[Today: Chuck D don’t take no mess…]
During its first decade, Hip-Hop was mainly party music, and if it dipped into politics it was local level stuff that rarely rose above the ghetto-is-bad posture of songs like Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s ‘The Message’. But in Public Enemy MC Chuck D, Hip-Hop finally got a frontman to channel the righteous political anger of figures like Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. With their sophomore album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, PE evolved beyond the street-wise bragging of their debut and made music that sounded like it was aimed squarely at world domination.
Some critics got spun out on supposed anti-Semitic and gay-bashing lyrics, but Chuck D raps with a concentrated fury that simply overwhelms any textual nit-picking. Meanwhile, few critics have bothered to note that as angry as PE sounds, they are the rare Hip-Hop group that virtually abstains from cursing. The Bomb Squad’s super-dense production – complete with squealing sirens, kettle-whistle screams and relentless James Brown samples – provides a paranoid, claustrophobic ambience for Chuck D’s rapping. And from his first rhymes of the record (“Bass! How low can you go?/Death row. What a brother know” from ‘Bring The Noise’), it’s clear that he’s deadly serious. The song titles – ‘Prophets Of Rage’ ‘Louder Than A Bomb’ and ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ – provide crib notes for the temperature within. Fortunately, Flavor Flav adds comic relief by occasionally cold-lamping to release the pressure.
Nation Of Millions… reaches its apex midway through side two with ‘Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos’. This song positions Chuck D as a modern day Nat Turner who turns on a government that would imprison him for refusing military service. Busting his way out of the pen, along with “52 brothers, bruised, battered and scarred, but hard”, the song ends with Chuck D on the loose and looking for vengeance. Throughout this album, Chuck D provides the logical stepping stone between the ‘Papa Don’t Take No Mess’ strut of James Brown and the ‘Wrong Nigger To Fuck With’ rage of Ice Cube. In the years since this landmark release, he has continued to serve as a leading conscience of Hip-Hop, speaking out on everything from copyright infringement (against) to civil rights (for). Believe the hype…
Listen: Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos
Listen: Bring The Noise
Listen: Louder Than A Bomb