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.

Somewhere 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 Olympian feat. 

"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 hands!"

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 again.

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.

-Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com

 

xxxgaggle

 
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