Before Flavor Flav was a reality TV punch line, he was a part of one of the most important hip hop outfits the genre has ever seen. And while even back in their late 80s peak the giant clocks were already pretty goofy, the rest of what Public Enemy had to offer back then has aged extremely well. Especially It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
It opens strong with two tracks in a row that have gone on to become legit classics, Bring the Noise and Don’t Believe the Hype. Then there’s a quick drop in quality. I’ve always thought Flavor Flav was most entertaining in moderation. Very strict moderation. So a track like Cold Lampin’ With Flavor is never gonna be a Public Enemy highlight for me. He always sounds like he’s Chuck D’s annoying little bother and their mum made D let Flav have a go every now and again.
Considering It Takes a Nation has 16 tracks, it could probably do without pointless filler like Show ‘Em Watcha Got and Security of the First World. But they’re short enough to not send things too far off the rails.
Before Fred Durst took a dump in our collective ears with Nu Metal, I knew Public Enemy had joined forces awesomely with Anthrax for a reimagining of Bring the Noise to show rap and metal could coexist. But it turns out they were onto this kind of mash ‘em up even earlier with She Watch Channel Zero?!… And I like it.
All of the really great parts of It Takes a Nation work to make the closing track a real let down. With Chuck D and Flavor Flav trying to rap simultaneously on Party for Your Right to Fight, they’re never-quite-in-sync delivery just becomes awkward and distracting.
Listening to Public Enemy always makes me fluctuate from extremes of feeling super smart and progressive, to feeling really dumb and sheltered. One minute I’m patting myself on the back for listening to Chuck D and appreciating his combination of beats, rhymes and intellect. The next, I’m realising how ill informed and socially unconscious I am for not understanding the issues he’s so worked up about. Or worse, just zoning out, hypnotised by the beat and flow, and not really listening to the words at all.
But that’s cool, because to me, zoning out and being hypnotised by the beat is a sign of a pretty great album.