Public Enemy at Nation

Since the mid-'90s, when mainstream rap took an abrupt turn toward unbridled hedonism, Public Enemy has not exactly been in demand. The group's image was based on progressive Afrocentrism. Now it boasts only a smattering of fanatic followers. The local contingent of these fervent disciples held court on Sunday night when Public Enemy, one of rap's most pioneering groups, brought its live show to Nation. Lead rapper Chuck D euphemistically called the crowd intimate, but sparse would have been more like it.

In the early '90s, when Public Enemy was at the height of its popularity, it redirected rap's anger and pointed it at Uncle Sam. Chuck D boasted not just of ripping microphones but of breaking out of jail and having his phone bugged by the FBI. Despite such militant rhetoric, the group sold massive numbers of records even as it offended American sensibilities. Times have clearly changed and the number of African American faces at Nation could have been counted on two hands. But Public Enemy didn't reduce the militancy. The group lambasted John Wayne, called Elvis a racist and offered the public service announcement "Free Mumia Abu-Jamal" in a rousing exhibition of early '90s rap.

Opening with "Prophets of Rage," the group deftly moved through a sequence of its bigger hits and a few of its cult gems. In a tank top and shorts, Chuck D looked dressed to play a game of basketball while Flavor Flav came onstage wearing an Indian headdress. Unlike some of today's acts, Public Enemy refrained from simply lurching around the stage. The group delivered lively renditions of "Rebel Without a Pause," "Bring the Noise" and "Fight the Power."

--Ta-Nehisi Coates

Len at the 9:30 Club

Styles of Beyond opened for Len at the 9:30 club Monday night, but that name was a better fit for the headliners, or at least their musical ambition. Casting the next millennium as an eclectic cornucopia, Len sought to pile disparate styles on a hip-hop base. Why would anyone care what Len's Y2K musical vision is? Well, because they wrote that "Sunshine" song, of course.

Six Canadian kids are responsible for "Steal My Sunshine," the ubiquitous and infectious ditty that may only land them in the one-hit-wonder bin next to Wild Cherry, the Starland Vocal Band, Lipps Inc., Edie Brickell and Vanilla Ice. Or may start them on stardom's path. Whatever the outcome, the group concentrated Monday on celebrating the here and now.

Clearly many in the crowd only came for the long, delirious version of "Sunshine" that closed the main set, standing curiously as Marc "The Burger Pimp" Costanzo led his rapper/singers, including his sister Sharon, D. Rock and K5, around the other sides of Len. As turntablists DJ Moves and Drunkness Monster (together, Drunken Moves) poured the musical fuel, they touched on hard rock ("Feelin' Alright"), silliness ("Cheeky Bugger") and late 1980s Beastie Boys overtones in addition to the Biz Markie tribute "Man of the Year."

The group's laughter and repeated introductions of one another were amateurish and made the evening more garage rehearsal than performance for paying patrons, but the Costanzos exuded enough naive charm to keep it from collapsing altogether. Besides, who other than cantankerous rock critics would enjoy begrudging kids their moment?

--Patrick Foster