It-Takes-a-Nation-of-Millions-to-Hold-Us-Back

PUBLIC ENEMY

PUBLIC ENEMY, IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK (1988)

An inventive and innovative record that holds up to this day, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, features energetic and visceral beats, vocals, and excerpt political lyrics that communicate a message that shocked Americans. The leader and writer of the group, Chuck D, delves into topics such as self-empowerment for African Americans, critiques of white supremacy, and exploitation of the music industry, all characterized by black nationalist rhetoric. As explained by BBC Music, “the message was that black music could be reclaimed and re-tooled as a semantic crowbar – screaming to the world that rhythm was as eloquent as words when reminding us of the world’s inequalities”, and so it was. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back incorporated speeches from historical figures such as Jesse Jackson and Malcolm X. Taking from Malcolm X’s Message to the Grassroots speech, Public Enemy sampled the lyrics “too black, too strong/too black, too strong”. These lyrics reference to Malcolm X’s coffee analogy, which describes the results of a white America diluting the interest of black people:

“It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What you do? You integrate it with cream; you make it weak. If you pour too much cream in, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it’ll put you to sleep.” - Malcolm X

This single, along with “Don’t Believe the Hype”, conveyed their message so fiercely and with so much flow, that it caused immediate tension in the press and genuine fear. The record as a whole is an explosive masterpiece that delivers its lyrics with an infectious controlled anger. It’s an album that speaks to you and begs for a debate. 

PUBLIC ENEMY, FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET (1990)

Two years later, Public Enemy released Fear of a Black Planet, an equally sonically and lyrically ambitious project. The song “Fight the Power” from this record would go on to become the theme song for Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing, “a chilling morality tale of police brutality, telling the story of a deadly choke hold by police, sparking a race riot” (abc news). The film is now recognized as a masterpiece for its superb production, style, and message to the extent that it’s being taught in schools. Even president Barack Obama recognized and praised the film for “holding a mirror up to society”.

SPIKE LEE, DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) PUBLIC ENEMY, “FIGHT THE POWER” (1989)

“Fight the Power” is a testament to African-American culture with its mentions of civil rights exhortations, black church services and more. The song accurately reflected the tone of Do the Right Thing and became Public Enemy’s most famous song, and considered one of the best songs of all time.

Public Enemy-It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

April 14th 1988

Hip Hop/Political/American


1. Countdown To Armageddon
2. Bring The Noise
3. Don’t Believe The Hype
4. Cold Lampin With Flavor
5. Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic
6. Mind Terrorist
7. Louder Than A Bomb
8. Caught, Can We get A Witness?
9. Show Em Whatcha Got
10. She Watch Channel Zero?!
11. Night Of The Living Baseheads
12. Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos
13. Security Of The First World
14. Rebel Without A Pause
15. Prophets Of Rage
16. Party For Your Right To Fight

Night Of The Living Baseheads
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  • Public Enemy
  • It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
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Public Enemy - Night of the Living Bassheads

This is the dope jam...’ 1988 was a high watermark for rap and none more so than Public Enemy. Night of the Living Bassheads is about the scurge of drugs on the street, a typical piece of social-conscience writing from Chuck D, about the idea that you may be socially disenfranchised but you still have your mind, your wits, or you do until you start freebasing it away, becoming the kind of dope the authorities want you to be. The sound is urgent, thrilling, civilisation teetering on the edge of collapse, the sound of a terror state, or a state of terror. Maybe they knew more than we could’ve imagined.