Americana: Public Enemy
The work: "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back," Public Enemy, 1988.
Why it matters: Public Enemy seared American ears when they first burst on the scene with their first album, "Yo! Bum Rush the Show." But it was the hyper-political album "It Takes a Nation of Millions ... " that made them legends.
Public Enemy frontman Chuck D called hip-hop music the black CNN. With the exception of rap singles such as Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" and Grandmaster Melle Mel's "White Lines," few tunes explored the socio-political on wax before "It Takes a Nation of Millions." Break beats behind the tunes, including that signature squeal that, word has it, is a looped sample of a boiling tea kettle, had a quasi-military flavor.
With Chuck D at the helm, Flavor Flav riffing responses on the side, Public Enemy's Professor Griff, DJ Terminator X, S1W and the Bomb Squad spun and spat out lyrics criticizing the mind-numbing effects of television on "She Watch Channel Zero?!"; the drug epidemic with "Night of the Living Baseheads"; and the tune that became part of the WTO soundtrack, "Party For Your Right to Fight."
The best known track off the album was initially the overplayed "Don't Believe the Hype," but time has made "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" — "I got a letter from the government the other day/ I opened and read it, and said they were suckers" — a favorite jam with the anti-establishment.
Where you can find it: Any record store in the world and on the Web.
On the Web: Links, plus the other articles in the Americana series, can be found at www.seattletimes.com/americana.
— Melanie McFarland
Melanie McFarland: email@example.com.