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MUSIC
IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK
1988

Yo! Bum Rush the Show was an invigorating record, but it looks like child's play compared to its monumental sequel, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a record that rewrote the rules of what hip-hop could do. That's not to say the album is without precedent, since what's particularly ingenious about the album is how it reconfigures things that came before into a startling, fresh, modern sound. Public Enemy used the template Run-D.M.C. created of a rap crew as a rock band, then brought in elements of free jazz, hard funk, even musique concrete, via their producing team, the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before. This coincided with a breakthrough in Chuck D's writing, both in his themes and lyrics. It's not that Chuck D was smarter or more ambitious than his contemporaries - certainly, KRS-One tackled many similar sociopolitical tracts, while Rakim had a greater flow - but he marshaled considerable revolutionary force, clear vision, and a boundless vocabulary to create galvanizing, logical arguments that were undeniable in their strength. They only gained strength from Flavor Flav's frenzied jokes, which provided a needed contrast. What's amazing is how the words and music become intertwined, gaining strength from each other. Though this music is certainly a representation of its time, it hasn't dated at all. It set a standard that few could touch then, and even fewer have attempted to meet since. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The title says it all. In 1988, when this album was released, Public Enemy's music cut with a wholly revolutionary edge. Rarely has fear, anger, paranoia and anxiety been so masterfully compressed onto a record's grooves. The Bomb Squad's artistry is the keynote to the hard, lean delivery, while Chuck D's supremely pointed lyrics leave no stone of the black experience unturned. It is not comfortable listening, but on tracks such as 'Don't Believe The Hype', 'Night Of The Living Baseheads' and 'Rebel Without A Pause' the listener is left in no doubt that they are facing a fantastically potent force.

Rap didn't come any heavier, harder or angrier in '88 than Public Enemy's second Molotov cocktail of nuclear scratching, gnarly minimalist electronics and revolution rhyme. Where a lot of rap vinyl is still mostly beats and bluster "Nation" features abrupt sequencing and violent sonic compression of rapid-fire samples, slamming-jail-door percussion, DJ Terminator X's tornado turntable work and Chuck D's outraged oratory; listening to it is like having your brain hot-wired into emergency TV broadcasts, with the apocalypse playing on every channel. That Public Enemy can step into your face so fiercely, challenging your courage with its conviction, makes the band's lapses into sexism and advocacy of Black Muslim demagogue Louis Farrakhan all the more troublesome. Chuck D slams a sister for clotting her brain with TV sop in "She Watch Channel Zero?!" only to have comouth Flavor Flav grouse, "Baby, you gotta cut that garbage off, yo, I wanna watch the game." If the revolution is televised, will Public Enemy be glued to Monday Night Football? As for Farrakhan, the band's salutes to him the real issues of strength through pride, of war on apathy, that fuel the PE noise. "Remember," Chuck D says in "Don't Believe the Hype," there's a need to get alarmed."

It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
(from HipOnline website) by rae gun
The world is pronouncing Rage Against The Machine to be one-of-a-kind geniuses, but without Public Enemy they'd have no career or inspiration. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back takes the political records of the last fifteen years and renders them completely insignificant.

It doesn't even take hindsight to realize that this record was genius. Chuck D is perhaps the most skilled individual in the rap game. And his skill goes beyond his rhyming skills; his voice is power personified. It digs deep into your soul until you're ready to burst. Then there is Flavor Flav, the clowned prince of rap. His silly rhymes add a lighthearted spirit to the heavy depths that Public Enemy takes you to. The undercurrent is heavy, but a lot is owed to the master of the turntables, Terminator X, who was far ahead of his time. The beats are timeless and the cuts will leave you in awe.

The album boasts front to back classic tracks. Not one track goes by where you don't miss a line that is so significant that every band in the world is sampling it today, so significant that Public Enemy would sample themselves within the same record. The first bomb is dropped on "Bring The Noise". Chuck D will turn you out. His voice booms while Flavor Flav agitates him throughout. "Don't Believe The Hype" is an anthem, and though not as groundbreaking as their biggest hit, "Fight The Power", it is still damn meaningful. "Flavor Flav Cold Lampin'" is silly as hell but a complete trip. Flavor has the flavor and it tastes like fun.

Then you take a break for a song or two. "Louder Than A Bomb" starts off calm and tranquil, but Chuck kills that. He is fiery as hell and even madder. And you know Public Enemy doesn't dance around topics; just check out "Caught, Can I Get A Witness". Chuck announces, "Caught, now in court 'cause I stole a beat/ this is a sampling sport," and goes on to bust more heads with, "you singers are spineless/ as you sing your senseless songs to the mindless/ your general subject love is minimal/ it's sex for profit."

"Night Of The Living Baseheads" is the most memorable track from this album, thanks to a crazy video. How could anyone forget the opening: "Here it is/ BAM/ and you say Goddamn/ this is a dope jam"? But the song is deep, not an egotistical journey. They were one of the first groups to kick the world in the ass about the real drug epidemic in the inner cities. As powerful as "Night Of The Living Baseheads" is, it's "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos" that finds Chuck D pouncing, more pissed off than ever. I can listen to this track over and over again. The plot is a prison escape, and although it's fictional, Chuck still finds a way to take shots at everyone from the federal government to racism.

The album never relents as it gives you a finale of three dynamite militant tracks: "Rebel Without A Pause", "Prophets Of Rage", and "Party For Your Right To Fight". "Party..." is a piece of sampling genius. The rhyming is bone chilling as Chuck D kicks in your right eardrum and Flavor Flav bangs on the left.

Still think Rage Against The Machine is the top of the political mountain? You only need a few lines from "Party..." to realize how wrong you are. Could Rage ever take on such an opponent as Public Enemy does on several occasions in the same song? "This party started in '66/ with a pro-black radical mix/ then at the hour of twelve/ some force cut the power/ and emerged from hell/ it was your so called government/ that made this occur/ like the grafted devils they were," and, "J. Edgar Hoover and he coulda' proved to 'ya/ He had King and X set up/ also the party with Newton, Cleaver and Seale." The album title speaks the truth; It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back!