The GB Album Club 033 - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy (Cycle Finale!)

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unclejam23

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Duders! Welcome to the 33rd edition of the Unofficial Giant Bomb Album Club! Last week, we listened to a keyboard guy do his thing with Ronald Jenkee's Disorganized Fun. This week, we smash the system with my second pick It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy! (Note: I did not say "fight the power" because that's on Fear of a Black Planet. Eat shit, imaginary hip hop snob lurking in the Giant Bomb forums I made up in my head!) Links:

Spotify

Apple Music

Youtube

The Unofficial GB Album Club! We make pools of albums, choose one at random, and then listen and discuss. This concludes our Albums From Artists We Learned from Video Games cycle, but we'll be back after a break with something else. In the meantime, if you want to submit to future cycles, join our Discord!

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unclejam23

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#2  Edited By unclejam23

First and foremost, the album cut of "Bring the Noise" > the Anthrax remix of "Bring the Noise" from THPS2. Not a particularly hot take or anything. This is just my roundabout way of acknowledging that THPS2 was my first exposure to Public Enemy. I'm sure the same can be said for a lot of people who played THPS2 as a kid.

I first listened to this album when I was very young, either in late middle school or early high school. I had just discovered hip hop and I was doing things like looking up "top 10 greatest rap albums of all time" and stuff like that, which led to both this and Fear of a Black Planet. I loved it then and I love it now.

This is very much an album of its time in a lot of ways, and I'm willing to guess that anyone who's new to hip hop will probably think there are aspects of it that are outdated. It Takes a Nation was released in '88, and it's an album very much informed by a lot of the old school New York hip hop that came before it. That isn't to say that it didn't set itself apart from that stuff, but when you consider that Straight Outta Compton was only released two months later, there are more than a few elements that may sound a little old. The constant shoutouts to their DJ, the prominence of Flava Flav as the hypeman, some of the rhyme patterns. I could on.

This is also not to say that N.W.A didn't have stuff like this as well. And it would be a while before the discourse evolved to the point where it sank in with those willing to listen that the subject matter of Public Enemy and N.W.A are frequently two sides of the same coin. Public Enemy took a more direct political approach while N.W.A presented what life was like for the marginalized and disempowered. The same goal attacked from two different angles. But It Takes a Nation was an extension of what came before it while N.W.A more or less blazed their own trail.

Still, old school is not bad. Far from it. And I love this album for the same reasons now then I did back then. Mainly the abrasiveness and the attitude. How angry it is and how that anger gets expressed through its assaultive production. Imagine you're a little kid in the Bush Jr administration. Institutions are falling apart and you're aware of how powerless you are. What a perfect time to discover Public Enemy, and not long after that, the conscious Soulquarian hip hop and R&B that forever solidified my love of music, none of which would exist without Public Enemy.

Has this album lost a little bit of a shine? Sure. But it still fucking rules.

Favorite Songs: "Bring the Noise," "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," "Rebel Without a Pause"

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Nodima

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One of the few five star reviews during my RateYourMusic era I never felt the need to elaborate on or shape up with my actual critical voice. It ranked 8th in my Hip-Hop Handbook and there's always been a very credible argument that I should just drop the pretentious rating of "Countdown to Armageddon" and let it soar as high as it can. In any case, as I said, the reader in me - let alone the editor - should get annoyed when I see myself using a certain phrase twice. But I don't think there's any other way to describe somebody that likes hip-hop, or American culture, yet dislikes this album. So.

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You want a massive overview of what makes It Takes a Nation... a memorable listen, I've heard you. But as Chuck D says, "Don't believe the hype, it's just a sequel". And that's what made Public Enemy such a valuable listen in their early era. It was a group that understood it never mattered what the media said, it was all about the streets and the idea of "being real". Public Enemy was the idea of an MC deconstructing the idea of what rap should be, and a production team deconstructing the idea of what rap could sound like. Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the factors of media would begin to dilute this group's performance going forward - especially once Flavor Flav and Professor Griff were disseminated from the group, or at least circumcised - but this is an album worth it's own hype (excuse the term) in gold. And that's really all that needs to be said; you were drawn to this album and this page for a reason, and that reason wasn't because you needed justification. You only needed assurance, and the fact of the matter is you received that affirmation as soon as you spun this record. If you didn't, you're lost. That's all. Sorry. It was at this point that the Enemy either had you, or you were their enemy yourself. People around at the time delved deeper more better, but one listen to "Night of the Living Baseheads" will tell you all you need to know about the idiosyncrasy that went into makingIt Takes a Nation of Millions... what it was. Find major interest in the Silver side, refuge in the Black side. If not, you're lost.

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unclejam23

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@nodima: Extremely well put.

The thing that I forgot to go into: I listened to it the one time as a kid... then completely failed to listen to it again (all the way through) until now. That one listened lived so large in my head though that I didn't feel like I needed to bother. So now I'm in my 30s and effectively listened to it for the first time since. Obviously, time and growing older's going to diminish the experience a little, but It Takes a Nation will always be It Takes a Nation.

Will also be spending a significant portion of my weekend going through the handbook. Ironman's too high. (I read the update about how it's not really a ranking, I'm just giving you shit haha)

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Shindig

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Compared to Yo! Bum Rush the Show, this is a giant leap. Yeah, they have the old school markers well and truly hammered but the Bomb Squad really, really start hitting their stride with the production.

I initially thought this would pale in comparison to Fear of a Black Planet but the re-listen has given me pause for thought. This album remains outstanding and there's not a lot waste to it. Show Em What You Got and Security of the First World are fairly nothing interludes but I'd take that (and shouting out Norm) over skits.

I really enjoyed going through this again and I just love how hard it goes. The anger is pointed in the right direction and articulated smarter than I think anything that came before it. And they kept the level up for 2 more albums.

As for favourite tracks, the usual suspects are in there but I'm a big fan of Night of the Living Baseheads. I just love the directions that song and those samples take. This album also makes me remember what a great combination those personalities were. I last saw them in 2015 and, whilst it was great to see Flav and Chuck D on stage, you miss the militant spectacle of Griff and S1W's.

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Apparently this went out on BBC2 at 6pm. Presumably it was heavily edited to account for the watershed (a legal thing where swearing is off TV until 9pm) but I can imagine some parents losing their shit.

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ElectricViking

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I can't believe they toured with The Sisters of Mercy in the early 1990s until record label meddling killed it. One of the greatest double headers I can possibly imagine.