June 28 marks the anniversary of Public Enemy’s second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. While PE’s debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, had a political slant, lead rapper Chuck D, said they wanted It Takes a Nation to be the hip-hop equivalent of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. And, man, did they nail it.
Often considered one of the best and most influential rap albums ever made, It Takes a Nation is a sonic assault. Between Chuck D’s powerful voice and politically charged lyrics, Flavor Flav’s jovial hypeman, and the wall of organized noise from producers, The Bomb Squad, it is truly a no-skip record. Every track contributes to the overall effect on the audience.
One of the tracks, Bring the Noise, has Chuck telling the world how great PE is, but also shouting out other artists that they respect, such as heavy metal band Anthrax. Like punk rock before them, Anthrax had always had an appreciation for hip-hop, occassionally incorporating it into their songs. Perhaps the best example is their novelty hit, I’m the Man, from the 1987 EP of the same name.
When Anthrax heard Bring the Noise, they started covering it at their shows. This soon led to a collaboration between the two bands in the form of a rap/metal version of Bring the Noise, released in 1991 on albums from both bands – Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black, from PE, and Attack of the Killer Bs, from Anthrax.
The two groups would tour together that same year, and I was lucky enough to see them. This was my first real concert, which is one of the coolest things I’ll ever be able to say about myself. My buddy Jeremy and I went to The Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana for the show, and I can honestly say it was one of the defining moments of my teenage years. Anthrax played first, then PE, then Anthrax joined them on stage for the last song of the night, Bring the Noise, and it absolutely brought down the house. Obviously, it had an impact on me because I kept the ticket stub and the t-shirt from that night.
If you’ve never listened to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, give it a spin on Spotify, and I think you’ll understand its legacy in hip-hop history.