Public Enemy -‘It takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.’ (Def Jam Recordings, 1988)
Boom! In your face.
Public Enemy’s sophomore album from 1988 more than developed the promise of their debut Yo! Bumrush The Show, it showed that they were major contenders, not just in hip-hop but in music generally. There’s more righteus anger here than in one hundred punk albums, and whilst you could party to this album, it was a wake-up call for many.
‘Too black! Too strong’ runs ‘Bring the Noise.’ ‘Radio stations…I question their blackness. They call themselves black – but let’s see if they’ll play this’ says Chuck D. They may not have been knocking on the door of the daytime playlist in the UK then (and this is twenty years ago, remember, much less variation in what was available), but they were breaking into the charts. Political, in your face music. Hip-Hop was here to stay, producing not just party jams, but music as political as punk, as the protest singers of the sixties. Public Enemy clearly felt like outsiders and they were not taking crap off anyone.
Politically of its’ time – Hip-Hop was described as being the black person’s CNN, pointing out that mainstream media in the US was not speaking to a united nation. It was twenty years since Martin Luther King had been assassinated, another twenty years until Barack Obama would be elected US President. Whatever had been achieved, there was a hell of a lot to do.
I was eleven when the album came out – and to my shame it was nearly ten years later when I properly started to listen to it. For me, this was the album that taught me how to listen to how an album was produced and put together. There is a very strong possibility that this could be the best-produced album ever, so kudos to Rick Rubin. This is an album that much can be learned to from listening on headphones. Not wasted on ghastly muso musings, but listening to intricacies on here, the beats, the samples, the tightest rhythm ever.
Singles that made an impact were ‘Bring the Noise’ (later re-recorded with thrash metal band Anthrax to stunning effect in 1991) and ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’ but for me the standout track is ‘She Watch Channel Zero?!’ one of the most intense things ever committed to vinyl.
Frequently appearing in ‘best of’ lists for the eighties and Hip-Hop, this is simply one of the best albums ever.