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"911 Is a Joke" is a 1990 song by American hip hop group Public Enemy, from their third album, Fear of a Black Planet. The song is solely done by Flavor Flav. It was released as a single and became a hit in June 1990, reaching number 15 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, and number one on the Hot Rap Singles chart, becoming their second number-one rap chart hit after "Fight the Power".[2] It also reached number one on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart.[3] This was due largely to its sales, which were unusually high for the level of mainstream airplay it received; Billboard reported that only one of the stations on its Top 40 panel was playing it.[4]

"911 Is a Joke"
Public Enemy 911 Is A Joke.jpg
Single by Public Enemy
from the album Fear of a Black Planet
ReleasedApril 1990[1]
FormatVinyl record
LabelDef Jam - Def Jam 73309
Producer(s)The Bomb Squad
Public Enemy singles chronology
"Brothers Gonna Work It Out"
"911 Is a Joke"
"Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man"

The song is about the lack of response to emergency calls in a black neighborhood, but specifically references the poor response by paramedic crews and not the police, which is a common misconception regarding the track;[5] the "911" in the title of the song refers to 9-1-1, the emergency telephone number used in North America.[6]



The song was written by Public Enemy member Flavor Flav and producers Keith Shocklee and Eric "Vietnam" Sadler of The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy's production team. Flavor Flav is the featured vocalist.[7]

Samples usedEdit

Among the samples used in "911 Is a Joke" is Vincent Price's laughter from "Thriller" by Michael Jackson. Other samples include "Flash Light" by Parliament, "Misunderstood" by Mico Wave, "Think (About It)" by Lyn Collins, "Gottago Gottago!" by Robin Harris, "Devil With the Bust" by Sound Experience, "Feel Like Dancing" by Wilbur "Bad" Bascomb, and "Hit by a Car" and "Singers" by Eddie Murphy. According to law professors Peter DiCola and Kembrew McLeod, if the samples used on "911 Is a Joke" and the other tracks on Fear of a Black Planet had been cleared for copyright under 2010 rates, each copy of the album would have generated a loss of five dollars per album sold, instead of a profit.[8]


Chart (1990) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[9] 64
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[10] 71
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[11] 22
Switzerland (Swiss Hitparade)[12] 25
UK Singles Chart[13] 41
U.S. Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles[3] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 15
U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales 26

Covers and media referencesEdit

San Francisco alternative metal band Faith No More covered a snippet of the song during several shows in 1990.[14]

In the 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the character Carlton Banks, played by Alfonso Ribeiro, says to Will that he had borrowed his Public Enemy tape when he went for a run and he sings the lines 'Get up, get, get, get down, 911 is a joke in yo town' in his own style. Jazz would respond to Will, "That used to be my favorite song."

In October 1994, the song was featured prominently in the opening scene of "Tasha", an early episode of the Fox police drama television series New York Undercover.[15]

In 1995, English pop rock band Duran Duran covered "911 Is a Joke" on their Thank You album.[16]

In 2009, The Washington Post ran a story discussing Public Enemy members' visit to a center for homeless and displaced youth.[17] The article referred to the song "911 is a Joke", but due to a copy-editing error,[18] "911" was printed as "9/11", which some readers[19] took to be a reference to the September 11 attacks. A week later, the Post printed a correction.[6]


  1. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (October 21, 2004). The Great Rock Discography (7th ed.). Canongate U.S. p. 1226. ISBN 1841956155.
  2. ^ "Public Enemy chart information". AllMusic. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Hot 100 Sales & Airplay" (PDF). Billboard. BPI Communications, Inc. 102 (24): 90. June 16, 1990. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  4. ^ Ellis, Michael (June 9, 1990). "Hot 100 Singles Spotlight" (PDF). Billboard. BPI Communications, Inc. 102 (23): 85. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  5. ^ Watrous, Peter (April 22, 1990). "RECORDINGS; Public Enemy Makes Waves - and Compelling Music". The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  6. ^ a b "A note of hope from voices of experience: Correction". The Washington Post. December 3, 2009. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  7. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Fear of a Black Planet - Public Enemy". AllMusic. Retrieved February 28, 2011.
  8. ^ McLeod, Kembrew (March 31, 2010). "How to Make a Documentary About Sampling--Legally". The Atlantic online. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  9. ^ "The ARIA Australian Top 100 Singles Chart – Week Ending 05 Aug 1990 (61–100) (from The ARIA Report Issue No. 30)". Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  10. ^ " > Public Enemy – 911 Is a Joke" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  11. ^ " > Public Enemy – 911 Is a Joke (song)". Hung Medien. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  12. ^ "hitparade > Public Enemy – 911 Is a Joke" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  13. ^ "Official Charts > Public Enemy". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved May 22, 2016.
  14. ^ "ARTISTS OF THE YEAR | December 1990 | Spin Magazine". Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  15. ^ Reggie Rock Bythewood (writer); Jace Alexander (director) (1994-10-27). "Tasha". New York Undercover. Season 1. Episode 7. Fox.
  16. ^ "Duran Duran song information". allmusic. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  17. ^ Dickson, Akeya (November 26, 2009). "A note of hope from voices of experience: Public Enemy reaches out to homeless youth in D.C." The Washington Post. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  18. ^ Alexander, Andrew (December 11, 2009). "Correction goes viral, blame is misplaced". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 8, 2010.
  19. ^ Silverman, Craig (December 11, 2009). "Don't Need to Wait, Get the Record Straight". Columbia Journalism Review. Archived from the original on 18 October 2010. Retrieved September 8, 2010.

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