Friday, 20 February 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #17: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

While all the albums in this series mean something to me personally, few can claim to actually have changed things. Here's one that can though. 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions...' practically reinvented the entire hip-hop genre and no rap record before or since can hold a candle to it.

Now I'm very aware that much of my readership has little to no interest in this kind of music, but if you're one of them and still reading, I urge you to investigate this record. Listen to it through, read up about it[1], then listen to it again. I don't know or care much for rap music myself, I can only rate it against rock music, but without a shadow of doubt, Public Enemy's second album rates as one of the most extraordinary, groundbreaking and downright powerful records of all time.

For me, it's the sheer might of the sounds created by the Bomb Squad married to Chuck D's booming vocals that cause the most devastation. It is a masterpiece of production, where the studio guys shine as members of the band. Well-armed with a huge batch of samples, beats and noises, Eric Sadler and the Shocklee brothers concocted a rich stew of sounds that excites to this day. There's so much going on in there, it's difficult at times to make head or tail of it. It takes someone like Chuck D to get himself heard over the top. Yet despite its intricacy, it all makes perfect sense.

But it's not just Chuck's vocals that take centre stage; his fierce polemic contrasts with Flavor Flav's surreal comedy frenzies creating a dynamic that is intriguing, occasionally confusing and frequently astonishing. But let's not forget how 'Nation of Millions' crossed musical boundaries, blending a myriad of samples from the most diverse corners of the musical spectrum. Anthrax and Slayer mix it with James Brown, Bowie and free jazz. It feels at times like some sort of weird experiment, yet the results are so strong, the songs so immense. Bring The Noise and Don't Believe The Hype kick the media between the legs; Caught, Can We Get A Witness? gives a slap to the music industry and legal system for their anti-sampling stance; and in She Watch Channel Zero?! you get the most brutal song that will be played at my funeral, for sure.

The social messages are even stronger. Racism, drugs and direct action against the state are all tackled with equal measures of fury, humour and intelligence. But whatever your political bent, in the end it all comes back to the music, and for me Nation of Millions is one of the greatest and most innovative records ever made. It was fast, dynamic and explosive. It was inventive, inimitable and influential. It was brilliant and, 27 years on, it still is.

[1] Wikipedia has a decent entry here


  1. I agree to all your words written to this groundbreaking record, Robster. It's a record that changed minds and opened ears for different kind of music. And for sure a record to take to my grave as well.

  2. No arguments from this quarter Robster