IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS
THE 1988 PUBLIC ENEMY CLASSIC STILL ROCKS HARD
I don't know why Public Enemy
affected me so much as a 19 year old white kid back in 1989.
I saw Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing and was blown away by how
damn good that movie was. During the opening credits PE's
song "Fight The Power" played while newcomer Rosie Perez danced
flexed her insanely gorgeous body to the beats while wearing
boxing gloves. I had to hear more. Though that title
song wouldn't be released until their third album, Fear of a
Black Planet, I settled for the current release It Takes A
Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, and was blown away. It
still kicks my ass nearly 20 years later.
inbetween the heyday of gangster rap and the wane of the era of
RUN DMC style tunes bragging about how bad you are, Public Enemy
emerged with a brilliant voice of protest, anger, and relevant
social commentary that hadn't been seen since Bob Dylan was
recording in the 60s. The combination of Chuck D's anger,
Flavor Flav's comic relief, and the killer studio production of
Hank Shocklee's Bomb Squad made them the greatest thing going on
in music that radio was ignoring.
The opening track,
"Bring the Noise" with it's mile a minute beats and enough cool
lyrics to fill 10 songs kicks things off like a smack to the
head. I've got the song committed to memory and it's still
quite a chore to rap along with it in my car. When Chuck D
rattles off "Never badder than bad 'cause the brother is madder
than mad at the fact that's corrupt as a senator soul on roll,
but you treat it like soap on a rope Cause the beats in the lines
are so dope!" without running out of breath, it's a nearly
"Don't Believe The
Hype" immediately follows with a message about not trusting what
the media shoves down your throat that's relevant enough to
today's environment to be prophetic. Punctuated with the
chorus squelched out in the way only Flavor Flav can, the song is
an outstanding end to the album's one-two punch intro.
During PE's heyday
Flav was a perfect jester to the raging Chuck D. His
influence in rap is vastly underappreciated, as many remember his
goofy costumes and giant clock necklaces. His stream of
conscience sounding rants were hilarious but were perfect accents
to the beats. "Cold Lampin' With Flavor Flav" is an almost
nonsensical tirade that sounds like some homeless guy just got
woke up from his cardboard box and handed a microphone.
The remainder of the songs are no less powerful and have great
cinematic titles that Hollywood would kill to use like "Louder
Than a Bomb", "Mind Terrorist", "Rebel Without a Pause", "Night
of the Living Baseheads", and "Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos."
"Black Steel" is an exciting story featuring Chuck D thrown in
jail for refusing to join the Army with admittedly dubious
reasons ("Cause I'm a black man, and I could never be a
veteran"). After a guard falls asleep with a gun poking out of
his pants (must have been staying at Mayberry Penitentiary), D
snags the pistol and instigates a prison riot and escape. Right
as they get to the outside gates with bullets flying, his posse,
the S1-WS (a paramilitary variant of The Nation of Islam's
enforcers) blow up the guard tower with a bazooka blast and they
escape into the night.
And how can you
not love the intro to "Terminator X To The Edge of Panic", in
which the production team of The Bomb Squad manages to take the
over the top into to Queen's "Flash Gordon" song and sample it
into a killer beginning? I don't know how much of a real DJ
Terminator X really was, but the giant silent scary guy behind
the turntable was a great gimmick, nonetheless. He never
talked, as Flavor Flav reminds us, "Terminator X speaks with his
The album ends
with "Party For Your Right To Fight", which is a fairly weak
anthem that scrambles the chorus of The Beastie Boys' classic
battle cry, but at this point, I'm so blown away by it all that
it's the equivalent of a post sex cigarette while you sit back
and reflect on it all.
I've gone through 3 copies of this CD through the years, but at
least now I can burn a backup copy so I'll never be deprived
PE followed the album up with the ambitious and successful "Fear
of A Black Planet" and the mostly good "Apocalypse 91: The Enemy
Strikes Black", but "Nation of Millions" still holds up as my all
time favorite album.
They certainly don't make 'em like this anymore.