BOMBASTIC, aggressive and thought-provoking. Public Enemy's seminal hip-hop album Fear Of A Black Planet was unlike anything 11-year-old Quirindi farm boy Ben Leece had heard before.
In the lead up to triple j's launch into north-west NSW in 1995, the youth-based radio station would broadcast test signals from Tamworth. Entire albums were broadcast, including Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Primal Scream's Screamadelica.
An already music-obsessed Leece, tipped off about the test signal by his uncle, would tape the albums on cassette. One night Leece switched on his radio to hear Fear Of A Black Planet's track five Welcome To The Terrordome pounding out of the speakers.
"I turned it on and straight away went, 'What the f--k is this?'," Leece says. "It just completely blew my mind from that."
Leece taped the rest of the album and the previous glam metal and grunge fan suddenly had a new appreciation for hip-hop.
"It was the first thing that really changed the course for me," he says. "Before this, I wasn't necessarily an album type person outside of what I'd grown up with through my parents."
Fear Of A Black Planet was released in 1990 and is often considered the crowning achievement in the "golden age of hip-hop." Tracks like Fight The Power and Welcome To The Terrordome gave voice to African-American inequality and institutional racism in the US through Public Enemy leaders Chuck D and Flavor Flav's confrontational lyrics.
No one was off-limits. The government, police, Elvis Presley, John Wayne and fellow African-Americans came under Public Enemy's political blow torch. While The Bomb Squad's sample-heavy production gave the record incredible swagger.
It's an album that 30 years later remains frightfully relevant as the US and the world grapples with how to proceed following George Floyd's death and subsequent riots.
Leece maintained a love of hip-hop music into adulthood even though his musical path deviated down a guitar-driven rock'n'roll path, firstly with his former Newcastle band The Delta Lions.
Later he ventured into alt-country and Americana and released his Shane Nicholson-produced solo debut album No Wonder The World Is Exhaustedin 2018. While Leece's heartland brand of country-rock might be diametrically opposed to Fear Of A Black Planet, its political sentiment is obvious in tracks like Nothing (Not Anymore), which calls out white privilege.
"It planted a political seed, this idea of protest music that's been with me forever," he says. "A lot of what I write is from a social justice perspective, which I can almost 100 per cent attribute to this record."
Next month Leece will return to the studio to begin work on his second album with Nicholson. The plan is to craft a stronger overriding theme than his debut.
"I'd like to write more of an album per se this time around," he says. "So much has happened to me personally even before we got to the bush fires and pandemic."
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