Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

Considering my Top 20 Albums of all-time has seen much thought. Which albums make it, and why? I cast my mind back to albums that were glued to my turntable, only briefly leaving the slipmat to be flipped over.

Here’s another that was glued to my turntable back in the late 80’s.

Public Enemy’s – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is such an album. Extra credit as it really was a foray into harder rap for myself. The album stands alone in its genre. Their debut Yo Bum Rush The Show Was damn good, Fear Of A Planet is good but over rated. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back stands head and shoulders towering above other hard rap albums. If hard hip hop was football It Takes A Nation…… would be Barcelona and it’s nearest rival, with respect, would be Norwich City.

Countdown To Armageddon is a live loop sample that intros the LP. With an experimental vibe it shows PE have moved on massively from their dark debut.

Bring The Noise (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Sadler) does what it says on the tin. Urgent. Fast. The sound of the world going insane. A real mixed bag of name checks, Yoko Ono, Anthrax, Eric B, a crazy list. It’s a unifying jam.

Don’t Believe The Hype (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Sadler) sees Chuck D sounds so self-assured that you just have to listen. Flavor Flav sounds almost sensible on this track. “The leader of new school, uncool” but this is amongst the coolest things you’ve ever heard. A real thought out ear bashing for the press and a clear of a mission statement as you will find musically. “Some say that i’m negative – but they’re not positive”. Strongly referencing equality the band quash any doubts with this track. They know what time it is – and back in 1988 – when this dropped – Public Enemy’s time had truly arrived.

Cold Lampin’ With Flavor (Drayton, Shocklee, Sadler) sees Flavor Flav gloriously take centre stage. Blowing away a radio DJ who “guarantees you, no more music by these suckers” demolishes the hype they’ve attracted in 10 seconds flat. Flavor then ambles off into a very assured, yet truly rock ‘n’ roll statement of where he’s coming from. Crazy, bold, totally on it. The tracks tears up songwriting books with accuracy and lunacy in equal measure. “I know it sounds crazy, but it fits perfect, Peter perfect, Peter perfect Peter. Nuts and genius all at the same time.

Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic (Rogers, Ridenhour, Drayton) sees a sample of Queen – Flash torn up, thrown away, before blending into that sound of Bomb Squad devastating production. Jamming more than we’ve heard before on the album, then music takes the fore. It sounded so ahead of it’s time back in 1988. It sounds pretty damn fresh in 2011. Is there a better straight up hard rap album – if there is I still haven’t found it.

Mindterrorist is a loop. Short but still sounding like a planet going off the rails. Flavor Flav raps (loops) over it.

Louder Than A Bomb (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Sadler) sees that incredibly assured sound return. The jam is solid. Funky. Bold. When Chuck D delivers the line “You CIA, you see I ain’t kidding” is the first moment when your jaw may drop open in awe of the lyrical content and delivery. Word play that is as good, not only in rap, but in any genre, or written book….

Caught, Can I Get A Witness (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Sadler) attacks ownership of music. When they can sample to this level they scream for freedom of music. “They say that I sample, but they should sample this, my pitbull”. How they pull that line off without sounding threatening but just very frustrated I cannot say – but they do. So many outstanding lines in this track whilst still very funkily throwing that completely unique sound at you. Rage and love for music screams at you. The outfit stand as a unit on a mission.

Show “Em What’cha Got is a loop with a near gospel theme. It’s a setting for She Watch Channel Zero (Ridenhour, Griffin, Shocklee, Sadler, Drayton) walks into other genres so boldly that it just consumes them. Slayer’s – Angel Of Death is sampled throughout. It did, and still will, make heavy metal connoisseurs ears prick up. Attacking watching brain dead TV shows it screams “read a book or something”. Sounding like a brand new rock ‘n’ roll is emerging before your very ears but screaming educate youself at the same time is a difficult thing to pull off. Public Enemy pull it off with ease.

Night Of The Living Baseheads (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Sadler) pushes the bar higher still. A bigger warning about class A drugs you will struggle to find on vinyl (CD, or MP3 too). Dense lyrics are thrown at you from all directions. So many samples are thrown in that like Paul’s Boutique (Beastie Boys) you’ll be spotting them for years, decades even. An outstanding track.

Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Sadler, Rogers) is Public Enemey’s finest moment on their best LP. Subtle. Sweeping. Gentle loops are rapped over. The rap about Oliver North is a masterstroke that I will not try to get across with words. Do go listen to it – with a lyricsheet. An unequalled true hip hop masterpiece.

Security Of The First World is a beat laden instrumental. It serves as a much needed breather.

Rebel Without A Pause (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Rogers, Sadler) has a crazed screech that repeats throughout the track. Fantastic wordplay confirms a new rap standard. “You’re scared of dissin’ us, the crowd are missing us, we’re on a misson y’all”. Quality lines throughout the track, too many to attempt to quote.

Propehts Of Rage (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Sadler) when listened to on headphones has so much going on in it that you may need to pull the headphones off and go “phew”. Urgent. Funky. “It’s raw, and keeping you on the floor”.

Party For Your Right To Fight (Ridenhour, Shocklee, Sadler) a knowing nod to hip hop with a screech of near Prince-like funk yet still sounding like the world doomed beyond redemption. Public Enemy are the party but they cite education, oppression and defiance in a fresh genre opening album that really needs to be listened to.

A massive step forward from Yo Bum Rush The Show and an album that even when heard back in 1988 you knew they never could better. It’s one of the best 20 albums i’ve ever heard. Yes it gets in many, many Top 20’s but it does so for a reason. It deserves its place. If you’ve never heard it…. what are you waiting for…

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