Collection: 6. Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

If the blues is the sound of black pain, then what does black rage sound like? For Public Enemy and its genre-redefining production team, the Bomb Squad, the answer is: noise. Not innocuous, sleep-inducing white noise, but sound that demands attention, leaving the listener transfixed by its source. The alarm, the alert, the impossible-to-ignore signal. Public Enemy’s second album begins with the sirens and warnings of “Countdown to Armageddon,” and the sonic onslaught doesn’t stop until frontman Chuck D and his comic foil, Flava Flav, have taken you through the collective psyche of post-Civil Rights Era, post-black power, and ’80s black America.

In 58 minutes, Public Enemy tackle everything from the crack epidemic (“Night of the Living Baseheads”) to state surveillance (“Louder Than a Bomb”); they take aim at the media’s whitesplaining of rap (“Don’t Believe the Hype”) and challenge the fallacy that what you hear and see on TV is gospel truth (“She Watch Channel Zero?!”). What they addressed was timely, but how they addressed it was revolutionary. Chuck’s booming baritone voice was set against the “Wall of Noise” created by himself and the Bomb Squad’s brother duo, Hank and Keith Shocklee, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, as they wove together samples of Slayer, James Brown, Malcolm X, and Queen to get their point across. Public Enemy brought the noise, and listeners heard their message loud and clear. –Timmhotep Aku / Pitchfork.com

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