On this day in Hip Hop history, an album that expanded the boundaries of Hip Hop as a genre was released. That album is Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Riding off the critical and slight commercial success of the group’s debut LP Yo! Bum Rush The Show, this second album was a momentous leap forward for Public Enemy and Hip Hop as a whole. The fact that the debut was a hit in the Hip Hop community but did not cross over into other audiences of music lovers caused the group to make some changes resulting in one of their most successful albums to date.
Inspired by Marvin Gaye‘s What’s Going On, the group decided to take a more serious turn with their lyricism and themes. They took to this album to “to kill the ‘Cold Gettin’ Dumb’ stuff and really address some situations,” according to group front man Chuck D. Along with adding substance to the message of the album they also livened it up. Unlike the debut, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back had a more upbeat tempo and was faster paced in order to grab the attention of the audience whether live or in the headphones.
It can be said that the sound of this album was a hybrid of the rap/rock style made popular by Run D.M.C. in the 80s along with the conscious Hip Hop vibe of a KRS-One. Listeners to this album could feel the revolutionary spirit and drive toward change coming from Chuck D without being bored by a basic drum pattern or feeling like they were being preached at. The seriousness of the album however did not come without proper contrast from the group’s hype man Flavor Flav. Serving as an outstanding foil to Chuck D’s militant demeanor, Flav was able to make light of the serious tones of the album enabling a memorable experience. The two worked in tandem and a “good cop, bad cop” duo to grab the hearts and minds of all who listened to the project.
Commercially, the album had a great reception. Within a month of its release, the album sold just over 500,000 copies without much promotion from the album’s distributor Columbia Records. It peaked at #42 on the US Pop Albums chart, where it remained for 49 weeks, and #1 on the R&B/Hip Hop chart. The singles from this project, “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” have grown to be timeless classics in Hip Hop.