Tag Archives: Rick Rubin

Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Public Enemy
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
June 28, 1988
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
090/100
it-takes-a-nation-of-millions-to-hold-us-back-by-public-enemy
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.

Best tracks
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

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush the Show

Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show
April 1, 1987
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
080/100
Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show
1. You’re Gonna Get Yours // 2. Sophisticated Bitch // 3. Miuzi Weighs a Ton // 4. Time Bomb // 5. Too Much Posse // 6. Rightstarter // 7. Public Enemy No. 1 // 8. M.P.E. // 9. Yo! Bum Rush the Show // 10. Raise the Roof // 11. Megablast // 12. Terminator X Speaks With His Hands

While N.W.A was just starting take off in L.A. with their profane, violent lyrics about raising hell in Compton and South Central L.A. over Dre and Yella’s phoncky beats something else was brewing on the East-Coast of the USA.

Indeed Public Enemy largely bypassed the gangsta shit or rhyming about street life, selling drugs and fucking bitches, in stead they decided to rhyme about politics, the African-American community and the American media and all sorts of things much more serious and less hilariously graphic than their West-Coast contemporaries did, while their at-the-time Def Jam-assigned producer Rick Rubin, as well as PE’s own production team the Bomb Squad, couldn’t be bothered by Cali’s rather literal funk, and channels a somewhat more rock-tinged sound for Chuck D to rap over while Flava Flav props him up alongside him, eventually doing as much for “conscious hip-hop” as N.W.A did for gangsta rap.
For a group known as militant and political this debut sure is tame. It would seem that PE didn’t quite get political from the get-go since subject-wise they mostly tackle the same B-boy subjects that Run and Daryl were known for rapping about, nor did they set the world on fire with this album, since I cannot find an indication that Yo! Bum Rush the Show did platinum, or even gold numbers, or scored any big hits (back when record sales and radio were an actual indication of how many people actually were reached by a record).

As uncompromising as N.W.A was in their sound and lyrical content on Straight Outta Compton, they at the very least had prevalent sense of fun on some of the songs off their debut.  Songs like 8ball [Remix] or If It Ain’t Ruff may not have stood a ghost of a chance of getting played on the radio, but their sense of mischief and money maker-moving production paired with only made them extra suitable for fraternity parties.
Yo! Bum Rush the Show, because of being more acceptable to mom and dad’s ears and because of containing only one James Brown-sample, offers no such rebellious party function, which is probably why Yo! Bum Rush the Show didn’t go platinum on word of mouth, while Straight Outta Compton did.

Besides, few tracks go very far in expressing many of the profound but controversial beliefs PE is known for having (the dissing of gold digger-bitches on Sophisticated Bitch, the acquiring of a car on You’re Gonna Get Yours, the advise not to smoke crack on Megablast and the dismissal of sucker MCs on Public Enemy No. 1 are about the extent of the proceedings content-wise.)
The exception is Timebomb, which casually namedrops Kareem Abdul Jamar and adresses Apartheid and teen pregnancies among other similar subjects and Rightstarted (Message to a Black Man) which attempts to remind the black community of slavery and reasons about a link between high criminality rates among Afro-Americans and the white man holding the black man down. This is where the seeds of their 1988 breakthrough album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were sown.

Subject matter-wise Yo! Bum Rush the Show is varied enough to be consistently entertaining, with lots of old school-minded bragging, boasting and critiquing, as well as hints of social consciousness.
Technique alone elevates PE over the likes of RUN-DMC or the Sugar Hill Gang, who mostly rapped about the exact same subject matter, but never elaborately broke down any of these subjects the way Chuck D does, both content-wise and flow wise.
The beats are pretty fresh too. You’re Gonna Get Yours, an ode to Chuck’s beloved automobile has the kind of instrumental that would be equally well suited to score an ’80s race movie, with it’s jingling guitar, it’s booming bass and the scratching being substituted by car noises.
Sophisticated Bitch pairs rock guitars with hip-hop beats and takes one back to a time before soul and R&B were the obvious source material for hip-hop producers to sample.
Timebomb is the funkiest thing on here, which helps Chuck’s message go down and helps make the tone of the song activist rather than preachy.
Public Enemy Number One is the kind of propelling, minimal instrumental that manages to be both old school and timeless at the same time and makes anyone who rhymes over it sound good. (Even P. Daddy, when he jacked the beat wholesale for his song of the same name on his 1999 album Forever. A collection of songs with beats you’ve heard before elsewhere, better.)

Yo! Bum Rush the Show is a prime example hip-hop’s late ’80s coming of age. Chuck D (along with the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, N.W.A, the D.O.C., Ice-T and Schooly D) was one of the first to realise the genre’s potential lyrical complexity, all while, at the very least on this album, maintaining the old school sounds and mentality of those who came before him (RUN-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Sugarhill Gang). As such this is one of those albums every hip-hop historian should own, and an overlooked one at that. But since besides revolutionary and influential this is entertaining as hell from a music standpoint as well, fans of other musical genres that aren’t necessarily into hip-hop, should take this for a spin too.
You’ll rarely find an MC more authoritative-sounding than Chuck D and you will definitely never find a hypeman more engaging than Flava Flav. And with the Bomb Squad banging the beats and the legendary rock-producer Rick Rubin lending them a hand and overseeing this album’s creation you know what’s up.

Best tracks
You’re Gonna Get Yours
Public Enemy No. 1
Time Bomb

Recommendations
Pick this one up.