All-Time Albums: #65


PUBLIC ENEMY It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

1 Countdown To Armageddon 1:40
Bring The Noise 3:46 (UK single, #32)
Don’t Believe The Hype 5:19 (UK single, #18)
4 Cold Lampin’ With Flavour 4:17
5 Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic 4:31
6 Mind Terrorist 1:21
7 Louder Than A Bomb 3:37
8 Caught, Can We Get A Witness 4:53
9 Show ‘Em Whatcha Got 1:56
10 She Watch Channel Zero?! 3.49
11 Night Of The Living Baseheads 3:14 (UK single, #63)
12 Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos 6:24
13 Security Of The First World 1:20
14 Rebel Without A Pause 5:02 (UK single, #37)
15 Prophets Of Rage 3:18
16 Party For Your Right To Fight 3:25

Now, I have always liked rap and hip/hop music, when they still called it Electro, and even before then with Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow and the Sugarhill Gang. One of the most brilliant records of the ’80s was Afrika Bambaataa’s use of a Kraftwerk track to build Planet Rock. The skill of a nifty sample or a clever cut-up, the poetry in a rhyming couplet set to a particular rhythm; when it’s done right it’s one of the greatest artforms.

Of course, too often it’s not done right. By 1988, hip-hop was facing a dilemma; the early pioneers had gone stale, even the most creative brains such as Kurtis Mantronik were struggling to take things in a fresh (‘scuse the pun) direction. What had seemed groundbreaking one year, became parody the next.

Rap had broken through into the mainstream, but at a cost…Run DMC’s Raising Hell sounded great in 1986, with its revolutionary blend of hard rock and references to Addidas and Burger King, but then Beastie Boys trashed the joint with Licensed To Ill and a new offshoot was born, brattish white boys being naughty with beer and porn mags. Mantronix’s response was the slick Simple Simon, which sonically broke new ground but still relied on an MC bragging how much better they were than everyone else. Enter Public Enemy.

I could reminisce about how amazing I found Rebel Without A Pause the first time I ever heard it, how I was awestruck by the breathtaking onslaught of an articulate, strident voice like Chuck D and how the sonic chaos wrought by Terminator X on Bring The Noise knocked me for six, how Don’t Believe The Hype had me (bum) rushing to get the album on the day of release in July 1988. But I’d be lying.

For some unfathomable reason, I didn’t get Public Enemy in the beginning. It would take the first single from the next album (Welcome To The Terrordome) before it clicked. Sure it was different alright, at times when their singles got played on the Top 40 in late 1987 and early 1988 they could sound positively frightening. The echoes of Black Power in Chuck D’s righteous delivery, the sense that these guys were most definitely not to be messed with, the aural havoc of the records (only partially lightened by Flavour Flav’s comedy value); it must surely have terrified the hell out of white Middle America. Even the album’s title played with this perception of the band.

Quite simply, it made every other hip-hop record seem limp and inconsequential.

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