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Public Enemy shows it still owns the hip-hop game with Canalside show


You can’t just grab it, steal it and claim it. It has to be earned.

Chuck D has earned it, and throughout Public Enemy’s packed, boisterous and politically charged show at Canalside on Thursday, he made it plain he is the most authoritative voice in hip-hop.

Public Enemy changed hip-hop in the late ’80s with a blend of grooves and sonic ephemera that was, at the time, more akin to art rock than to rap.

On Thursday, as the band – Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, DJ Lord and a three-piece live ensemble – tore through a set celebrating 30 years of game-changing hip-hop, that influence was writ large and played loud. PE still owns it. It’s their game, and everyone else just plays it.

This was face-melting stuff, sonically speaking, and as much of a party atmosphere that was indeed in evidence, this was also serious business.

Early on, “911 Is a Joke” offered a take on police presence in African-American communities that predates the Black Lives Matter movement and clearly informs it. Flavor Flav was agile and aromatic, the yang to Chuck D’s baritone yin, and the sound was deafening, dense and virtuosic. “Welcome to the Terrordome” was aimed at the heart of mainstream (white, let’s face it) America and its complacency, and it struck a bull’s-eye. “Black Is Back,” played to the tune of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” reminded us PE was marrying rock to rap in a serious way before it was considered cool. “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Bring the Noise” underscored that idea.

Chuck has never been afraid to speak his mind, and he wasn’t about to start being afraid Thursday.

He compared Trump and Clinton to Coke and Pepsi and became the first artist to urge some 10,000 people at Canalside to raise a single finger in salute to the Republican nominee while he bellowed “(expletive) Donald Trump,” and the crowd echoed the sentiment back his way.

That said, Chuck made the band’s philosophy – “one love, nonviolence, brotherhood” – known at several points during the show.

He also offered shout-outs to the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Braves and our city’s own Dyke & the Blazers and Rick James.

Multiple races, multiple age groups, multiple musical demographics – folks who aren’t supposed to get along, if we believe what we’re so often told – came together to welcome this true American treasure to Buffalo on Thursday.

This was, beyond a doubt, one of the more astute bookings at Canalside since the free weekly series set up shop at the location.

Gravitas. That’s where it’s at.

Buffalo music was represented in a major way with opening sets from hip-hop artists Chae Hawk – a tribute to the late Buffalo R&B icon Lance Diamond was part of his set, as was a torrid new tune, known as “Key to the City” – and the 17-piece tribute to African legend Fela Kuti, the Buffalo Afrobeat Orchstra, led by erstwhile Rusted Root member Preach Freedom and stocked with some of the finest jazz, funk, R&B, rock and soul musicians in our fine city. Both were outstanding.