Is it wrong that I came to ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ via Pharoahe Monch? The ‘Simon Says’ singer’s second solo album ‘Desire’, released in 2007 was something like a forbidden fruit, pulsating with aggression and antipathy, that I couldn’t help taking a bit out of. Even though, I was then shielded (as much as I am now) from so many of the themes that formed the lyrical foundations of his work, the way Monch’s vocal delivery put his words right on the edge of his tracks and the immediacy of the production that went with it made it arresting, engagingly hostile. ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ remains one of my favourite tracks from that album, needling electric guitars holding the listener out over a ledge before he or she takes the plunge into Monch’s wild, paranoid world accompanied by mean drumming and dramatic horns. As a stinging rebuke of war, oil, the Church and big pharma, Monch was spitting fire on ‘Terrordome’ and I loved it.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard this band that I had only a vague notion of, busting out a tune with almost exactly the same lyrics as Pharoahe (Monch added his own Bin Laden-referencing verse in 07). It’s only fitting that the way I got introduced to this Public Enemy classic (notably released when I was two weeks old) was by way of a cover. From the moment it begins with Geoffrey Sumner’s now ubiquitous ‘Journey Into Sound’ sample, the original ‘Terrordome’ is a hive of appropriating activity, taking in James Brown, The Temptations and 70s disco band Instant Funk within seconds. With many of rap’s early forces still sticking to minimal sampling in 1989, Public Enemy’s take on ‘wall of sound’ recording pioneered by Phil Spector and an evident penchant for layering on the part of PE producers Bomb Squad, made ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ sound unusually thick for its day. Lyricism aside, ‘Terrordome’ demands attention; it is all sound, all the time.
That said, this song would be nothing without Chuck D – the man Rick Rubin signed just two years after forming Def Jam records, looking for someone as hard-hitting as Run DMC but with politics that might address black youth. In Chuck D, Rubin found his match. From the same ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’ album that delivered ‘Fight The Power’ (the clip for which staged a mock protest in Brooklyn and starred black beret-wearing Panthers), ‘Terrordome’ is typically flammable material from Chuck D. Cutting swathes through the media, racial tensions and black empowerment, Chuck D’s ‘Terrordome’ strikes me as less overtly hostile, more poetically aggrieved than Monch’s tirade. Although boasting more lyrics than three modern-day hip-hop tracks combined, ‘Terrordome’ never feels particularly wordy. Instead, it is Chuck D’s way of seamlessly moving across explosive terrain whilst treating all talking points with an equal sense of urgency, that imbues the track with its timeless quality. Nothing is laboured over but each line is meticulously crafted and delivered – this is Chuck D’s pointillist vision of 1989 America in 700 words or less. It’s not easy material nor is the sonic wall we’re met with particularly inviting, but it does deliver, sensationally, on what it says on the box. Welcome To The Terrordome.
Public Enemy – Welcome To The Terrordome