In the summer of 1979, Carlton Ridenhour, better known as Chuck D, sees hip hop evolve from a vibrant underground scene to a pop phenomenon. At one party that year that Ridenhour meets Hank Shocklee after rapping at the party. Shocklee offers Ridenhour a position as an emcee in the DJ collective Spectrum City, consisting of Shocklee, Shocklee’s brother Keith, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler. Meanwhile, Ridenhour has his own radio show at Adelphi University’s college radio station WBAU. From his place in the college radio scene, he releases his first singles with Spectrum City, “Check Out the Radio” and “Lies”, besides meeting a lot of influential figures in hip hop at the time, including Dr. Dre, L.L. Cool J, and William Drayton, better known as Flavor Flav.
Rick Rubin signs Spectrum City to Def Jam (Columbia Record Group) through Bill Stephney, who knew Chuck D from his days at WBAU. Ridenhour makes it clear that if Rubin wants him on his label, he has to sign Flavor Flav, who had proven to be an important person in Ridenhour’s life. Rubin agrees, and Chuck D brings the Bomb Squad and Professor Griff along with him as well. Terminator X joined the group at this time too. The band changes its name to Public Enemy, as inspired by two tracks Ridenhour had dropped earlier on WBAU that included the term. The term resonated with the group because of their nascent political beliefs and their sense that the black man was treated as an enemy of the public.
Public Enemy drops its first record Yo! Bum Rush the Show on Def Jam. The album eventually received critical acclaim, yet initially finds limited mainstream success. The record peaks at 125 on the Billboard Top LPs.
The group releases It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The album receives wide critical acclaim, is certified platinum, and peaks at number 42 on the US Billboard 200.
Professor Griff incenses many by making anti-Semitic comments in a Washington Times interview. Following the controversy, Griff is fired from Public Enemy.
After a pushback of five months, which Chuck D blamed on unspecified label issues, Public Enemy releases its third album Fear of a Black Planet featuring hit singles “Fight the Power,” “Welcome to the Terrordome,” and “911 Is a Joke.” The record reaches platinum status in the first weeks of sales.
The Bomb Squad provides production for Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.
Public Enemy releases its fourth studio album Apocalypse ‘91... The Enemy Strikes Black. Featuring the singles “Can’t Truss It,” “Night Train,” and “Shut ‘Em Down,” the album peaks at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and is certified platinum.
After an extensive tour, Public Enemy announces a hiatus. During this time, Flavor Flav receives help battling drug abuse.
Public Enemy returns with Muse Sick-n-Hour-Mess Age, which receives mixed reception due to premature reviews that are published before the record is actually released.
1994-1997: A quieter period approaches for Public Enemy, which Chuck D later describes as ‘formative years.’ As Public Enemy breaks its ties with Def Jam, Chuck D rethinks Public Enemy, releases his first solo record The Autobiography of Mistachuck, and publishes his autobiography Fight the Power. At the end of this period, Chuck reassembles the Bomb Squad to work on three albums.
The group makes a comeback with the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s film He Got Game. The soundtrack, which can also be perceived as a standalone album, receives the strongest reviews since Apocalypse ’91...
Terminator X leaves Public Enemy to focus completely on his ostrich farm in North Carolina. DJ Lord takes his place.
Public Enemy releases its seventh LP There’s a Poison Goin’ On with Atomic Pop Records. Alongside its physical release, the album has an online release, making Public Enemy the first American music group to sell an album online.
The group releases its eighth studio album, Revolverlution, a mix of new material, remixes, and live cuts. The record is released courtesy of the independent label Koch Records.
Rolling Stone magazine ranks It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back at number 48 on its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, making it the highest noted rap album on the list.
Public Enemy releases its ninth studio album New Whirl Odor on SlamJamz Records.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back receives a box set reissue, including live sets and remixes.
Fear of a Black Planet is selected for preservation in the Library of Congress as a part of the National Recording Registry.
The group releases Rebirth of a Nation with Bay Area rapper Paris.
Flavor Flav releases his first and only solo studio album, Flavor Flav. The record is also known under the name Hollywood. It charted on two Billboard charts and two songs later appeared on Public Enemy albums.
Public Enemy releases Beats and Places, a collection of B-sides.
The group releases its tenth studio album How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? on SlamJamz Records.
VH-1 ranks “Fight the Power” at number 1 on the “100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs”.
After a quiet phase, Public Enemy returns with Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp and Evil Empire of Everything. A tour follows shortly afterwards.
The Source magazine ranks Chuck D at number 12 on their list of the “Top 50 Lyricists of All Time”.
Public Enemy is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during the Hall’s 28th induction ceremony in Los Angeles.
Chuck D releases his second solo record The Black in Man.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet get deluxe reissues.
Public Enemy releases its thirteenth studio album Man Plans God Laughs on Splitdigital Records.
Def Jam releases the Public Enemy concert set Live from Metropolis Studios.
Chuck D and DJ Lord form the Prophets of Rage supergroup with three members of Rage Against the Machine and B-Real of Cypress Hill. That same year, Prophets of Rage drops The Party’s Over EP.
Public Enemy releases its fourteenth studio album Nothing is Quick in the Desert. The album is downloadable for free on Bandcamp from June 29, 2017, to July 4, 2017.