What a battle we had last week between Midnight Marauders and Low End Theory! Both albums swapped spots numerous times throughout the week and neither album got down by more than seven votes or so. In the end, in a decision that was as close as it could be without a tie, Low End Theory won out by one vote 90-89. I honestly expected Midnight Marauders to win it, so it was somewhat of a surprise on my end. Lot’s of votes, hopefully this week will be as exciting.
For people in their thirties, such as my old ass self, Public Enemy probably commands more than one memory in our senile minds. Most definitely one of, if not the most important group in our generation, Public Enemy is responsible for the rise of Black pride among African-Americans and also brought racial awareness to the average white kid in the suburb as their music crossed over to the college radio stations, Yo! MTV Raps, and the mainstream music press of the era such as Rolling Stone and Spin magazines. Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, Terminator X & The S1W’s were filling up stadiums and arenas everywhere. Their B-Boy in the cross hairs logo was a symbol of their fight against the very system that was adopting their music as the generations rebellion.
The group’s first album, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, was a proper introduction to the masses of what P.E. would be bringing in the future. The album could easily have been any other groups greatest album as the crew brought everything from social-political jargon, to battle rhymes, to touching on the ills of society. But for P.E., Yo! would only be a small taste of what was to come. Coupled with the Bomb Squad’s “throw it in a blender” type of production of swirling sounds and mashed up beats, the groups pinnacle of creative prowess was seen in their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and their third album, Fear of a Black Planet. Which takes the title of most revered? We shall see.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back Vs. Fear of a Black Planet
My introduction to Public Enemy came right at the time I dove head first into hip hop music. Up until the summer of 1988, I listened to a lot of hip hop, but I don’t think I had “devoted” my musical tastes completely to hip hop. I’ve told the story a million times on here before, so I’ll skip the details and just say in August of ’88, Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads” video was played on the debut episode of “Yo! MTV Raps”. After the show, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back would be the first album I would run out and purchase after witnessing this spectacle (if you have seen the video, you know what I mean).
I still border on getting the chills whenever I hear the intro on It Takes a Nation of Millions…. with the concert announcer announcing the group, then it jumps into Griff dropping a warning over a chilling air raid siren which then immediately jumps into “Bring The Noise”. I can still remember the first time I heard that intro, sitting in my room with my walkman and my headphones over my ears, jamming to my newly purchased tape. What would ensue after that, was nothing but pure chaos, both sonically and lyrically. The music was like NOTHING I heard ever heard before in my young life. There were sounds upon sounds, weird sounds, loud sounds, high sounds, low sounds. Music shouldn’t sound like this, yet I loved it. It was utter noise, but it was unlike anything out there. The album would be the reason that to this day I still consider The Bomb Squad my second favorite producers after DJ Premier. “Bring The Noise” is signature Bomb Squad. If you stop and concentrate on just one sound going on in the collage of noise, you get the feeling of “audio dizziness”, if there is such a thing. Built upon layers of unrecognizable samples (I’ve heard that even Keith and Hank have forgotten what they’ve used on some of these songs), “Bring The Noise” is one of the more noisier tracks found on the album, but other tracks such as “Rebel Without a Pause” bring that apocalyptic soundtrack to the listeners ear drums. Armed with a siren like noise (which I fuckin’ love), sledge hammer percussion, and a flurry of scratches (by Johnny Juice?), Rebel is up there as one of my all-time favorite P.E. songs. It should be the track that should be played in a hundred years when they ask, “What did the Bomb Squad’s production sound like?” The cold feel of “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” is tame by Bomb Squad standards, but serves as a perfect backdrop to Chuck’s tales of a prison breakout. The Issac Hayes piano keys give the track an eerie atmosphere that turns quite chilling (especially when witnessed with the video for the album) toward the ending. To this day, I don’t think there is a more creative produced hip hop album in the history of genre.
Lyrically, Chuck D still possess one of the most powerful and recognizable voices in all of hip hop. On It Takes a Nation… Chuck stepped up his game and joined the level of Krs and Rakim as MC’s who demanded your respect. He might not have been the most skilled MC but you can’t argue that he didn’t demand your attention to his lyrics, when they could have very easily been lost in the whirlwind of sounds collapsing on your ear drums. “Bring The Noise” is a great jump off track as Chuck also drops ill lines that demand your attention:
Bass! how low can you go?
Death row what a brother knows
Once again, back is the incredible
The rhyme animal
The incredible D. Public Enemy number one
Five-o said “freeze!” and I got numb
Can I tell ‘em that I never really had a gun?
But it’s the wax that the Terminator X spun
Now they got me in a cell ‘cuz my records they sell
‘Cuz a brother like me said “well?”
Farrakhan’s a prophet and I think you outta listin to
What he can say to you what you otta do
Follow for now power of the people say.
“Make a miracle, D. pump the lyrical”
United we stand, all in all, we’re gonna win.
Check it out, yeah y’all, here we go again
Chuck grew in leaps and bound from Yo!… to It Takes a Nation…. on the lyrical tip. He sounded more comfortable, more in command, and was more daring. His voice will always be one that demands the respect of the listener, no matter who is doing the beats. That is such an important matter in what makes Public Enemy the force they were on this album. An average MC would be lost going against these types of beats. Chuck D also had the cadence down along with a forceful and powerful delivery. Chuck would attack the tracks head on and the combination of his voice and lyrics with the abrasive sound of the beats just makes the album that much better. The topics that Chuck takes on are important at the time and still important in today’s age. The aforementioned, “Night of the Living Baseheads”, Chuck tackles the crack epidemic that was running wild in the inner city ghetto’s in every black city, USA. He takes you down a trip to that crack house:
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 wanna 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
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
It was the late 80′s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”, as Chuck dropped vivid imagery of a night around a basshead. He would tackle the evils of the television on, “She Watch Channel Zero”, and a brainwashed chick watching too much TV. This album would launch Chuck into the one of the most respected black leaders of the late 80′s.
I’ve long considered It Takes a Nation of Millions…. one of the best hip hop albums EVER created. At one time, it would be my favorite hip hop album of all-time, and it would still probably be second or third on my list. The album was so cutting edge and ahead of it’s time, that some people still don’t get the genius of the album.
While P.E. was on top of the world in ’88, it wouldn’t last long. With the group’s brash criticisms of both society and race relations as well as the government, it wouldn’t be long before it all boiled over in what is now the infamous Professor Griff interview in the Washington Times. In that interview, Griff was quoted as saying something to the fact that the Jews were responsible for the majority of the wickedness in the world. Needless to say, shit hit the fan, which at first would lead to the firing of Griff, then a few days later, an announcement from Chuck saying that Public Enemy was disbanding. They would soon get back together, and drop the summer anthem, “Fight The Power”, for Spike Lee’s original motion picture, “Do The Right Thing”. It was clear P.E. was back, bigger, better, and more pissed off than ever. That fall, they would drop the unapologetic “Terrordome”, in which Chuck has choice words for everyone and anyone:
Crucifixion ain’t no fiction
So called chosen frozen
Apology made to who ever pleases
Still they got me like Jesus
I rather sing, bring, think reminisce
‘Bout a brother while I’m in sync
Every brother ain’t a brother cause a color
Just as well could be undercover
Backstabbed, grabbed a flag
From the back of the lab
Told a Rab get off the rag
Sad to say I got sold down the river
Still some quiver when I deliver
Never to say I never know or had a clue
Word was heard, plus hard on the boulevard
Lies, scandalizin’, basin’
Traits of hate who’s celebratin’ wit satan?…..
If you know the detailed story about how things went down, those lyrics contain some deep meanings, as Chuck fires back at all those who were against him, the naysayers, the doubters and the ones that tried to hang him out to dry. On a personal level, like just about everyone that summer, “Fight The Power” more than got me excited for the next Public Enemy album, while “Terrordome” was the shotgun blast that got our attention. The track was just as angry as Chuck was and was classic Public Enemy lyrically, if not pissed off P.E. while sonically, the Bomb Squad brought the heat. Then over the winter, they dropped the Flav hosted “911 is a Joke” and the stage was more than set.
Immediately, we realize that Chuck and company aren’t going to let what happened in ’89 slide, as “Contract on the World Love Jam” serves as Fear of a Black Planet’s introduction. Sound bites from the media coverage of the Griff and P.E. breakup litter the instrumental that serves as the “quiet before the storm”. No time is wasted jumping into the first track, which is the Bomb Squad’s sound in all it’s finest aspects. A chopped vocal sample, scratches, more vocal samples, frenzied handclaps and drum tracks over pulsating synths just warms shit up as Chuck drops his lyrics over a electric guitar sound that just bombards the audio senses. Production wise, I think of it as the Bomb Squad’s shining moment. Utter noise and chaos in all it’s beautiful bliss.
The Bomb Squad would come a bit different on the production, providing a more “updated” sound that matched with the quickly changing hip hop scene in those days (funny how music changed more in those two years than it has changed in the last ten, that’s TRULY my problem with today’s music, but that’s for another post). Gone were the loud sirens, the cut and paste layered samples, in their place were more grooves and uhhh melodies? Yeah, there are sounds close to what I would consider a “melody” of sorts, at least for the Bomb Squad. “Pollywanacracka” is almost bare bones in it’s musical approach, something not seen since some of the early Yo! Bum Rush The Show days. The track would give a backdrop for something new in the form of Chuck coming with a different delivery, a different style, that to this day I’ve still only heard him do on this track. The Bomb Squad would also alter Chuck’s vocals on “The B-Side Wins Again”, showing that they were trying to be more daring and experimental on Fear of a Black Planet. A different vibe was also seen on “Power To The People”, as they displayed almost a bouncy type of feel on the track. The track utlizes a simple scratch to be the tracks backbone and a jazzy horn sample over a bouncy drum track. Don’t get me wrong though, the Bomb Squad was abandoning the musical form of anarchy just yet. “Who Stole the Soul” is a busy and noisy P.E. track in all it’s beauty. The hook/bridge contains all sorts of interesting samples and sound effects, along with Flav leading the chaos.
Topic wise, there was a little bit of everything found on Fear of a Black Planet. Interracial relationships are covered on two songs, “Polly…” and the scathing title track, “Fear of a Black Planet”:
Man calm your ass down, don’t get mad
I don’t your sistah (But supposin’ she said she loved me)
Would you still love her
Or would you dismiss her
What is pure? Who is pure?
Is it European state of being, I’m not sure
If the whole world was to come
Thru peace and love
Then what would we made of?
Excuse us for the news
You might not be amused
But did you know white comes from Black
No need to be confused
Excuse us for the news
I question those accused
Why is this fear of Black from White Influence who you choose?
Man c’mon now, I don’t want your wife
Stop screamin’ it’s not the end of your life (But supposin’ she said she loved me)
What’s wrong with some color in your family tree
I don’t know I’m just a rhyme sayer
Skins protected ‘gainst the ozone layer
Breakdown 2001 Might be best to be Black
Or just Brown countdown
Not even Hollywood was safe, as Chuck teamed up with Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane in the classic “Burn Hollywood Burn”, ripping the bourgeois of the Hollywood movie scene and knocking them for their lack of positive black roles. Chuck let’s fire at anyone he deems necessary, it’s possibly P.E.’s most daring album topic wise that they ever did.
I honestly believe the majority of the It Takes a Nation of Millions….. votes will come from heads that heard that album first, while people who heard Fear of a Black Planet first will be more inclined to give their vote to that album. When listening to It Takes a Nation of Millions… one has to realize that the album is sequenced with the audio cassette in mind, and the vinyl album as well, which were more prevalent at that time than CDs. It plays like it would on cassette, with two different sides in mind. A lot of albums from the eighties play like this, so it might not be the fluid (or at least that’s the goal) product that some CD inspired albums tend to be. Side A would end “Caught, Can We Get a Witness”, while the B-side would lead off with the instrumental “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” and then trip on into “She Watch Chanel Zero”. Can the album maybe be arranged better? I’m not sure, the weaker tracks seem to reside at the end of each side, with “Party For Your Right To Fight” being more of history lesson for myself, as I would look up the names Chuck brought up on the track and learn more about African-American history, but does it hold up with the rest of the material found on the album? I’m not so sure.
While Fear of a Black Planet comes in at over 20 tracks, which is only four more than was contained on It Takes a Nation…., Fear.. has always seemed a lot longer. There are a lot more “breaks” in the action with tracks like “Anti-Ni–er Machine”, “Incident at 66.6 FM”, and “Leave This Off Your Fuckin’ Charts”, while add to the overall product and I find personally enjoyable, I’ve always thought they somewhat hindered the flow of the album. The tracks sometimes for more schizophrenic in nature, from the varied topics, to the varied beats. There are some classic tracks on Fear of a Black Planet. When I went to the record store (that’s what we still called them back then) that Tuesday after school and picked up the tape, I was so excited and entranced by what I was hearing, that I forgot to get gas on the way home and ended up running out. That being said, there isn’t many albums out there that can top It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, both quality wise or as my personal favorites.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back