Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
If you’ve been following this series at all, it will hopefully be clear to you that there are certain traits and characteristics I really admire in music. Among them: lyrical precision, vocal authenticity, and conceptual aspiration.
In addition, I admire those artists who are able to balance and reconcile the raw and the sophisticated. Who are able to be both incredible improvisers, and incredible craftspeople. I like rule-breakers with one foot in the past, and one in the future. I like music that’s a little bit scary, and a little bit smart.
When it comes to specific albums, I really prize completed circles; albums that are an entire world unto themselves, that are fully realized. I like artists who make actual albums, who understand narrative continuity, who think big and work small.
I like artists who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Who aren’t afraid to go deep within themselves, even if they risk overt melodrama to do so. I like artists who take being funny as seriously as they do being serious. I like artists who respect the right things, and disrespect the right things.
This album by Public Enemy achieves everything I’ve described above, and more.
From the moment Chuck D. said “Bass,” the world was no longer the same. This album is that profound, that powerful. Nothing has matched it. Not even “Fear of a Black Planet,” which is in some ways an ever more perfectly realized album. But nothing has the fire in its belly like this album has.
The album will be 30 years old next year. Very few albums age as well as this one has, particularly when the content is topical. But this is still as fresh and as powerful and as relevant today as it was when it was released. That may be sad commentary on our world today, but it’s also testament to just what an extraordinary achievement this album represents.