10 career-altering third albums from bands in the 1980s

These third albums were a bunch of excellence.

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FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET by Public Enemy (1990)

If KRS-One put himself forward as the teacher, then Chuck D was a full-tenured professor. The list of songs on PE’s third album reads like a murderer’s row. “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” “ Welcome to the Terrordome,” “911 is a Joke,” and “Leave This Off Your F***ing Charts,” the title track. Yep – this is the 1927 Yankees.

Except this is the 1927 Yankees with Babe Ruth batting last. They placed “Fight the Power,” the anthem of Spike Lee’s groundbreaking 1989 film Do the Right Thing, as its final track. In Fear…, self-described lyrical terrorist Chuck D takes on everything and everyone. The most famous conflict grew out of a war of words with members of the Jewish community, but focusing on that issue oversimplifies the breadth of Chuck D’s position.

And he has the sonic attack to back it up. Fear… came at a watershed moment for hip-hop. Sampling was still the wild west. Tighter regulation wouldn’t come until 1991, and the Bomb Squad takes full advantage of the freedom. The sound on Fear… is as layered and dense as any great rap album. It bears repeated listening, whether you like Chuck D’s messaging or not, just to hear the sounds. PE had already created two crucial albums in Yo! Let’s Bum Rush the Show and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Fear… expanded their sound and it expanded their reach. It made the top ten on the main album chart and three of its tracks landed in the top three on the Rap chart.

There’s an excellent documentary currently streaming called Cover Your Ears. It examines the uproar that was going on in the world of pop music around the time of Fear… Powerful groups were engaged in a battle over the regulation of lyrical content in music. Some called it censorship. Others called it parental rights. (Sounds fairly topical, doesn’t it?) Chuck D is prominently featured in the film. What he has to say, thirty-three years later, remains pertinent. He remains the professor.

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