1991 was 23 years ago.
Older set, feel free to feel even older if you like.
Young crowd, Public Enemy’s “By The Time I Get To Arizona”* symbolizes what the Golden Age folks mean when they talk about what rap once was as an instrument of social change.
In 1991, I was in my sophomore year of high school and, while I was aware of what was going on around me, the furor over Arizona’s then Arizona Republican Governor Evan Mecham’s decision to rescind MLK Day as a state holiday wasn’t exactly on my radar until PE brought it to my attention through their music++. Boycotts and protests were held and the state didn’t ultimately reverse the decision until the NFL pulled Super Bowl XXVII, after coming under pressure from civil rights groups and from the NFL Players’ Association.
Hip-Hop was still in its peak Blackness at the time and awareness in the music was found from most artists. When it came to Arizona, I knew all of this because Public Enemy pushed me to go read and learn about it because of “By The Time…” I heard the song lyrics, watched the video – which drove home everything – and all I could do from there was dig around on my own to find out exactly why I should be angry. Why my world was bigger than clothes, who I sat with in the cafeteria and if ol’ girl in fifth period was feeling me or not. It’s that political and social awareness that groups like Public Enemy and others cultivated that’s missing…and part of the reason why so many people who grew up on Hip-Hop have either distanced themselves from it due to lack of substance or shy away from the music put forth by the current generation.
Not being critical in any way. Just explaining. And hopefully raising awareness in the process. Also, understand that this was a single taken from Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black. A single, yo. Not some buried in the album cut, but a song that had an accompanying video that aired frequently on BET, MTV, etc.
Feel free to revisit our PE Primer after watching the video.
H/T: Thirsty Dutch
* — Another by-product of the song was my discovery of Isaac Hayes song of a similar title as well as the search for Mandrill music after reading the linear notes.
** — Also note that Ronald Reagan opposed the holiday as well, which is probably one of the many reasons why Killer Mike carries a longstanding spite for the former President.