25 years ago today, Public Enemy dropped 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back', their second studio album. To celebrate, we're spinning some PE on the Strombo Show this evening at 8 pm on CBC Radio 2, and sharing this 1989 performance from the Def II Tour at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, U.K.
When they first conceived of the album, the group had some serious ambitions: they wanted to create the hip-hop equivalent of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On', a work of social commentary that doubled as a great collection of music.
And the ambition paid off. Most critics agree that what they came up with is one of the greatest and most influential records of all time.
Rolling Stone listed 'It Takes A Nation...' at number 48 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was the highest position of any hip-hop record on the list.
Back in 1987, while their debut 'Yo! Bum Rush the Show' was meeting with lots of acclaim from critics and audiences but not that much mainstream attention, the group was already hard at work on the follow-up.
While their thematic focus was on making a socially conscious record - Chuck D said "our mission was to kill the 'Cold Gettin' Dumb' stuff and really address some situations" - they also wanted to capture the energy of their live shows with a set of faster, harder tracks.
The approach to creating those tracks was a little different from how most hip-hop was made at the time. For instance, the drum track for 'Rebel Without a Pause' was actually played live by Flavor Flav on a drum machine for the full five minutes. It's based on James Brown's 'Funky Drummer', but Chuck D says "Flavor's timing helped create almost like a band rhythm."
The sound of the record in general was unlike anything that had come before - and it's still unlike anything since. The production style pioneered by production team the Bomb Squad is dense, innovative and brilliantly harsh, layering dozens of samples into a single track.
Check out Chuck D being interviewed and performing in Toronto in 1988:
When it came out on April 14, 1988, the record sold well, despite not receiving any significant promotion from Columbia records. In its first week it sold 500,000 copies, and it ended up spending 49 weeks on the 'Billboard' Top Pop Albums chart, peaking at number 42.
But beyond sales, the album has resonated with listeners and critics alike. NME called it "the greatest hip-hop album ever" when it was released, and said "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/documenter of life in the underbelly of the USA."
And next week, PE will receive one of music's big accolades: they're getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (alongside Rush, Randy Newman and Heart).
A couple of years ago, Chuck D visited the program and hung with George at The Newsstand. Check out that segment below:
And for more PE goodness, tune into the Strombo Show tonight at 8 pm on CBC Radio 2.