Will Fans Pay Public Enemy to Make a New Album or Just Buy Old Hits on CD?

Rap Group Public Enemy is upending the major-label record deal routine by asking fans to finance its new album through Dutch company SellaBand. Meanwhile, Def Jam is re-releasing five discs worth of classic hits from P.E. and others in a plastic milk crate.

public enemy


At every step of their music industry and lyrical innovation, the hip-hop group Public Enemy has been a magnet for irony.

A collective of self-proclaimed radicals lead by rapper Chuck D and hype man Flavor Flav, they’ve championed positive black causes and shouted out everyone from Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King to Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. But one of their most memorable contributions to mainstream music was a cover version of their own song “Bring the Noise” with thrash metal group Anthrax.

They railed against the scourge of freebase cocaine in “Night of the Living Baseheads,” then Flavor Flav developed a crack problem.

They blasted a fictitious woman for watching garbage TV in “She Watch Channel Zero?!,” then Flav became a reality star in Flavor of Love on VH1.

Now the group has announced its plans to flip the script on the major-label-driven music business model by making an album with an Amsterdam-based company SellaBand, which asks fans to front the cost of a new record (and share in any profits). At the same time, Def Jam, Public Enemy’s old label, a subsidiary of Universal, is slapping one of their hits on the Def Jam 25 Anniversary Collection, a 5-CD crate (remember CDs?) of re-issued songs from the back catalog, a classic moneymaking scheme for labels.

SellaBand will ask fans to help PE raise $250,000, which will pay for the cost of production and distribution of a yet-to-be-written, yet-to-be-named record. Participants, called “Believers”–because, let’s face it, the album could be as superb as 1995’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or as atrocious as 2005’s New Whirl Odor–can buy one of 10,000 “parts” of the forthcoming record for as little as $25.


“SellaBand’s financial engine model goes about restructuring the music business in reverse,” said the company’s new “ambassador,” Chuck D, in a statement. “It starts with fans first, then the artists create from there. The music business is built on searching for fans and this is a brand new way for acts to create a new album with fans first, already on board.”

Def Jam, on the other hand, will ask buyers to pay a yet-to-be-disclosed retail price (likely at least double the $25 SellaBand/PE per-share cost) for five-discs worth of classic tunes released on the label from 1984-2008 (LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Beastie Boys, Oran “Juice” Jones, and more), tunes they likely already own and definitely know by heart. The discs, plus a full-color, 59-page book with an 8,000-word essay from author Bill Adler (Tougher Than Leather), come in a plastic crate, the kind DJs stuffed full of vinyl records and grocers stuffed into landfills.

PE fans will find the group’s track on disc one, a 1989 banger called “Fight the Power.”


About the author

Tyler Gray is the former Editorial Director of Fast Company and co-author of the book The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), out in fall 2014. He previously authored The Hit Charade for HarperCollins and has written for The New York Times, SPIN, Blender, Esquire, and others.