to be a countdown to the greatest hip-hop anthem of all time (spoiler?). It’s always disappointing when this 49-second track surfaces on my MP3 shuffle because I know the odds are infinitesimal that its rightful successor is coming next. One day it’ll happen, though. –Matt Melis
Hard Rhymer (Best Lyric): Instrumental
Bring That Beat Back (Best Sample): No Samples
19. Meet the G That Killed Me
Track #: 6
One of Fear of a Black Planet’s least interesting skits, sonically speaking, also happens to be one of its worst ideologically with one brief but obvious display of homophobia. The skit is about the A.I.D.S. epidemic, and while very timely, it’s also very indicative of its era with the lyric “Man to man/ I don’t know if they can/ From what I know/ The parts don’t fit (Aww shit).” The rest of it is pretty harmless, citing needle sharers and hetero couples not practicing safe sex as other perpetrators, but PE definitely shortchange their stance as civil rights activists here. –Sheldon Pearce
Hard Rhymer: N/A
Bring That Beat Back: No samples
Track #: 7
“Pollywannacracka” is truly a minefield. It tackled issues of interracial relationships from multiple angles at a time when they still weren’t much discussed. Chuck D takes interest in members of both genders choosing white partners for assumed status or wealth instead of love. It was an issue wrapped up in society’s ever-present, ever-subliminal message that teaches “white is good and black is bad.” He also took on the naysayers of interracial relationships — so long as it was based on love — using satirical plot lines to highlight the ignorance of such a position. Tolerance has come a long way since 1990, and button pushers like Chuck D have played a huge role in getting us here. –Kevin McMahon
Hard Rhymer: “There should not be any hatred/ For a brother or a sister/ Whose opposite race they’ve mated”
Bring That Beat Back: “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton
17. Reggie Jax
Track #: 15
Here we have a brief freestyle track. “Reggie Jax” is touted as a PE homage to reggae music. Its baseline is covered in sludge, sitting amidst deeply pitched bass kicks that seem to suck you into a hole in the middle of the song. At 1:36, “Reggie Jax” is one of densest tracks on this album, dozens of ambiguous sound bites flutter under Chuck D’s breath. The lyrics are nothing to write home about compared to the rest of the album, but it serves as a crystalline example of PE-Funk: dense, challenging, and so deep it’s difficult to find the bottom. –Kevin McMahon
Hard Rhymer: “Miss that funky list of super rockin’ cuts that you can’t resist”
Bring That Beat Back: No samples