As they did with the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, KEXP DJs will be airing and examining all the songs that were sampled in Public Enemy's 1988 hiphop classic, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. This Thursday, June 21, from 6 am to 6 pm at 90.3 FM/kexp.org, the radio station will weave in exclusive interviews with PE MC/producer Chuck D and studio wizard Hank Shocklee, both of whom were part of the Bomb Squad crew, among the dozens of tracks that composed the funky, chaotic collage that is Millions, to commemorate its 30th anniversary. Seattle professor and Stranger contributor Daudi Abe, who wrote the book 6 ‘N the Morning: West Coast Hip-Hop Music 1987-1992 & the Transformation of Mainstream Culture, and Shabazz Palaces/Digable Planets rapper/producer Ishmael Butler will also offer commentary.
Millions is a mind-boggling agglomeration of funk, rock, soul, old-school hiphop, impassioned passages from speeches (by Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Khalid Abdul Muhammad), mantric vocal loops, and motherfuckin' Slayer on "She Watch Channel Zero." People who dismiss sampling as "cheating" or not "real music"—these types still exist in 2018—need to understand that what the Bomb Squad did here is just as artful as any other approach to music-making.
The arranging and rhythmic skills that went into Millions are impressively intricate, and the Bomb Squad's action-packed tapestries involve much more than just looping beats and letting them run unaltered throughout entire tracks. Rather, they created mosaics of crate-diggers' secret (and not-so-secret) weapons that blossomed into catalytic jams that doubled as party-starters and sociopolitical manifestos. The Bomb Squad—along with Chuck D and Flavor Flav's penetrating lyrics, of course—optimized these disparate atoms of sound/noise into careening vehicles of excitement. We shan't hear its like again—mainly because of the punitive legal consequences of such prolific sampling, but also due to diminishing ambitions.
David Schmader cogently summarized Millions in these pages back in 2006: "It was terrifying. Over what would become the band's signature audio hurricane—compressing the wildest exertions of free jazz into harsh layered beats to create the densest, most intense racket ever made in the name of pop music—Chuck D laid out his explicitly political call to revolutionary action, with a righteous fury that, to this white American, felt inevitable and historic."