Black and white promo photo of Public Enemy
Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive

Revolutions: Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back"

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, spawned a socially conscious hip-hop revolution.

Public Enemy's second album released thirty years ago in 1988 and is a sonic melting pot - the group sculpted vibrant hip-hop from found sounds and crowd noise culled from concerts, as well as rock, soul, funk, and R&B samples. 

Watch below for the full Klipsch Revolutions episode. 

Public Enemy's second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, spawned a socially conscious hip-hop revolution.

Recorded in Manhattan and Long Island, the 1988 album emphasizes aggressive, confrontational music and the vocal contrast between emcees Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

Chuck D pulls no punches as he spits invective and raps about weighty political topics—a foil to clock-wearing Flavor Flav, whose fluid, freestyle rhymes are a tongue-twisting marvel.

It Takes a Nation of Millions derives its electrified vibe largely from the Bomb Squad, a production group helmed by Eric Sadler and brothers Hank and Keith Shocklee.

Working with Chuck D, the men sculpt vibrant hip-hop from found sounds and crowd noise culled from concerts, as well as rock, soul, funk, and R&B samples.

"Party For Your Right to Fight" samples Beastie Boys, Funkadelic and James Brown, while other songs interpolate acts such as Slayer, David Bowie, and Run-D.M.C.

In a knowing wink, "Caught, Can We Get a Witness?" even references the copyright controversy surrounding sampling—but defends the practice's artistic merits.

This sonic melting pot is glued together by pastiche-like vocal samples, and dizzy turntable scratching from DJs Terminator X and Johnny Juice Rosado.

At the time of release, Chuck D envisioned It Takes a Nation of Millions as Public Enemy's spin on Marvin Gaye's political statement What's Going On.

Accordingly, the emcee's lyrics reference black nationalist philosophies while condemning oppressive power imbalances and structural racism.

"Don't Believe the Hype" disparages media members critical of the group; other songs express suspicion toward the government or decry dumbed-down pop culture.

Snippets of Malcolm X speeches pop in throughout, as do references to activists and leaders Louis Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad.

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back spent almost a year on the Billboard charts, and its innovative production and incisive lyrics drew critical praise.

The album's combination of assertive sonic splicing and strident commentary was enormously influential on hip-hop and rock acts, among them A Tribe Called Quest and Rage Against the Machine.

It's no wonder Chuck D once called It Takes a Nation of Millions the "first global hip-hop album, linking New York and L.A."

Public Enemy saw hip-hop as a unifying force, an inflammatory change agent capable of bringing people together and generating explosive social impact.

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