It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
June 28, 1988
Def Jam Recordings/ Columbia Records/ SME
1. Countdown to Armageddon // 2. Bring the Noise // 3. Don’t Believe the Hype // 4. Cold Lampin’ With Flavor // 5. Terminator X to the Edge of Panic // 6. Mind Terrorist // 7. Louder Than a Bomb // 8. Caught, Can We Get a Witness // 9. Show ’em Whatcha Got // 10. She Watch Channel Zero?! // 11. Night of the Living Baseheads // 12. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos // 13. Security of the First World // 14. Rebel With a Pause // 15. Prophets of Rage // 16. Party for Your Right to Fight
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was the album that broke rapper Chuck D, hypeman flava Flav and DJ Terminator X; collectively known as Public Enemy, to the masses and showed the world that there was a market for densely produced, vigourously performed rap songs about unapologetically Afrocentric subject matter and social commentary interchanged with swaggering party tracks. It outsold their more B-boy orented 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show and went gold within a week of release. Obviously they didn’t do all this alone. They were aided by the Bomb Squad, a production crew consisting of Hank Shocklee, his brother Keith, Eric “Vietnam” Sandler, G-Whiz and Chuck D himself. They developed a new hip-hop sound that was charactarised by the intrumental being packed to the gills with samples. It was later dubbed “the wall of noise”, analoguous to Phil Spector’s revolutionary “wall of sound” in the ’60s. The impressive thing is that that is hardly an overstatement. Compare how different for instance N.W.A sounded on N.W.A and the Posse and Straight Outta Compton. Then check out It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back, which came out a month before the latter and try to make the case that this album wasn’t a profound influence and that it didn’t pretty much reinvent rap music, changing it forever making it more musically complex and better in general.
You can’t because it did.
Overseeing this merry band of young, ambitious whippersnappers was super producer Rick Rubin who has a career trajectory that is pretty much unrivaled both in scope and in longevity. Dude produced everyone from Johnny Cash to Eminem, started working in 1982 and show no sign of slowing down today. It Takes a Million isn’t one of his lesser achievements.
Most good hip-hop combines music that sets a mood with a rapper with a unique mic presence and persona. It Takes a Million is no exception. Its storming beats are the perfect environment for Chuck D to land his equally intense vocals onto while Flava Flav rides shotgun. It Takes a Million is via the intro and a couple of skits framed as a live album which it most certainly is not. If however any hip-hop album is so energetic you can pretty much taste the music as it plays, as though it’s being constructed right in front of you, it is this one. The album kicks off with the pumping Bring the Noise and never loses stamina. The album never goes slower than midtempo and does even that only very rarely. The late ’80s were a simpler time for rap artists. “Slow jams for the ladies” were not yet necessary inclusions for Def Jam Records to consider a project for release, let alone weird EDM-rap mutations. In stead the listener is treated to a musical firestorm. You can disagree with these guys’ politics, but even then it would be incredibly difficult to deny the infectiousness of their music. Chuck D’s rhymes about his views on Nation of Islam and opression of blacks, among other subjects, are intense and authorative-sounding throughout.
It’s difficult to choose highlights from this album because it is an integral success and this is one of those albums which one should enjoy in its entirety. Still, personal favourites of yours truly are the rambunctious opener Bring the Noise, the teapot-whistle of Terminator X To the Edge later rebooted on Rebel Without a Pause, the fast-paced funk groove of Caught, Can We Get a Witness? The ’80s-rock tinged closer Party For Your Right to Fight is dope as hell, as are the ominous piano keys of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. Even the tracks that aren’t complete songs work: the sax-riff looping instrumental Show ’em Whatcha Got and the also vocal-less drum break Security Of the First World are sound music making, the latter two later served as the basis for completely different songs by other artists: Rump Shaker by Wrecx-N-Effect and Justify My Love respectively, and many other songs via those tracks getting jacked.
If you haven’t yet heard It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back I suggest you drop everything and find a way to listen to it ASAP, it’s that good.
Bring the Noise
Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
Rebel With a Pause
Party For Your Right to Fight
Buy this album.