What does it sound like?:
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is the best Rap ever made. More than that, it is one of the greatest albums of any kind. Released in 1988, during Rap’s first golden age, it is stunning both sonically and in the challenge it laid down to its listeners. Driven by rage but sustained by belief, Chuck D’s booming raps are punctuated by Flavor Fav’s waspish buzzing, together painting a picture of life in America for black youth that is still as dispiriting and as vivid today. The imagery is military and incendiary, extending to the stage uniforms and their cross-hair logo, but there isn’t any of the uzi fetishism or misogyny of their debut. This is serious business, tackling real-life issues such as crack addiction, conscientious objection, a loaded justice system, black self sufficiency and junk TV. However, the real revolution is in the sonic assault. Hank and Keith Shocklee, Chuck D and Eric Sadler, otherwise known as The Bomb Squad, create a dense thicket of sound full of barbs, interweaving multiple samples from a breathtaking array of sources, from political speeches, forgotten James Brown’s rhythms to a Slayer thrash metal riff. They provide the thunderous artillery to support the infantry at the microphone.
This 35 year anniversary reissue is vinyl. At 56 minutes long, every second of which counts, it was always a tough ask to fit it all on one LP. You can choose a double LP of just the album or a four vinyl set with all the bonus tracks included on the 2014 reissue, bar Fight The Power. The bonus material should not be overlooked. Twelve inch mixes were as important to Rap in the eighties as much as Disco. The No Noise version of Bring The Noise is arguably better, the Anti-High Blood Pressure Encounter Mixx of Night Of The Living Baseheads is epic and B-side Wins Again faces up to its A side, Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos, and doesn’t back down. However, the four vinyl package is for major enthusiasts only.
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back set the agenda, marking a Rap high point for others to follow. Fear Of A Black Planet confirmed their genius. Many used the multi-sample technique until a 1991 judgement against Biz Markie rendered the authorisation of samples obligatory. Overnight, it became too difficult to create a collage as rich as The Bomb Squad’s. Meanwhile, Public Enemy struggled to satisfactorily resolve their ‘minister of information’, Professor Griff’s controversial statements about Jews. Unsurprisingly, the politics got ugly. Nevertheless, the group survived and are still a going concern more than thirty-five years later, enjoying a range of influence that goes far beyond Rap. Check out their 2020 anti-Trump song State Of The Union (STFU).
We will never hear its like again but A Nation Of Millions resonates just as powerfully today as it did in 1988.
What does it all *mean*?
“I have a right to be hostile, man. My people are being persecuted.”
Goes well with…
A record player. Every self respecting record collection should include a copy. If your collection is vinyl, now’s your chance.
10th November 2023
Might suit people who like…
Thrilling, exciting music.