Aussie hip hop is a polarising beast. Those who love it will defend it to the end; its detractors will gleefully jump on every flaw.  While support act Seth Sentry doesn’t deliver the expected sonic abortion, the faux American skip-hop accents of various no-talent hype dudes is grating to say the very least and the crowd grow restless checking their watches.

Where the fuck is Public Enemy indeed.

As they gear up to release not one, but two new albums this year (Most of Our Heroes Don’t Appear On A Stamp and The Evil Empire of Everything respectively) and celebrate a career spanning almost thirty years, hip hop juggernauts Public Enemy finally make their way to stage as an air-raid siren screams. Despite the enviable career and back catalogue, the only way you would know it was a Public Enemy is by spotting the small banner bearing their name tucked behind DJ Lord’s decks.

As Chuck D bursts on-stage, opening with “Public Enemy #1”, the capacity crowd jammed into the far too small Espy front bar churns like a storm-swollen sea. Even before everyone’s favourite hype man Flavor Flav rockets on to the stage there is much pushing and shoving, including a fight that almost breaks out towards the back of the crowd.

There seems to be a tangible disappointment flowing through the crowd when Flavor appears to be wearing a relatively plain black tracksuit and no clock, thankfully this outfit is quickly discarded to reveal an orange ensemble complete with his trademark timepiece.

Tearing through “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Welcome To The Terrordome”, Flavor goes on to thank the crowd for making him “the number one reality T.V star of the decade”. He also confirms the worst-kept secret of the night, being that Prince is backstage.With this announcement the entire crowd turns to look at the back bar but the Purple One can be neither seen nor heard.

Recounting a story about the time that he danced on Prince’s table at an awards show, Flav laughs and thanks him for “not punching me in the face, man”. Despite the rumours, Prince doesn’t make an appearance, but no-one is all too disappointed.

They perform a set so tight it can only be achieved by a small number of groups who have been together for as long as they have. “Bring The Noise” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” lead into a rest in beats for recently deceased and sorely missed Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch with “No Sleep Till Melbourne”. Godfather of go-go Chuck Brown also gets a tribute freestyle from Chuck D.

The unyielding crowd crush makes trying to watch the gig without being trampled, at times difficult, but to go to a Public Enemy show and not expect that reaction is naive. The combination of bass so strong it pulsates all the way upwards from the floor before rattling one’s teeth and Chuck D’s booming delivery of some of the sharpest words hip hop has ever seen shakes the room so much that part of the roof swings open. Cables that have been taped up high progressively become unstuck during “Harder Than You Think”.  The show was originally booked for The Palace, which may have been a comfortable option in hindsight.

DJ Lord gets his time to show off, playing a mash up of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which is so rearranged and chopped up it sounds like an evening on acid as Flav watches on almost mesmerised.

Inviting a few local MCs plucked directly from the crowd on-stage, Chuck D seems bent on proving his earlier statement that Australia is surpassing the rest of the world in hip hop talent. Unfortunately, that percentage are not in attendance and the local “talent” is for the most part criminally awful (with the exception of two mind blowingly awesome female rappers).

It wouldn’t be a Public Enemy gig without a Chuck D political rant and after “Black Is Back” (suitably mashed up with AC/DC’s “Back In Black”), that is exactly what we get. He launches into a brief tirade on the ever touchy subject of immigration (which is received mostly favourably) and segues into “By The Time I Get To Arizona”. Meanwhile, “Fight The Power” is met with wild head nodding and fist pumping as expected.

As 1am comes and goes, Public Enemy has pulled out every hit from their back catalogue, as well as some new material from the aforementioned new albums. For a hip hop show to span over two hours and never feel like a drag is impressive.

In a year that has seen some incredibly lazy hip hop acts tour supported mostly by backing tapes and relying on the holy trinity of blunts, bitches and booty to make any sort of impression, Public Enemy show exactly what hip hop can and should be. Hopefully the up-and-comers of today take note, because one doubts anyone will remember songs about Apple Bottom jeans and boots with the fur in thirty years’ time.

– Madison Thomas