"911 is a Joke" is remarkable for being a Public Enemy song which made it to the Top 40 on the Hot 100 chart. This only happened one other time, with "Give It Up" at #33 in 1994. Of course, an act like Public Enemy jeers at the Billboard charts when it notices them at all, but that makes this all the more remarkable.
The song was written by Flavor Flav, who ought to be acquainted with 911 emergency services if the news stories are to be believed. He has a rap sheet going back to 11th grade, and has stood charged (at various times) with assault, domestic violence, attempted murder, and lots of traffic tickets.
Unlike most Public Enemy songs where Chuck D. handles most of the vocals, Flav takes the lead here, paving the way for his subsequent reality show notoriety.
We'd like to point out that Flavor Flav (born William Drayton) does have some musical talent, he just chooses not to use it most of the time. In our chat with Harold Brown of the group War
, we learned that Flavor came from a musical family and can play piano, drums and guitar. With Public Enemy, he served as comic relief, and Chuck D. always made it clear that he was a character designed to take the edge off their socially and politically charged songs. Unlike character singers like Alice Cooper, however, Flav stays in character and even amplifies it at opportune times, which leads to more reality TV gigs.
Flavor Flav sang this intentionally out of key. Chuck D. explained: "When you put him in key, it gets syrupy - too close to music. See, when you add noise on top of noise, you gonna tune everybody out. But with Flavor, he becomes the noise, because he is annoying!"
A common misconception about this song is that it's critical of the police response time in urban black neighborhoods. Actually, it's about the paramedics response time - important distinction.
This song pops up in the oddest places. Duran Duran covered it on their album Thank You. Comedy Central used the song for commercials for their Reno 911! TV series. It also appeared in an episode of American Dad.
Related trivia: 9-1-1 is the emergency number in the US, but how many Americans can name the equivalent number in other countries? In case you have to face such a question in a future Jeopardy appearance, here's a few major ones: Australia (000), European Union (112), United Kingdom (999), New Zealand (111), India (108), Israel (100). (999) is also used in many other parts of the world, such as Hong Kong, Ireland, and Poland. If you aren't in one of the countries on this list, just try to stay out of trouble.