‘Nation Of Millions’: Why Public Enemy’s Masterpiece Can not Be Held Again

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Some hip-hop teams launch their hottest and greatest album the primary trip. That was only one conference Public Enemy refused to comply with. Launched on April 14, 1988, It Takes A Nation Of Hundreds of thousands To Maintain Us Again was PE’s second album. The title was drawn from a line in one in all their debut album’s songs, however the group’s sophomore effort blew its predecessor away with its sheer energy.

That’s saying one thing, as a result of Yo! Bum Rush The Present was a killer document in its personal proper. In the event that they’d launched solely Yo!, Public Enemy would have remained hip-hop cult heroes. However It Takes A Nation Of Hundreds of thousands To Maintain Us Again made Public Enemy legends, cultural icons, and representatives of cutting-edge Black music. It’s like they abruptly noticed their potential to be a lot greater than their first album delivered, and a lot greater than anyone had understood, and realized it in a single fell swoop.

Just lately named one in all Apple Music’s Greatest 100 Albums Of All-Time, hearken to Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Hundreds of thousands To Maintain Us Again now.

Welcome to the hip-hop apocalypse

The fury, the concepts, the vitality! Particularly the vitality – at first pay attention when it’s catching your ears and the message has but to slam dwelling in your thoughts. It’s like PE turned life up past its regular limits. If the studio had VU meters for sheer vitality, they’d have been up to now into the pink, the needles would have snapped.

How did they seize this? It was some sort of miracle, but really the product of the human creativeness and the brilliance of Bomb Squad studio boffins Hank Shocklee and Eric Sadler. Right here was the hip-hop apocalypse expressed in beats, rhymes, and sheer noise. No marvel the album’s working title was Countdown To Armageddon. There had been a aware effort to up the tempo, to ship hip-hop at velocity, and lift the amount. And the hell that Public Enemy raised would make them probably the most controversial figures in music, beneath fireplace even from admirers. It could take a while for the world to comprehend that the group weren’t keen to stick to the foundations as a result of there weren’t really any guidelines as such, solely conventions. Public Enemy noticed proper by this and simply did what they needed to do to get their message throughout.

Too Black? Too sturdy…

Nation Of Hundreds of thousands kicks in with British radio DJ Dave Pearce introducing the group reside at London’s Hammersmith Odeon: sirens, sheer noise, the whistle posse in full impact, and Professor Griff warning London that the apocalypse had arrived. Then got here the meat of the matter. The following voice we hear is Malcolm X saying, “Too Black, too strong,” and Chuck D speaks for the primary time: “Bass! How low can you go?” the primary of many phrases he’d utter on the album that caught within the mind like a barbed hook. Alongside his excellent foil, Taste Flav, Chuck weaves a posh dissertation in regards to the group’s place inside hip-hop and as Black males in America – as ever, however by no means higher than right here. “Bring The Noise,” certainly, as a panoply of samples and Terminator X’s scorching scratches make order from chaos and chaos from order.

The second killer arrives instantly: “Don’t Believe The Hype.” Extra downbeat however each bit as heavyweight, Chuck dismantles the tales surrounding the group, saying they’re right here to show everybody, not simply the brothers, and – in a intelligent line a few model of bleach – refuse to adapt to the media and music business stereotype, which dilutes the Black message in favor of being profitable.

Train? Ain’t they only a musical group? Yeah, however with a mission to tell. So we get “Night Of The Living Baseheads,” constructed on an insanely repetitive snippet from The JBs’ horns-driven blowout “The Grunt” and telling grim tales of the way in which crack can take the whole lot from a ghetto dweller whereas, in its opening pattern from Nation Of Islam’s Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad, explaining a probable purpose why. Chuck’s lyrics additionally embrace references to different rappers or their work – LL Cool J and Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O amongst them. Critics handled PE like they have been separate from the rap heartland, taking them extra severely and due to this fact leaving them extra open to assault, however, as Chuck’s lyrics clarify, the group grew out of – and remained – a stable a part of the hip-hop neighborhood regardless of buying an enormous viewers that might not give the time of day to most rap.

Rebels with no pause

“Rebel Without A Pause” additionally used “The Grunt,” however another way; Taste Flav is knocking out the beat alongside a pattern of “Funky Drummer,” giving the groove a extra “live” vibe, whereas DJ Terminator X delivers his variant on the “Transformer scratch,” including to the sheer ear-busting racket. Chuck’s lyrics serve a twin objective, explaining the PE ethos of at all times preventing the ability, however once more providing hip-hop chops in a declaration of unimpeachable dominance; the proper to rule is a daily message within the rap world. “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” is among the funkiest tunes in hip-hop, with a draft-dodging Chuck planning to bust out of jail, protecting his rage in verify to work out his methodology, figuring out the chances are stacked in opposition to him. Lengthy, darkish, hard-edged, and heavy, “Black Steel” hits exhausting.

Hip-hop is commonly self-reflective, specializing in what the music means and the way it’s acquired. “Caught, Can We Get A Witness?” takes this to the subsequent degree, reflecting on sampling and the issues of copyright claims, and the way pop music steals improvements that started on the Black aspect of city. Taste Flav will get some motion on the huge groover “Cold Lampin’ With Flavor,” which kicks off with a pattern of Mr. Magic, the NYC radio DJ, saying he’s not going to play anything by PE. Flav spends the observe explaining his life-style, together with the clock spherical his neck, in a free move of rhymes and apparently unconnected ideas.

That is ’88 hip-hop at its purest, and that applies too to the tribute to their turntablist, “Terminator X At The Edge Of Panic,” a depraved jam that defies anyone’s urge to be nonetheless. The beats-only tune “Security Of The First World” and additional (principally) instrumental cuts “Show ’Em Whatcha Got” and “Mind Terrorist” present a respiratory area to soak up the messages delivered elsewhere, like resting your muscle tissue the day after a exercise.

“Party For Your Right To Fight” sums up the PE ethos whereas talking of the Black Panthers and Elijah Muhammad, with Flav in a single ear and Chuck within the different: select both or each, that’s what the stability management in your DJ mixer is all about. “Louder Than A Bomb” is a declaration that Chuck won’t ever disguise his views; the exhausting rock of “She Watch Channel Zero?!” rips you out of the dream that’s gaping on the TV, utilizing a Slayer pattern simply as simply as they used The Bar-Kays. “Prophets Of Rage” is a ridiculously sturdy music to be tucked away close to the tip of an album, a flood of concepts that unite hip-hop assertiveness with hard-edged polemic.

The best hip-hop album of all time?

It Takes A Nation Of Hundreds of thousands To Maintain Us Again put Public Enemy on the forefront of the hip-hop that “rock” critics felt was necessary. This was each a profit and a burden: its messages have been meant to awaken hip-hop ears and attain the minds of the oppressed, however whereas the document hit the highest of the Black albums chart a variety of the consumers who gave the document its platinum standing have been educated school youngsters and white followers, whereas the “cold getting dumb” kind of hip-hop the group was making an attempt to interchange continued.

The truth that Public Enemy was seen by the white world meant in addition they got here beneath fireplace for perceived verbal felonies, and their each phrase was analyzed – an issue that might have an effect on them badly over the subsequent yr and into Nation Of Hundreds of thousands’ follow-up, Concern Of A Black Planet. However how the album was acquired then is neither right here nor there now. What’s necessary is that it was an unarguably highly effective assertion, a manifesto for the reignition of a mass motion for the liberation of African-People: Black energy for a brand new technology. Its musical influence was transformative; quite a few different rap acts adopted the lead of The Bomb Squad, PE’s sensible producers. The sheer quantity of sound they placed on plastic right here defies perception.

For a lot of followers and critics, that is the best hip-hop album of all time. These issues are at all times subjective, however when you’re immersed in its world, it’s not possible to argue that It Takes A Nation Of Hundreds of thousands To Maintain Us Again doesn’t need to be there, or thereabouts.

Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Hundreds of thousands To Maintain Us Again may be purchased right here.

In celebration of hip-hop’s fiftieth anniversary, uDiscover Music is publishing 50 album critiques all through 2023 that spotlight the breadth and depth of the style. The Hip-Hop 50 emblem was designed by Eric Haze, the thoughts behind iconic graphics for EPMD and LL Cool J.

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