Saturday, August 20, 2016

103. Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

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Glen E. Friedman in an interview:  “You know I did the first two Public Enemy album covers? I had to be a part of those albums.  I love those albums.  I love that group, the demos were great.  I knew I was
going to be a part of it.  For the second album cover, I had ideas.  Chuck told me the title and I had an idea.  Sometimes bands have the ideas and sometimes it’s me.  Like, I’ve named albums for people. I
hear their music and I know what’s  going on and it’s gonna have the greatest impact.  But with that album, I knew.  I mean, it was the greatest  album ever made at that time.  And years later, it’d be the
greatest hip-hop album of all time ever, period. You know no one’s ever gonna top that. They might make great albums, but they won’t top that for its importance.

The photo they picked for the cover of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, I threatened to scratch the negative because I was really mad. I was like, “This is not the best photo at all. This is really
bad, it’s not good, the composition is not right.” “But yeah, Glen its dope.” The one they used was the wrong one, the light was leaning the wrong way, the composition wasn’t right, I mean you can’t even
see Chuck’s eyes. But it worked, people made it work, but it wasn’t what I was trying to do. That’s why I hated that photo but it’s a great album and I lived with it.” Tom Kirby on The Hundreds

So there.  That's the guy who took the shot talking.  And of course,  I'm trying to understand him.  I think I've long  established my  musical  taste before  rap or hip-hop became a fad in my own  country and
haven't read Aaron Copland's 1957 book What to Listen for in Music back in the early 2000's I wouldn't even be (educatedly) conscious now that of all the elements in music, rhythm was the most elemental.
I say rhythm because it is the element that most characterizes African music - and this is the root of rap or hip-hop. 

As for the protest  which was also one of the  foundations of 1960s rock,  I think I understand it better.  It is the face of protest that I see on the cover of  It Takes a Nation of Millions,  and in the album title
itself - and in Public Enemy themselves. And it has to be a tough guy act. Persistent and unmoving. Just as Rosa Parks remained unmoved in that bus in Alabama in the year I was born. And to be tough it had
to be in black and white. As it was in 1955. To me, this cover is the epitome of hip-hop. No other album cover represents hip-hop culture better than this one.

Can we get a witness?

No. 21, Rate Your Music, The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time; No. 48, Rolling Stone, The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time;
No. 68, Entertainment Weekly, 100 Greatest Albums Ever; No. 92, The Virgin All-Time Album Top 1000.

Photography by Glen E. Friedman, Album produced by Chuck D., Rick Rubin & Hank Shocklee. Def Jam, Columbia, 1988.

Since its initial reception,  It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back  has been regarded by music writers and  publications as one of the greatest  and most influential
albums of all time.  In 2003, the album was ranked number 48 on Rolling Stone  magazine's  list of the 500 greatest albums of all time,  the highest ranking of all the hip
hop albums on the list, and the only one acknowledged in the top hundred.

On the album's content, music journalist Peter Shapiro wrote "Droning feedback, occasional shards of rock guitar, and James Brown horn samples distorted into discordant 
shrieks back the  political  rhetoric  of lead rapper  Chuck D  and the  surreality of  Flavor Flav".  Ethnomathematics  author Ron Eglash  interpreted the  album's style and
production to be "massively interconnected political  and sonic content",  writing that " [the Bomb Squad]  navigated the ambiguity between the philosophies of sound and
voice. Public Enemy's sound  demonstrated an integration  of lyrical content,  vocal tone, sample density and layering, scratch deconstruction,  and sheer velocity that rap
music has never been able to recapture, and that hip-hop DJs and producers are still mining for gems".

Hank Shocklee on Keyboard Magazine, 1990: "We took whatever was annoying, threw it into a pot, and that's how we came out with this group.
We believed that music is nothing but organized noise. You can take anything—street sounds, us talking, whatever you want—and make it music
by organizing it. That's still our philosophy, to show people that this thing you call music is a lot broader than you think it is."

Widely regarded as the group's best work, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back has been cited by critics and publications as one of the greatest and most influential 
recordings of all time.  Upon the album's  remastered reissue in 1995,  Q hailed It Takes a Nation as "the greatest rap album of all time, a landmark and classic".  Also upon
its reissue,  Melody Maker  called the album  "bloody essential"  and commented that  "I hadn't believed it could get harder  [than Yo! Bum Rush the Show].  Or better". NME 
dubbed it "the greatest hip-hop album ever" at the time,  stating "this wasn't merely a sonic triumph.  This was also where Chuck wrote a fistful of lyrics that promoted him
to the position of foremost commentator/documentor of life in the underbelly of the USA".

Mojo stated upon the album's 2000 European reissue,  "Responsible for the  angriest polemic since  The Last Poets... [they] revolutionized the music,  using up to 80 backing 
tracks in the sonic assault... to these  ears PE sound like  the greatest rock'n'roll  band in history".  Time magazine hailed it as one of the 100  greatest albums of all time in
2006. Kurt Cobain, the lead guitarist and singer of rock band Nirvana, listed the album as one of his top 25 favorite albums in his Journals. 

In his 2004 book Appropriating Technology:  Vernacular Science and Social Power,  Ron Eglash commented that a sonically and politically charged album such as Nation "can
be considered a monument to the synthesis of sound and politics". wikipedia, abridged

(A) Countdown to Armageddon - Bring the Noise - Don't Believe the Hype - Cold Lampin with Flavor - Terminator X to the Edge of Panic - Mind Terrorist -
Louder than a BombCaught, Can We Get a Witness?

(B) Show 'Em Whatcha Got -  She Watch Channel Zero?! -  Night of the Living Baseheads -  Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos  -  Security of the First World - 
Rebel Without a Pause - Prophets of Rage - Party for Your Right to Fight

"Rebel Without a Pause" live from 1929Cubs of YouTube.


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