Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions: The Album That Changed My Life

An album which rewrote the rules for all modern music, as much punk rock as it was hip hop. I'll never forget the first time I heard it...
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'You singers are spineless,

As you sing your senseless songs to

the mindless.

Your general subject love is minimal.

It's sex for profit.'

Those lyrics are the greatest ever written in modern music. Forget George Michaels 'guilty feet ain't got or rhythm or Smokey Robinson's misplaced smile, they single handedly sum up the cash cow motives of pop music and it's vacuous history. From Elvis to MTV. Kylie to Miley and beyond. They occur half way through the second album by Public Enemy, a record so incendiary and dripping with rage, it stands up as a high point for both black music and anyone interested in the visceral thrill of escapism.

I first heard 'It Takes A Nation Of Million To Hold Us Back' when I was fifteen, a great time to hear an album when you're stuck in a shit town with nothing to do but wonder. It spoke to me immediately. Firstly that title. A statement of intent. Us and them. It may have been intended as a cultural sneer from the bunker of black America but it spoke to everyone. Public enemy were never ever just a rap band anyway.  They were a rock and roll band. Punk rock. They sounded angry, disaffected, bored, clawing at a no future. Already they'd released a great vicious wobble of a single from the album ('Rebel without a Pause') - which seemed to arrive with a philosophical statement of intent. We're coming motherfuckers, it seemed to say. Are you ready for us? Consider yourself warned.


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True to their word they delivered. I'll never get over the excitement of putting that record on for the first time. Never. The air raid siren. The roar of a Brixton crowd. The power of Chuck D's voice. It made me want to smash up the room. Over the next hour, I listened transfixed as the band ripped up the script of black music and laid the foundations that every narcissistic rap star now walks over.  Hip hop had never sounded so muscular and so alien at the same time. Pure cartilage and pure future. Those beats that sounded like they were laid down in a medieval cave, thudding, insistent. The samples that seemed to accelerate in and out of every track like a maelstrom. Building to a great crescendo of white noise and interference, like molten, brilliant lava.

The subject matter was the beat down of black culture by a political force. Righteous targets. Every fucking time. J Edgar Hoover. The CIA.  Slavery. Imprisonment. Cynically observed by Chuck D in a way that went way beyond cultural satire. The truth. The truth and nothing but the truth. Poetically observed with a writers eye (has there ever been a better title than 'Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos?), but never browbeating, never on a soapbox. That wasn't Public Enemy's. Style. They understood great art of the shake down too. The great art of the needle on the black groove. The need to put your best foot forward and your inhibitions to the back of the room.

It's impossible not to dance to those tracks on 'Nation of Millions'. Impossible. It's dripping with funk and insistence. Godzilla type hooks. 'Caught Can We Get A Witness', 'Night of the Living Bassheads' - it's all there, in a glorious single concept album that somehow rewrote the very ethos of modern music forever. Punk rock. Anger. Fury. Funk. Rebellion. It's all there.

It changed my life forever.