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

Public Enemy released their classic and one of the most important albums in Hip Hop History “It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back” back on June 28 1988.  It is considered by many as the greatest Hip Hop album of all time!  The album was produced by Hank Shocklee and Rick Rubin.  It is also one of the most politically charged and Pro-Black Hip Hop albums of all time.  It is both revered and and adored by many.

This album is one of those albums that after you pop in the cassette or cd, you just let it play all the way through without having to use the forward or skip button!  I was a junior in high school when this album dropped and I would hide my Toshiba walkman in my backpack and on the way to an from school I felt like Radio Raheem!  I was walking in stereo!  This album made me believe that Hip Hop was here to stay and that we definitely can put the message in the music and still be heard without sounding too preachy!

The album is stacked with hits and any song can be a single.  The album starts off with “Bring The Noise” where Chuck D raps like he’s going for broke over a dope FunkadelicGet Off Your Ass and Jam” all the while his words manifest frustration, positivity and culture.  But then, he does that in every song!  The track starts off with the iconic from from Chuck D,

Bass! How low can you go?
Death row, what a brother know
Once again, back is the incredible
rhyme animal, the incredible

D, Public Enemy number one
“Five-O” said, “Freeze!” and I got numb
Can I tell ’em that I really never had a gun?
But it’s the wax that the Terminator X spun

The next track “Don’t Believe The Hype” has that same vibe where we all know how the lyrics starts!

Caught you lookin’ for the same thing
It’s a new thing – check out this I bring
Uh Oh the roll below the level
‘Cause I’m livin’ low next to the bass, C’mon
Turn up the radio
They claim that I’m a criminal
By now I wonder how
Some people never know
The enemy could be their friend, guardian
I’m not a hooligan
I rock the party and
Clear all the madness, I’m not a racist
Preach to teach to all
‘Cause some they never had this

Cold Lampin With Flavor” is another one of those Flavor Flav tracks that give the album that balance and it brings that Flav coolness and comedy!  He raps over a dope reproduction of “Funk It Up” by Sweet and gives us some “Flavorisms” that even now, we don’t know what the man is talking about!

Ya eatin death cause ya like gittin dirt from da graveyard – ya put gravy on it
Den ya pick ya teeth with tomb stone chips
And casket cover clips – dead women hips ya do da bump with – bones
Nutin but love bones
Lifestyles of the Live-en-dead
First ya live den ya dead – died trying ta clock what I said
Now I got a murder rap cause I bust ya cap with Flavor – pure Flavor

Night of the Living Baseheads” is that track that says “Just say no to drugs” without saying, “Just say no to drugs!”  As Chuck raps about the ill affects of drug addiction (especially crack) over a dope sample of “The Grunt“, you feel as if the man would come to your house and slap you if he ever caught you smoking or sniffing.  The video was and will ever be one of the dopest videos of all time.

Here it is
And you say, Goddamn
This is the dope jam
But lets define the term called dope
And you think it mean funky now, no
Here is a true tale
Of the ones that deal
Are the ones that fail
You can move if you want to move
What it prove
It’s here like the groove
The problem is this, we gotta’ fix it
Check out the justice, and how they run it
Sellin’, smellin’
Sniffin’, riffin’
And brothers try to get swift an’
Sell to their own, rob a home
While some shrivel to bone
Like comatose walkin’ around
Please don’t confuse this with the sound
I’m talking about BASS

We then get to “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos“.  This is that track that slaps you in the face, let’s you wake up just to slap you again.  Chuck raps about how we can one day be forced to join the military and by dodging them, he gets imprisoned and is thinking of a “master plan” to break out!  The sample they use is Isaac HayesHyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic

I got a letter from the government the other day
Opened and read it, it said they were suckers
They wanted me for their army or whatever
Picture me giving a damn, I said never
Here is a land that never gave a damn
About a brother like myself because they never did
I wasn’t with it, but just that very minute
It occured to me the suckers had authority

The first track that we heard before the album dropped was the incredible “Rebel Without A Pause” that appeared on the B side of “You’re Gonna Get Yours“.  Again they use “The Grunt” to give it that Public Enemy sound.  Chuck goes off as only Chuck can with the lines,

From a rebel it’s final on black vinyl
Soul, rock and roll comin’ like a rhino
Tables turn – suckers burn to learn
They can’t dis-able the power of my label
Def Jam – tells you who I am
The enemy’s public – they really give a damn
Strong Island – where I got ’em wild and
That’s the reason they’re claimin’ that I’m violent
Never silent – no dope gettin’ dumb nope
Claimin’ where we get our rhythm from
Number one – we hit ya and we give ya some
No gun – and still never on the run
You wanna be an S.1 – Griff will tell you when
And then you’ll come – you’ll know what time it is
Impeach the president – pullin’ out the ray-gun
Zap the next one – I could be you’re Sho-gun
Suckers – don’t last a minute
Soft and smooth – I ain’t with it
Hardcore – rawbone like a razor
I’m like a lazer – I just won’t graze ya
Old enough to raise ya – so this will faze ya
Get it right boy and maybe I will praise ya
Playin’ the role I got soul too
Voice my opinion with volume
Smooth – no what I am
Rough – cause I’m the man

No matter what the name – we’re all the same
Pieces in one big chess game
Yeah – the voice of power
Is in the house – go take a shower boy
P.E. a group, a crew – not singular
We were black Wranglers
We’re rap stranglers
You can’t angle us – I know you’re listenin’
I caught you pissin’ in you’re pants
You’re scared of us dissin’ us
The crowd is missin’ us
We’re on a mission boy

The other 2 explosive tracks on this album are “Louder Than A Bomb” and “Prophets of Rage” which makes this album one of the most hardcore Hip Hop albums ever!  There was nothing like it when it dropped and there was nothing like it after!

I’ve been listening to Hip Hop since the late 70’s and I can easily say that this is the greatest album in Hip Hop History.  I love “Illmatic“, “Ready To Die“,  “Death Certificate“, “Criminal Minded” and “Paid In Full” (amongst others) and I can tell you that I’ve never heard anything like this in my life.  The album was perfect lyrically and sonically.  The album was political and cultural.  The album is a masterpiece!  Run DMC passed the torch to Public Enemy and the world of Hip Hop went from party tracks to political activism!  Groups Like Boogie Down Productions, Poor Righteous Teachers and Paris all got their influence from PE.  Without Chuck, Flav, Terminator, Griff and the S1W’s we might of never had consciousness rap and for that we salute you guys!   “The revolution will not be televised!”

-Al E.


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