It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) is the most famous and critically lauded album by Public Enemy. It scored hits such as "Bring the Noise", "Caught, Can We Get a Witness?" and "Don't Believe the Hype". It's now considered to be a cornerstone in the history of Hip-Hop and one of the most influential recordings of all time.
Kurt Cobain ranked it #43 on his "top 50 favorite albums" list. Similarly, comedian Chris Rock listed this record on #22 of his 25 personal favorite Hip-Hop albums, with his quote about the album seen at the top of this page. Nation of Millions was listed at #15 in Rolling Stone's 2020 revision of their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, having the highest ranking out of all rap albums on the list. Time Magazine too included Nation of Millions in their list of 100 essential and timeless albums.
- "Countdown to Armageddon" (1:40)
- "Bring the Noise" (3:46)
- "Don't Believe the Hype" (5:19)
- "Cold Lampin' with Flavor" (4:17)
- "Terminator X to the Edge of Panic" (4:31)
- "Mind Terrorist" (1:21)
- "Louder Than A Bomb" (3:37)
- "Caught, Can We Get a Witness?" (4:53)
- "Show 'Em Whatcha Got?" (1:56)
- "She Watch Channel Zero?" (3:49)
- "Night of the Living Baseheads" (3:14)
- "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" (6:23)
- "Security of the First World" (1:20)
- "Rebel Without A Pause" (5:02)
- "Prophets of Rage" (3:18)
- "Party for Your Right to Fight" (3:24)
"It Takes a Nation of Tropers to Hold Us Back":
- Album Title Drop: From "Party For Your Right To Fight":But it's proven and fact
And it takes a nation of millions to hold us back.
- Animal Motifs: Chuck D. calls himself "the rhyme animal".
- Apocalypse How: "Countdown to Armageddon".Armageddon had been in effectGo get a late pass!
- Arc Words: "Public Enemy Number One" and "Bring the Noise" are all over their work.
- Artistic License Biology: "Party for Your Right to Fight" says that white people were the result of experimentation on recessive genes.
- Audience Participation Song: Many of the interludes and introductions on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were recorded during their 1987 UK tour.
- Boastful Rap: Chuck D. excels in this.
- But Not Too Black:
Ayo Chuck, they're saying we're too black, manYo I don't understand what they're sayingBut little do they know they can get a smack for that, man
- In Bring the Noise Flavor raps:
Some perpetrate, they drink CloroxAttack the Black, because I know they lack exactThe cold facts, and still they try to Xerox
- And in Don't Believe the Hype:
- Call-Back and Continuity Nod:
- In "Bring the Noise" Chuck D. refers to the group as Public Enemy No. 1, a reference to a hit from their inaugural album Yo! Bum Rush The Show. The title of this album is referenced several other times in other songs on the album too.
- In "Don't Believe the Hype" he raps: "Again, I said I was a time bomb", in reference to his 1987 song Timebomb. He also raps: Countdown to Armageddon, in reference to the opening track of the album.
- In Louder Than A Bomb the line goes: And yes it weighs a ton, which is a callback to their song "Miuzi weighs a ton".
- The song "Party For Your Right To Fight" would be referenced again during "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" from their next album Fear of a Black Planet, a track that also samples "Bring the Noise", "Rebel Without A Pause" and "Don't Believe The Hype". From that same album "Anti-Nigger Machine" samples "Black Steel in the Hour Of Chaos" and "Who Stole the Soul?" "Bring the Noise".
- Conscious Hip Hop: Politics and social consciousness are a theme in every track.
- Drugs Are Bad: "The Night of the Living Baseheads".This stuff is really bad, I'm talkin' 'bout baseHow long can you go?
- Epic Rocking: "Don't Believe the Hype", "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" and "Rebel Without a Pause" are all over five minutes long.
- Face on the Cover: Chuck D. and Flavor Flav behind bars.
- The Golden Age of Hip Hop: A cornerstone of the genre.
- Great Escape: "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos", in which the protagonist is sent to jail for not wanting to join the army, yet escapes.
- Hell Is That Noise: "Bring the Noise".
- Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: "Louder Than a Bomb".
- Hurricane of Puns:
Now they got in me in a cell, because my records, they sell.
- "Bring the Noise":
Flavors are electric, try to get me a shocker(...) "Peter Perfect picked a perfect Peter.
- "Cold Lampin' With Flavor":
The woman makes the men all pause, a pun on "menopause"(...) I 'mma take all your soaps and then I'm gonna hang 'em on a rope, a pun on "soap on a rope".
- "She Watch Channel Zero":
- "Night of the Living Baseheads": The title in itself references the famous zombie movie Night of the Living Dead (1968), but it also provides puns on the word bass and base (another word for cocaine).
- "Party for Your Right to Fight" changes the word order of The Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right" and changes the content so that is not about a party (a feast, a celebration) but a political party, namely the Black Panthers.
We got Magnum Brown, Shooshki PalooshkiSupercalafragahestikalagoothkiYou could put that in your "Don't know what you said" bookTook-look-yuk-duk-wuk
- From "Cold Lampin' With Flavor"
- Live Album: The intro has audio taken from a concert the group did in London.
- Long Title: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is such a long title that people usually refer it to as Nation of Millions.
- Miniscule Rocking: "Countdown to Armageddon", "Mind Terrorist", "Show 'Em Whatcha Got?" and "Security of the First World" are all under two minutes long.
- Mistaken for Racist:"Don't Believe the Hype":Clear all the madness, I'm not a racist.
- Political Rap: It's a Public Enemy record, after all.
- Precision F-Strike: The only vulgarities on It Takes A Nation are in "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos", "Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic" and "Rebel Without A Pause" ("I see you pissin' in your pants, you're scared of dissin' us").
- Prison Episode: Chuck D. and Flavor Flav are shown behind bars on the album cover. In Bring the Noise Chuck raps: "Now they got me in a cell, because my records they sell." "Black Steel in The Hour Of Chaos" tells a tale about a draft evader sent to prison, who escapes later.
- Product Placement: Clorox and Xerox are mentioned in "Don't Believe The Hype".
- Protest Song: Almost every track.
- Pun-Based Title:
- Questioning Title?: "Caught, Can I Get A Witness?", "She Watch Channel Zero?"
- Sampling: The entire album. Chuck D.'s opening cry of Bass! and once again, back is the incredible in itself has been sampled by other artists too. He also addresses the accusations of sampling in Can I Get A Witness?
- "Don't Believe The Hype" samples Rufus Thomas' "Do The Funky Chicken" ("Now here's what I want y' all to do for me.")
- "Prophets Of Rage" samples "Shining Star" by Earth, Wind & Fire, "Cold Sweat" by James Brown and the "get a little stupid" line is a sample from "Pump That Bass" (1986) by Original Concept.
- "Party For Your Right To Fight" samples both "Fight For Your Right" by The Beastie Boys from Licensed to Ill and "Get Up, Stand Up" by Bob Marley, from Burnin'. The "ho yeah!" line is a sample from Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing A Little Song" from their album Stand! (1969).
- "Night Of The Living Baseheads" samples "Sucker M.C.'s" from RunD.M.C.'s debut album Run-D.M.C. (1984).
- "Countdown To Armageddon" informs us The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
- "Bring The Noise" references Louis Farrakhan, The Black Panthers (the slogan Power of the People), Yoko Ono, RunD.M.C., Eric B. & Rakim, LL Cool J and Anthrax. The voice that says "Too black, too strong" is Malcolm X.
- "Don't Believe The Hype" references Louis Farrakhan again, John Coltrane ("The treat me like Coltrane, insane"), the Bolo punch (a boxing punch by Sugar Ray Leonard), the Pan-African flag ("Get The Green, Black and Red"), Captain Kirk (Star Trek: The Original Series) and the slogan for Trix cereals ("No you can't have it back, silly rabbit.")
- In the same song Chuck D. raps: Word to Herb, yo if you can't swing this/Learn the words, you might sing this. This received a reply from Ice Cube in his song "Amerikkka's Most Wanted", where he rapped: "Word, but the fuck is Herb?"
- "Cold Lampin' With Flavor" refers to Magnum Brown's song "Shooski Balooski" and a TV ad for Imperial Maragarine ("Imperial Margarine put a crown on your head").
- The song was also used in a scene from Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
- In "Terminator X to the Edge of Panic" a quote by Muhammad Ali is referenced: "You kill my dog, you better hide your cat."
- "Louder Than A Bomb" references the Frank Sinatra film Tony Rome.
- "Night Of The Living Baseheads" samples the line "First come, first basis" from RunD.M.C.'s "Sucker MC's".
- In "Rebel Without A Pause" Chuck D. claims he is a supporter of Chesimard. Assata Shakur (married name JoAnne Chesimard), a black activist who has been living in Cuba in political asylum since 1984. She is the step-aunt of Tupac Shakur. He also reference the 1974 documentary: "O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose".
- "Prophets Of Rage": The title is a reference to a Life Magazine article about Malcolm X with the heading: "What ever happened to the prophets of rage?" He also namedrops black activists from the past like Marcus Garvey, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Posser. With the line "Mandela, cell dweller, Thatcher/ You can tell her clear the way for the prophets of rage/(Power of the people you say)" he references Nelson Mandela, who was still in jail at the time for his activism against South Africa's apartheid system. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did nothing against the country's racial system and even declared Mandela "a terrorist".
- "Party For Your Right To Fight" references J Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver, as well as Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad.
- Silly Love Songs/Intercourse with You: "Caught, Can I Get A Witness" suggests that the former is a façade for the latter."You singers are spineless
As you sing your senseless songs to the mindless
Your general subject, love, is minimal
It's sex for profit"
- Singer Namedrop: Just like any other hip hop band they do this too and often.
- Spelling Song: From "Rebel Without A Pause"We showin' up in E-F-F-E-C-T, also known as effect.
- Spoken Word in Music: Several songs start off with soundbites from speeches by afrocentric speakers.
- Take That!:
A lot of people on daytime radio scared of usBecause they too ignorant to understand the lyrics of theTruth that we pumping into them clogged up brain cellsThat just spun their little wooden skulls they call caps
- From "Don't Believe The Hype":
Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?
- And from "Terminator X to the edge of panic"
- "Louder Than A Bomb" targets the CIA and FBI.
- Take That, Critics!:"Bring the Noise" attacks the critics: Listen for lessons I'm saying inside music that the critics are blasting me for/ They'll never care for the brothers and sisters now, cause the country has us up for the war."Don't Believe the Hype" is an entire attack on the media and critics.
- Wham Line: From "She Watch Channel Zero":Her brain's been trained by a 24 inch remoteRevolution a solution for all of our childrenBut her children don't mean as much as the show
- Wicked Stepmother: From "Louder Than A Bomb"Wait 'till you treat me like a stepchild.
- You Watch Too Much X: Replace "X" with "daytime TV", and you have the general gist of "She Watch Channel Zero?!".