PERHAPS THE last place any rap fan would expect to see a white-hooded Klansman would be onstage at a Public Enemy concert. Yet there he was, ol' "Bernie Crosshouse" himself, checking out the crowd before P.E. -- topping a seven-act bill -- hit the stage at the Baltimore Arena last night.
Call it a reality check. "Bernie" was Public Enemy's way of driving home a point -- that so long as the black community continues to put up with drug dealing, black-on-black violence and other self-destructive social ills, it will be doing the Klan's work for it.
It's a tough message, and one even the best rap groups would have a hard time conveying without seeming preachy. Yet Public Enemy not only got its point across -- strongly, and without compromise -- but it managed to put on a hell of a show in the process.
Obviously, it helps to have frontmen who are as entertaining and articulate as P.E.'s Chuck D and Flavor Flav, who are possibly the best one-two punch in rap today. But what really made the show work was the way its every element -- the staging, the segues, the between-songs chatter -- worked to drive home the larger point.
For instance, there was the self-sufficiency talk Chuck D gave
midway through the show. Great as it was to hear him urge blacks to support their community and understand that "we've got to do it for ourselves," it was even better to feel that energy roll into Flavor Flav's furiously funky "Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Niga." Likewise, when Klansman Crosshouse got his, and was "lynched" by the S1Ws (P.E.'s onstage security force), it made the message of the show-closing "Can't Truss It" all the more powerful.
Sure, there were entertaining moments elsewhere in the show, like Naughty By Nature's extended rendition of "O.P.P." or the Geto Boys' absolutely deranged run through "Mind Playin' Tricks On Me." But as P.E.'s performance made clear, there's a world of difference between art and entertainment.