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Kill Your Idols: "It Takes a Nation of Millions"

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Dick Whitman, Jul 12, 2013.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    We haven't had one of these for a while.

    I'll go a different route here. The last couple of these I started I selected works of art that I was very familiar with, "Citizen Kane" and "The Great Gatsby." I'm familiar with "It Takes a Nation of Millions" in that I know the album, owned it as a kid, own it now, and realize vaguely that it was important as perhaps the first time a prominent, mainstream hip-hop outfit had gone political. But other than that, hip-hop is a big time weakness in my music knowledge, and I'm a little bit fascinated to hear from some of the experts here about their experiences and impressions and interpretations of it after I recently dusted it off.* To this day, Chuck D.'s delivery gives me goose bumps, so powerful and immediate is it. One of the few vocalists in any genre who can do that.

    So, dreunc, Bodie, and other rap afficianados, fire away ...

    * The impetus was reading a story in the NYT this week about how Detroit citizens are frustrated by the slowness of emergency response. Of course, I got the wrong Public Enemy album out, as I now know. But since this seems like the big breakthrough, let's go with this as the selection, with comparisons and contrasts with "Fear of a Black Planet," of course, also welcome.
  2. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Rap was in my wheelhouse as a teenager in L.A. in 1986, '87 and so on.

    I was big into LL, Kool Moe Dee, Eric B and Rakim, Stetsasonic, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, Sugar Hill Gang, UTFO, the Dream Team, Roxanne Shante and all the other pioneers of rap. Public Enemy hit the scene and took me by storm, just like Boogie Down Productions did with its message. I wore PE cassettes out. I enjoyed their mojo. Loved Chuck D.'s anger and rage -- not sure there's ever been a more powerful voice in rap. And who didn't love Flavor Flav? Amusing little bugger and an entertainment genius.

    "Fear of a Black Planet" is another dynamic album but the fireworks really explode and shit hits the fan with "Apocolypse '91" and the song and video for "By the Time I Get to Arizona" causes an immediate ruckus.

    I remember thinking how all the scenes of black retribution in the video is going to scare the bejesus out of White America, and it did. Yet it served as a catalyst for change. The NFL pulled the Super Bowl from Arizona, other conventions followed and Arizona's tourist industry was demolished that year (somewhere to the tune of $350 million). What happened as a result of losing $350 million? A state referendum is held soon thereafter and Arizona starts honoring MLK Day as a national holiday. That doesn't happen without "By the Time I Get to Arizona".

    PE began to fizzle after that album and then disappeared.

    Anyway, "It Takes a Nation of Millions" is an all-time album. Loved Bring the Noise but it got overplayed and then the mash-up with Anthrax ruined the song.

    The songs that continue to hold up 25 years later ...

    Don't Believe the Hype:

    Louder Than a Bomb:

    Night of the Living Baseheads (Flav is very funny in this vid, which features a very young MC Lyte):

    Caught, Can We Get A Witness:

    It's really too bad there aren't message-makers like PE and BDP anymore.
  3. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I don't think it was on the album, but the collaboaration with Anthrax on Bring The Noise was the first rap/rock combination that I was aware of, with the obvious exception of Walk This Way.

    I was definitely a Public Enemy fan as a teenager. I've seen them in concert several times, although a couple times were when they toured with U2.

    It Takes a Nation of Millions may be considered more groundbreaking, but I prefer Fear of a Black Planet. Both are great, but my favorite Public Enemy songs are "Welcome to the Terrordome" "911 is a Joke" and Flav's "Can't Do Nuthin for you man" is a fun one.
  4. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I listened to this two days ago, so unlike previous discussions, it's very fresh in my head. A few thoughts:

    1. While It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was a statement album, Fear of a Black Planet was an album of statements. There's merit to each approach, for sure. I prefer Millions because it is fueled by better raw lyricism. "Bring the Noise" and "Louder than a Bomb" and "Prophets of Rage" feature great rap, even without the messages. Black Planet sacrificed that for more direct and pointed social criticism. There's a worthwhile debate, though, as to which serves as the Bomb Squad's masterpiece. Black Planet sounds like no album before or after, with all sorts of influences spewed out with so much anger and loudness. Millions sonically was more similar to contemporaries but was more energized and angry than anything before it. There are times where even Chuck D has trouble with the overpowering beats on Black Planet.

    2. Though its place in rap history tends to be overstated by the masses of rock critics who fell in love with it, Millions does have a case as the best album in rap history. "She Watch Channel Zero?!" was overdone, particularly since the lyrics didn't match the ferocious guitar beat. "Caught, Can We Get a Witness?" feels more like something off Black Planet, but the sampling debate was so important in 1988 (a year before Paul's Boutique and 3 Feet High and Rising) that its place is merited.

    3. This album was neither the most political or the first political rap album. Public Enemy itself had made a political album of much lower quality before Millions, and most of the group's follow-ups were more directly political. What's important is that it sounded as good as the best boasting rap of the day. Again, this comes back to Chuck D's ferocious lyricism, a standard he never again reached. Boogie Down Productions' By All Means Necessary came out a few months after Millions, but as with Criminal Minded, the heft behind the beats is lacking. BDP's first two albums feel old in comparison even to their contemporaries. Millions and Black Planet don't. The Bomb Squad's studio innovations and Chuck D's completely unique delivery are the keys. Basically, Public Enemy made political rap more listenable and interesting.
  5. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Best rap album of all-time would be a great thread.
  6. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    On this board, my money would be on Licensed to Ill.
  7. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Licensed to Ill was/is fun but the Beasties' best album is Paul's Boutique.

    For me, as much as I enjoyed PE's albums, the one rap album that remains close to my heart 25 years later is BDP's By All Means Necessary.

    And because YouTube is the greatest invention of this generation:

  8. bigpern23

    bigpern23 Well-Known Member

    Off topic, but your mention of Rakim reminded me of the time I met him after a show he performed with KRS-One when I was in college. KRS-One freestyled about me (gave me props for reppin' NY with my Yankees hat, but I don't remember the exact line anymore) and Rakim came out and met people after the show. He was very short. His set blew the other three acts (KRS-One, Grandmaster Flash and someone else I don't remember) away.
  9. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I love the Beasties, but I don't think I'd have it No. 1.

    Granted, I'm a 39-year-old white guy, but I would think Straight Outta Compton, The Low End Theory, Chronic and at least one PE album would be at the top of my list.
  10. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Cool story, bigpern.

    Rakim is the best rapper of all-time and second place is far far behind.

    Obviously "Paid in Full" and "Follow the Leader" usually are listed among the favorites and you know, I love those songs, especially Paid in Full. But I think he was at the top of his game for "Casualties of War" ...

    Several years later he returned but without Eric B. and I really enjoyed the album The Master and especially the song "Uplift"
  11. Big Circus

    Big Circus Well-Known Member

    32-year-old white dude. My top 5 rap albums, in no particular order: The Chronic, Aquemini, Enter the Wu-Tang, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ready to Die.
  12. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I'd have to have Wu-Tang up there really high...

    I'll listen to the Beastie Boys now and then, but I listen to Tribe, Wu Tang and Dr. Dre pretty regularly. They all hold up really well.
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