It’s interesting to note that Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back turned twenty in the summer of this year.
Released in June of 1988, the politically-charged hip-hop classic is as persuasive today as it was then. The record is mind-blowing and mind-expanding, offering a truly academic experience set to dangerous beats and samples.
The foundation for Public Enemy’s iconic second album begins with The Bomb Squad. Consisting of Hank and Keith Shocklee, Chuck D, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, The Bomb Squad is a production team noted for heavy use of samples and thick production values. Their swirling, weighty sound is amped-up to on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, adding a sense of exigency to Chuck D’s politically-charged lyrics.
Dubbed the “Messenger of Prophecy” in the album jacket, Chuck D is the structure of Public Enemy. Flavor Flav (“The Cold Lamper”) is the hype man, the ball of energy, the James Brown-on-crack. Along with The Bomb Squad’s complex jams, Terminator X on the wheels of steel, and Professor Griff bringing down the “information,” PE spells trouble for other rap groups.
One of the most fascinating aspects of It Takes a Nation is the exchange between Flav and Chuck D. The recording of the album was exceptional in that it made every attempt to profit from the energy of Flav without sacrificing any of Chuck’s lyrical content. So Chuck would record the whole song and belt the lyrics, then Flav’s hard sell and ad-libs would be added afterwards in the studio. The layers were combined and the result is an oft-chaotic, always-effective vibe.
As the highest ranking hip-hop album on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All-time list, the significance of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back cannot be overstated. It is, simply put, iconic.
“Bring the Noise” cranks out with shrieking sirens, encrusted background noise, a funky-ass beat, and X’s unimpeachable scratches. Chuck D takes charge, rolling out a rock-hard argument for rap as a momentous musical genre. (At the time, hip-hop was often discarded as “noise,” so “Bring the Noise” served as one of the most effective responses to the denigration ever recorded).