It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
By 1988, hip-hop was already a decade and a half old. Still, even as certain artists or groups made great strides in breaking through industry barriers and into the mainstream consciousness, the genre remained largely misunderstood by outsiders as something other than the potent and meaningful art form it truly was. Thankfully, Public Enemy was ready, willing, and able to take on that fight. Dogmatic MC Chuck D and rapping hype man Flavor Flav had already delivered a devastating opening salvo with 1987’s unambiguously confrontational debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show, putting Black nationalist politics and imagery at the forefront. By comparison, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back felt like a veritable firebombing—a rap blitzkrieg led by a boisterous lyricist with a defiantly militant mindset. That revolutionary energy was palpable on “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype,” seminal songs with hooks that sounded more like marching orders. Even further down the tracklist, cuts like “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” and “Rebel Without a Pause” hit as hard as what came before, the messaging as provocative and righteous as any on the album. Despite showcasing only Chuck and Flav on the front cover, the album truly represents a group effort. Hank and Keith Shocklee and the rest of The Bomb Squad bolster the vociferous vocals with their radical, sample-spattered productions, both on the hits and standouts like “Cold Lampin’ With Flav” and “Prophets of Rage.” Professor Griff joins the thrash-rap throwdown “She Watch Channel Zero?!” while Terminator X pushes the turntables-as-instrument to new heights on his namesake “To the Edge of Panic,” which showcases his transformer scratch among other then-nascent DJ tricks.