On October 1, 1991, Long Island’s Public Enemy released their fourth studio album Apocalypse 91 … The Enemy Strikes Black on Def Jam Recordings and Columbia Records. It proved to be their fourth classic album in five years following 1987’s debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet. Their 1991 releases ushered in a new sound for the group as much of the music for this release was stolen and they had to recreate the sound in a now new manner. The 14-track album would prove to be hugely successful, going #1 in America and Platinum, while also peaking at #8 in the UK.
The third single “Shut ‘Em Down” was released in early January 1992 to high acclaim, but it was the now iconic and the controversial b-side, “By The Time I Get To Arizona“ that the rap group championed the great civil rights leader, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The group took issue with the 17th Governor of Arizona (Republican Evan Mecham) for refusing to recognize MLK’s birthday as a national holiday despite it being celebrated in most other states. Previously, because the state of Arizona still refused to recognize the national holiday, the NFL was forced to switch the location of the Super Bowl to California from Arizona – which allegedly led to the State of Arizona loosing over $100 million as a result as well as the national spotlight being cast on them and New Hampshire for this decision. PE’s track reference the controversy.
Arizona Republican Governor Mecham at the time reversed an earlier decision by previous Democrat Arizona Governor Bruce Babbit to recognize MLK Day after Republic US President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to create such a day in 1983. A series of racist remarks and actions by Mecham against a MLK Day led to Coretta Scott King and Stevie Wonder leading an entertainment boycott of Arizona which was widely supported. Arizona voted for a MLK Day in 1992 and they were subsequently awarded to be the host of the Super Bowl the following year for 1996.
“By The Time I Get To Arizona” would see a later second life and a push to an even wider audience when it was included on the soundtrack in Activision’s widely successful Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 in 2002 and earlier in 1999 on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. With Public Enemy’s continued success as a group today and as part of Prophets of Rage which still seems them touring both nationally and international til today, their messages will continue to be delivered in an unfiltered manner.