“The energy of the music would have to take a backseat to the simple art of not giving a fuck,” asserts Professor Griff, Public Enemy’s controversial “Minister of Information” and leader of the group’s community outreach faction S1W. “Those punk rock and metal kids always did it their own way; speaking their own truth. And that appealed to a lot of hip-hop cats, because we approached it the same way. In many ways, punk and metal almost mirrored hip-hop in terms of that energy and intensity each genre was giving off at the time.”
“These two cultures that socially seemed like they were separated were actually the same,” adds Hank Shocklee. “Metal and punk never got any radio play. It never was the establishment form of music in the '80s. It was this backdoor, listen-with-your-headphones-so-nobody-would-know force of nature. I was working in a record store at the time Public Enemy had started that would deal primarily in metal and punk, and that energy really inspired me to do something similar in hip-hop.”
Three years after It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was released, Anthrax and Public Enemy would join forces for a remake of “Bring the Noise” that appeared on the metal group’s 1991 rarities compilation Attack of the Killer B’s, followed by a joint tour with opening acts Primus and Bomb Squad protégés Young Black Teenagers.
“It was great when Run-D.M.C. crossed over with that Aerosmith project,” states Flav. “But when we re-did ‘Bring the Noise’ with Anthrax, we took the game to a whole new level. And I think it was the record that broke the racial barrier clean open.”
“Anthrax had done ‘I’m the Man’ and though it was a little parody, they knew what was going on to a tee,” admits Chuck. “And then when they covered ‘Bring the Noise’ it was deadly serious. The way Scott Ian handled that third verse is amazing. I still kid with him to this day about it, how impressed I was that he could take on a speed verse and jam on guitar at the same time.”
Yet despite all the crossover that It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back inspired in the zig-zagging worlds of rap and metal -- one that now finds Chuck D teaming up with B-Real of Cypress Hill and members of Rage Against the Machine in a band named after one of the album’s most incendiary songs in Prophets of Rage -- the true glue which helped shape this LP was the unbridled intensity Public Enemy brought to the masses.
“Chuck, Hank and the rest of the Bomb Squad were really musical geniuses,” reminds Brother Mike of S1W. “And historians, too. They didn’t know just one side of music: They studied, played and understood all different genres. I remember Kool Herc saying what DJs used to do with breakbeats in how they’d find that most exciting part of the record and then loop it by going from turntable to turntable. What the Bomb Squad was able to do was the same thing across varying types of music and find that unique, energetic, strange-at-times portion of any particular record or records, mesh them together, flip them and turn them into hits. Public Enemy created sounds that were unlike anything ever. There was nothing before or after that matched The Bomb Squad beat science.”
“Punks and metalheads related to the crew's aggressive sound and stance – ‘Middle finger for all,’ as Chuck D rhymes on the first album,” proclaims Leland. “But a difference with PE is that they kindled the romance of revolution. They weren't nihilistic, and their noise wasn't the roar of the broken or powerless. They came on as the oppressed fighting back, and in 1988 they made it possible to believe in change. Who knew how far it could go. Not that they had a blueprint. But they had a cause and a romance, and a lot of political music lacks one or both. Some people heard the album and got involved in radical politics. Others just thought revolution was cool. For a brief time, Public Enemy brought them all together and convinced them that there was strength in numbers. Even a nation of millions wouldn't hold them back.”