Public Enemy performs on the Mainstage Sunday, Sept 5 at 8:15 p.m.

*wristband required

The System is keeping brothers and sisters down. But what exactly is the System, who controls it? And we know, for one, that "the Man" powers much of the world. But who exactly is he?

Since first appearing on the scene in the mid-'80s, hiphop's revolutionary army Public Enemy has been committed to addressing these very questions with its bombs of beats. Chuck D, Public Enemy's main rapper, has delivered years of fiery sermons that name names and give the Man a face, a location, and an occupation. With assistance from his sidekick, Flavor Flav, D repeatedly details the complex network of corporate capital, political institutions, and judicial forces that connect to form the matrix of power that oppresses poor blacks. That's the system that Public Enemy wants to shut down. But here we break down that system even further, going brick by brick with the following PE lyrics.

I like Nike but wait a minute/The neighborhood supports so put some money in it...--Chuck D, "Shut 'Em Down"

As this quote makes abundantly clear, PE supports America's means of production. The band's problem with capitalism is simply this: The corporations that benefit from the black economy don't return some of the profit back into black neighborhoods in the form of new jobs and business investment. The system takes from the black man and gives nothing back.

Hollywood... Make us all look bad like I know they had/But some things I'll never forget yeah/So step and fetch this shit...--Chuck D, "Burn Hollywood Burn"

The last line of this rhyme is a play on the name Stepin Fetchit, who in the early years of Hollywood was the most famous black actor as well as the dumbest. He could barely talk and walked around with a lowered head that seemed burdened by a big brick instead of a brain. What concerns Public Enemy is that this was Hollywood's first and dominant image of black men (the mammy, immortalized by Hattie McDaniel's performance in Gone with the Wind, was the dominant image of black women). And how could a black man be proud of himself if the only images he saw on the screen made him look like a complete idiot?

You're blind baby, you are blind from who you are because you watching that garbage...--Flavor Flav, "She Watches Channel Zero"

With this line, Flavor Flav expands the idea of oppression of poor blacks to include not only the direct (police brutality) but also the indirect (the consumption of useless TV images). If blacks are going to free their minds, they have to "throw that TV out the window."

I'm on the one mission/To get a politician/To honor or he's a gonner/By the time I get to Arizona...--Chuck D, "By the Time I Get to Arizona"

In 1990, Arizona's citizens failed to pass an initiative that would make the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. an official holiday. This show of disrespect for an important black American who challenged the system peacefully infuriated Chuck D, who in this song more or less threatens to shoot and kill Arizona's flagrant white supremacists.

Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant shit to me you see/Straight up racist that sucker was/Simple and plain/ Motherfuck him and John Wayne. --Chuck D and Flavor Flav, "Fight the Power"

If Hollywood represented black men as Stepin Fetchit, it represented white men as John Wayne, a cowboy who shot down all of his troubles (which usually came in the form of American Indians).

Don't worry, be happy/Was a number one jam/Damn, if I say it you can slap me right here. --Chuck D and Flavor Flav, "Fight the Power"

In 1986, Bobby McFerrin, a black man, went to the top of the pop charts with the song "Don't Worry Be Happy." Chuck D was of the opinion that the situation for poor blacks in America is so bad ("'living' isn't the word [we've] been given") that if he was ever to be heard saying "don't worry, be happy," he wanted you to hit him right then and there.

In the daytime the radio's scared of me/'Cause I'm mad, plus I'm the enemy/They can't c'mon and play with me in primetime/'Cause I know the time, plus I'm gettin' mine...--Chuck D, "Don't Believe the Hype"

Blacks don't own the means of mass communication in our society and so the things they really want to say are never heard on prime time. As a result, Chuck D's revolutionary ideas were heard in the mix "late in the night" on programs like Mr. Magic's Show, which in the '80s spun hiphop between midnight and 3:00 a.m. --the hours when white folks are fast asleep. These days, Chuck D has a radio show, Bring the Noise, that runs during the day on Air America.

(It's important to point out that the reason PE supported Napster and file sharing is the group saw it as an opportunity for blacks to break free from the control of record corporations and become masters of the means of mass distribution. PE was also one of the first big-name bands to sell an album entirely on the web (There's a Poison Going On), as downloads and through an Internet retailer. "This is a shovel in the dirt [for recording corporations]," Chuck D told CNN.

Look, here come the judge/Watch it, here he come now/I can only guess what's happ'nin'/Years ago he woulda been the ship's captain. --Chuck D, "Cant Truss It"

In Public Enemy's opinion, the modern justice system is an extension of the old slavery system. The judge who dispatches black men to prison is the same as the captain of slave ships who transported black men to American plantations. The plantation equals the prison.

Every brother ain't a brother 'cause a color/Just as well could be undercover/Backstabbed...--Chuck D, "Welcome to the Terrordome"

The person Chuck D is referring to in these lines is Clarence Thomas, a conservative judge for the United States Supreme Court. In PE's mind, the system appointed Uncle Thomas to the powerful position because even though he's black, he'd backstab a brother with no hesitation.

I got a letter from the government/The other day/I opened and read it/It said they were suckers/They wanted me for their army or whatever/Picture me givin' a damn, I said never...--Chuck D, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"

In this famous passage, Chuck D's main point is this: Why should a black man fight in wars that benefit a small segment of the white population? Wars ultimately support the System.

911 is a joke 'cause they always jokin'/They the token to your life when it's croakin'/They need to be in a pawn shop on a/911 is a joke we don't want 'em/I call a cab 'cause a cab will come quicker...--Flavor Flav, "911 Is a Joke"

The System is good at oppressing black people but terrible at offering basic civil services. It's a sad state of things when prisons are built faster than hospitals and commercial transportation comes faster than emergency transport.