Public Enemy performs at Hofstra homecoming
The members of Public Enemy assembled from all over to their childhood turf of Long Island for a homecoming concert at Hofstra’s 75th anniversary Diamond Weekend.
This is a story of the iconic hip-hop group that has revolved around Roosevelt – the city of Chuck D’s childhood home where he and DJ Johnny Juice are still producing music for the group today.
Hempstead, 1989: There is a rumor in town. Spectrum City, Long Island’s first recording hip-hop group, is auditioning for new MCs and a DJ the coming Saturday.
Spectrum City had already released the track Lies in 1984, so for any young aspiring hip-hop artist in Long Island, the audition was an opportunity too good to miss.
It was Bryan, not Johnny, who went fiery when he heard and ordered Johnny to go and audition with him; he would spit on a beat and Johnny would spin, just as they were doing in their own hip-hop group “Kings of Pressure.”
Saturday comes and Johnny has forgotten all about the contest. As he gets home, he finds 10 messages from Bryan on the answering machine, “Where the hell are you man??”
When Johnny arrives to 510 South Franklin Street in Hempstead, he sees a long line in front of the rehearsal studio. Johnny skeptically inspects the crowd. He and Bryan are by far the youngest in the line and, on top of that, Johnny is the only non-black boy.
“Trevor is scared, he don’t wanna come,” Bryan tells Johnny, with reference to the other member of their group.
The turntable is too high and Johnny has to stand on a box. After a few deep breathes, he lets the records spin and starts exerting his finger magic to the black vinyl. With a snap, he is in his element. “I’m killing this s***,” he thinks to himself.
“We’ll call you later,” Chucky D said. And that was it.
From Spectrum City to Public Enemy
Days pass and the boys don’t hear anything. They had given up hope when Johnny’s answering machine once again takes him by surprise:
“Yo, Johnny Juice, this is Chuck. You won.”
Johnny immediately calls Bryan just to learn that Bryan never received a call. Bryan is, to say the least, very dissatisfied. Johnny has to promise him to bring him along nonetheless.
So Johnny grabs his one turntable and his mixer and goes to the first rehearsal of Spectrum City. As he walks in, Chucky D says, “Yo man, why are you bringing Bryan with you?”
Over the next couple of years, Chucky D became Chuck D, Johnny became the scratch-master DJ Johnny Juice and Spectrum City with DJ Terminator X and MC Flavor Flav and MC Professor Griff, became Public Enemy.
Bryan did eventually become part of the crew, like Trevor, who didn’t have enough guts to audition, and Chuck D gave them their MC names Charlie Brown aka C. Boogie Brown and Busta Rhymes.
Long Island was also the place that would give birth to hip-hop artists like Doctor Dre, De La Soul, Rakim, Freddie Foxx and Prodigy from Mobb Deep.
22 years after that audition, Public Enemy is back in its Long Island crib, Hofstra University, performing as part of the 75th anniversary Diamond Weekend.
Terminator X has been replaced by DJ Lord at the turntables but the rest have stayed put: Professor Griff is in his Taekwondo uniform, backing up vocals and hyping the stage with the compulsory dancing guards in their military uniforms. Flavor Flav flies around the stage with his mega-clock bouncing on his chest and his gold teeth flashing in the light. Chuck D is majestically rocking in the foreground with his cherished ghetto blaster, which, like its owner, has survived stardom without noticeable harm.
The tempo is high; it’s hard to see that these pioneers of hip-hop have turned 50.
After Brothers Gonna Work it Out, Chuck D introduces:
“We are from Long Island, from Roosevelt and Freeport, so Hofstra means a whole lot to our hearts. Some of us even took classes and courses here, or worked at the radio station like our man Johnny Juice Rosaldo.”
Flavor Flav adds:
“I just wanna say, it’s an honor and pleasure to be here on the stage at Hofstra as a grown man. I remember when I was 9 years old, I used to come out here for the Afro-American experience.”
The audience cheers. The bond of local patriotism has been established. Women, who could have been early Public Enemy groupies, are screaming in the front along with 19-year-old girls.
“You make sure that you are getting what you are paying for,” Chuck D says. In order to fight the power, make sure your stay clear.”
Then, in the middle of Don’t Believe the Hype, a student, who clearly had too many beers in his dorm, takes the message a little too seriously as he challenges his surroundings. Chuck stops the music to address the aggressive student.
“You know what, we do jail tours too. Y’all in college, y’all ain’t in a f***ing uptown jail s***. So act accordingly.”
The audience cheers.
The set list is full of P.E. classics, but also the latest single, Say It Like It Really Is, which gets the crowd jumping.
There is no doubt that Black is Back to Long Island and, judging from the atmosphere, it feels like they never left.
LINK – Read selected Q/A with Chuck D about the concert at Hofstra, his time as a student and his relationship to Long Island.
Public Enemy Facts: The Long Island Connection
- P.E.’s first demo was recorded in a studio in Hempstead – the same building where Juice auditioned for Spectrum City in 1986.
- Kings of Pressure: “You Know How to Reach us” sampled the beep of Chuck D’s beeper.
- Chuck D named LI “Strong Island”, in an attempt to boost the morale – a name still applied by local hip-hop artists. Westbury was named “Wild Wild Westbury”; Roosevelt, “The Velt”; Freeport, “The Port” and Uniondale was “Chill City”.
- Chuck’s childhood home in Roosevelt, is also the studio of DJ Johnny Juice. Chuck also owns a house in Ventura, Cal., and one in Atlanta.
- Johnny Juice is currently working on Chuck D’s solo album “Don’t Rhyme For The Sake Of Riddlin'”, where Chuck D declares in “I Hate Hate” : “Roosevelt was my town – it still is.”
The Long Island Hip-Hop Geography
- Dr. J, Eddie Murphy, and Chuck D are from Roosevelt, L.I.
- Kings of Pressure are from Hempstead, Uniondale, Freeport.
- Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown, Dinco D (all from Leaders of the New School), Serious Lee Fine, MC Tee (from Mantronix) and Johnny Juice are from Uniondale, L.I.
- Doctor Dre (MTV Raps!) and the Original Concept are from Westbury, L.I.
- Son of Bazerk, Punk Barbarians, and Young Black Teenagers are from Freeport, L.I.
- Rakim is from Wyandanch, L.I.
- EPMD, Craig Mack, and Biz Markie is from Brentwood, L.I.
- JVC Force is from Central Islip, L.I.
- De La Soul and Prince Paul are from Amityville, L.I.
- Prodigy from Mobb Deep is from Hempstead, L.I.
- Freddie Foxx (Bumpy Knuckles) is from Lakeview, L.I.
Watch DJ Johnny Juice scratching samba