911 Is a Joke

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"911 Is a Joke"
Single by Public Enemy
from the album Fear of a Black Planet
Released March 22, 1990
Format Vinyl record
Recorded 1989
Genre Golden age hip hop, political hip hop
Length 3:17
Label Def Jam - Def Jam 73309
Writer(s) Flavor Flav, Keith Shocklee, Eric "Vietnam" Sadler
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"

"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 1 on the Hot Rap Singles chart, becoming their second number-one rap chart hit after "Fight the Power".[1] 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;[2] the "911" in the title of the song refers to 9-1-1, the emergency telephone number used in North America.[3]


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.[4]

Samples used[edit]

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.[5]


Chart (1990) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks 15
U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales 26

Covers and media references[edit]

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.[6]

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 1995, English pop rock band Duran Duran covered "911 Is a Joke" on their Thank You album.[7]

In 2009, The Washington Post ran a story discussing Public Enemy members' visit to a center for homeless and displaced youth.[8] The article referred to the song "911 is a Joke", but due to a copy-editing error,[9] "911" was printed as "9/11", which some readers[10] took to be a reference to the September 11 attacks. A week later, the Post printed a correction.[3]


  1. ^ "Public Enemy chart information". allmusic. Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  2. ^ Watrous, Peter (April 22, 1990). "RECORDINGS; Public Enemy Makes Waves - and Compelling Music". The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "A note of hope from voices of experience: Correction". The Washington Post. December 3, 2009. Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  4. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Fear of a Black Planet - Public Enemy". Allmusic. Retrieved February 28, 2011. 
  5. ^ McLeod, Kembrew (March 31, 2010). "How to Make a Documentary About Sampling--Legally". The Atlantic online. Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  6. ^ Reggie Rock Bythewood (writer); Jace Alexander (director) (1994-10-27). "Tasha". New York Undercover. Season 1. Episode 7. Fox. 
  7. ^ "Duran Duran song information". allmusic. Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Alexander, Andrew (December 11, 2009). "Correction goes viral, blame is misplaced". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  10. ^ 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. 

External links[edit]