It’s been some time since I’ve had my Friday Night He-man session with the heavy iron as it’s been busy, busy, busy the past few weeks between work, my normal training and balancing in family time. However, I’m taking that opportunity tonight nice and early before the gym totally fills up so that I get back home to BBQ some burgers and, hopefully, enjoy a nice quiet evening here at the homestead. My listening pleasure this evening is something a little off the wall and maybe even a little unexpected, the ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back‘ by Public Enemy.
What? White dudes can’t listen to rap?
I’ll have you know that I am the original rhyme animal and I will bust a cap in yo ass for sayin’ otherwise, dig homeboy?
Anyway, released in 1988 of Def Jam Records, this album practically rewrote the rules of what hip-hop could do. Essentially, this is the hip hop equivalent to Marvin Gaye‘s ‘What’s Going On’, an album also noted for its strong social commentary.
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. P ublic 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 concrète, via their producing team, the Bomb Squad, creating a dense, ferocious sound unlike anything that came before. This all coincided with a breakthrough in Chuck D’s writing, both in his themes and lyrics about self-empowerment for African Americans, critiques of white supremacy, and challenges to exploitation in the music industry. It’s not that Chuck D was smarter or more ambitious than his contemporaries 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 (and, yes, all you white boys out there should take note) 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 really dated at all. It set a standard that few could touch then, and even fewer have attempted to meet since…not that I listen to a lot of rap, mind you.
Sooooo many good tunes like ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, ‘Bring the Noise‘, ‘She Watch Channel Zero‘, and ‘Caught, Can We Get a Witness‘ (just to name a few). This album, like the Beastie Boys‘ ‘Paul’s Boutique‘ is chalked full of amazing samples that are guaranteed to make you shake your moneymaker, so to speak.
Not that you’d ever want to see that in a gym. Well, my moneymaker anyway.
The album charted for 49 weeks on the US Billboard 200, peaking at #42. By August 1989, it was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of one million copies in the United States. In 2003, the album was ranked #48 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the highest ranking of all the hip hop albums on the list, and the only one acknowledged in the top hundred.
What else is there to say?