Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hip Hop Nostalgia 101, Session 10: Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

Well, we have finally made it 1988, the "Golden Age" of hip hop and widely considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, years ever in hip hop history, and today's session we'll be taking a look at one true groundbreaking album if there ever was one! After their 1987 debut, Public Enemy returned with a vengeance, a new focus (lyrically and subject matter wise), HARD production, etc. It's also one of my personal favorite albums of all time. You know, I can go on and on with this intro, so with that being said, let's begin today's session!

Release date- April 14, 1988

 All songs produced by The Bomb Squad

1. Countdown to Armageddon
This is quite the intro, as we get an audio clip from one of PE's shows in London, England, and I can only imagine what it was like there at the time. GOOD lead in for this album.

 2. Bring The Noise

"Too black, too strong!"

That one opening line describes this CLASSIC perfectly. The beat is still slammin' to this day, as well as the lyrical/memorable gems from Chuck D. 
Grade- A+

3. Don't Believe The Hype
We follow the previous song with another classic in the form of "Don't Believe The Hype," and this is about as apply titled as you can get. Whether it was criticism directed at the group, something you were hearing on the news that wasn't reported accurately, etc, Chuck and Flav advise you, "don't believe the hype." That statement could apply to today couldn't it?
Grade- A+

4. Cold Lampin With Flavor
Lol, and "cold lampin" means "chillin" for those that don't know. Lyrically, Flav is not saying anything on this track. It was meant for fun and laughs, and that's exactly what you get.
Grade- A

5. Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
One thing you got a lot of in the 80s was MCs giving continuous, deserved props to their DJ, and here, Chuck and Flav do a great job with that over a nice beat.
Grade- A+

6. Mind Terrorist
Instrumental intermission.

7. Louder Than A Bomb

"I'm even lethal when I'm unarmed!"

Yes, Chuck was/is "louder than a bomb" on the mic, and that is clear full force here. I also like how he is basically saying on record, even with his phone (apparently) tapped, he's still going to be loud and be heard all the way, hence that line above. Classic.
Grade- A+

8. Caught, Can We Get A Witness
On this one, Chuck addresses the issue that was "sampling" at the time in hip hop, and as you listen to this, you do get the impression that he supports it, along with valid reasons for that support. Although sampling isn't a strong issue in hip hop today, this was a serious one back in the mid 80s - early 90s. Most of the time, the original artist sued and won, however, that's another story for another day.
Grade- A+

9. Show Em Whatcha Got
Although it's another "instrumental intermission (#2)," this was famously sampled in later songs, such as "Rump Shaker" (Wreckx N Effect) and "Show Em What You Got" (Jay-Z).

10. She Watch Channel Zero?!
Over a thumpin Bomb Squad produced, rock infused banger, Chuck and Flav all but implore a certain lady to "wake up" to what's happening and stop depending on the media and entertainment for the facts, as she's watching what she perceives as "news," but overall it's nothing. Wow, and to think THIS was touched on in 1988. This is certainly another issue that's present in our society today.
Grade- A+

11. Night of the Living Baseheads
Man, this is not only one of my favorite PE songs of all time, but it's one of the most captivating (first word that came to mind) songs in hip hop history. Another word that comes to mind for this classic, and this would be later used by KRS-One, is "edutainment," as Chuck educated you on what was happening to our communities in the 1980s with the crack cocaine epidemic and the effects of it, and the entertainment was due to ANOTHER slammin Bomb Squad production. The hook is also thought provoking and profound (Bass! <--- which was slang for cocaine, and Chuck asking "how low can you go?")
Grade- A+

12. Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos
This is one of the most brilliant forms of storytelling I've ever heard on a hip hop song, and I've heard MANY of them. Chuck effectively tells the fictional story of himself as someone who is dodging the U.S. draft, all the while planning to escape prison. I would go into some additional thoughts, but I don't want to turn this hip hop nostalgia session into a politically driven one. Overall, this CLASSIC has to be heard to be appreciated.
Grade- A+

13. Security Of The First World
Instrumental intermission #3.

14. Rebel Without A Pause
The first single off of this album is a straight classic. Chuck's commanding on the mic (like ALL of this album), with Flav right behind him on another thumpin' Bomb Squad produced banger. It also has a good number of some of their most memorable soundbytes.
Grade- A+
15. Prophets Of Rage
This is appropriately titled. When you think about where our country was in the 1980s in terms of "Black America," you can see where the title "Prophets Of Rage" comes from.
Grade- A+

16. Party For Your Right To Fight
I thank the Beastie Boys for their (direct) influence for this song, and it was a VERY good closer when you look at all the songs before it.
Grade- A

Wow, this album continues to age WELL and it'll always stand the test of time. After their 1987 debut, PE returned more focused, more powerful, more controversial, more commanding, more revolutionary, you name it, ALL of the elements that weren't present on the first album were here in every sense of the imagination. Chuck D held things down EXCEPTIONALLY WELL, as he lyrically stepped up in a major way from a social and political standpoint. Flavor Flav was his usual self, a perfect hypeman for Chuck, and please don't get me started on the Bomb Squad. Their production had grew by leaps and bounds, and it, much like Chuck, would only get better from here. This was a groundbreaking/landmark album for hip hop (also reaching Platinum status in August of 1989), and things will never be THIS good/original/captivating again. MUCH love and respect for all involved.

Final Grade- A+

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