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It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
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It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (33⅓ #71)

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  148 ratings  ·  28 reviews
<p><font face="Times New Roman" size=3>Christopher R. Weingarten provides a thrilling account of how the Bomb Squad produced such a singular-sounding record: engineering, sampling, scratching, constructing, deconstructing, reconstructing - even occasionally stomping<br/>on vinyl that sounded too clean. Using produ ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published April 8th 2010 by Bloomsbury Academic (first published 2010)
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Hip Hop History & Currency
19th out of 102 books — 33 voters
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33⅓
61st out of 113 books — 37 voters


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Community Reviews

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a.h.s. boy
My first foray into the 33 1/3 series, and I can't imagine a better one. This is a phenomenal book about a phenomenal album, but more importantly, this is a book about the history of music sampling and the evolution of an entirely new genre of music.

With page after page of detailed foundational information, and fascinating parallels drawn between significant moments in Black history (civil rights, the deaths of Malcolm X and MLK, James Brown and the rise of funk) and the evolution of Public Enem
...more
Peter Landau
Back in the 1980s I was trying to be all punk rock years after punk rock had passed on. My friends and I were wedded to a reactionary vision of music that had lost relevance and was in the process of spreading to the suburban malls where it belonged, though that was still a number of years in the future in the mid-to-late 1980s. But the blinders I wore let in some light, such as hearing Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five or “Planet Rock” after hours on the disco radio stations. I liked it. B ...more
Joel Neff
While other books in the 33 /13 series strive to show how an album defined its artist, Public Enemies' It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back works, instead, to show how an album can define its time. In fact, much of the book reads more like a history book rather than a music book; by explaining the history of the Civil Rights movement, the author is able to define how radical (in the original sense) this record was when it dropped.

In particular, careful attention is given to the samples
...more
Erin
Jul 18, 2010 Erin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!
I had high hopes for this 33 1/3 and it certainly did NOT let me down! This book did what I always hope these 33 1/3 books will do- it made one of my very favorite albums ever sound new and exciting again. I can't believe all of the samples I didn't recognize! And the little stories about the samples... my favorite image from the book is Flav recording P.E. on the radio and grabbing "I guarantee you- no more music by these suckers" from the DJ. Oh! And Chuck creating the logo from an E.Love pic. ...more
Doug Merlino
Weingarten does a great job tracing the samples PE used on this classic album to sources such as James Brown, P-Funk, Isaac Hayes, and the 1972 Wattstax concert. In the process he shows how the group built on and fed off the energy of those predecessors, updating their sound for the Reagan era and the age of samplers. Weingarten also contextualizes PE within the NY hip-hop scene and shows how contemporaries such as Run DMC influenced and played a role in the making of this album. I would have li ...more
Jhk711
A great read for anyone interested in hip hop's most historically important and culturally influential group, and their most important/influential album. The book is dedicated solely to breaking down Public Enemy's second album track by track, sample by sample, scratch by scratch, and provides some minor background details on Chuck D and the Bomb Squad (and, to a much lesser degree, Flav, Griff and Terminator X). As someone who has listened to the album thousands of times over the past 22 years, ...more
Bill
Sep 19, 2014 Bill rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: music
These 33-1/3 books absolutely serve one very, very useful purpose: no matter what, they make you want to listen to the source material. In this case, Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Which I listen to from time to time anyway.

It would be endlessly fascinating to hear how Chuck D and the Bomb Squad assembled this beautifully tuneless album and Weingarten gets us halfway there, pointing us at the techniques and clips that were used. But he gets caught up in his own cle
...more
Matthew
This should be the template for all 33 1/3 books: An author takes a record that they know by heart, then turns it inside out and figures out what makes it tick. Personally I don't care about the author's experience with the record (which is a mode that many 33 1/3 books fall into), I want to know why the artist made their decisions and what led up to those decisions. Weingarten does this by dismantling the myriad samples that the Bomb Squad used and discovers why they were chosen and how they fi ...more
Danielroffle
Noted internet message board user Christopher R. Weingarten gives us a dizzying take on one of Hip-Hop's most canonical albums, furnishing copious details not only on the album itself, but on some of the numerous songs sampled on it as well. This serves to contextualize P.E. within a larger framework of american pop music, and also has an interesting side-effect: while most 33 1/3 volumes will make you want to relisten to the album they're about, this book actually makes you want to explore *oth ...more
Mason Jones
I really enjoy the 33 1/3 series of small books about records, and though I've tried a couple that did fail to entertain, for the most part they're really fun reads. This one is a good example. I love the album in question, and this book takes an interesting angle by discussing all of the samples used by the group. This basically makes the book a history of the music that came before Public Enemy and influenced them: James Brown, Funkadelic, Isaac Hayes and Stax Records, Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, an ...more
FittenTrim
As a writing exercise, I will try to write my review as poorly as the author of this book because convoluted, as it may be, and history has a way of being confusing, which James Brown's drummer might know, but the Bomb Squad tried to use a different mix, but RFK was killed in the 60s, which history will affect... Ugh, I can't do it anymore. The writer doesn't interview any band members, provides barely any insight into the album. Rather, he focuses on the music which PE sampled. And even then, h ...more
h
the bigger a music nerd you are, the more you will like this.
Brad
Though new to the album, I ravenously devoured this book. It is exactly what I originally expected the 33 1/3 series to be: making of, history and context, designed for the fan for whom liner notes are not enough. AND this is an exciting read(!), seamlessly linking Public Enemy's passionate mission to the stories of the risk-taking musicians/music they sample. The ones in the book I found most notable were James Brown, Isaac Hayes, the 1972 Wattstax Festival and Russell Simmons' unsuccessful goa ...more
Andrew Kleimola
As with the Paul's Boutique book, I appreciate the amount of research that went into the book. I only wish the author had actually been able to speak directly with the creators as the author of Paul's Boutique (or Bee Thousand, for that matter) had. Any quotes attributed to anyone involved with making this album seems to have come from another source. The author also makes the seemingly tangential descriptions of James Brown and Isaac Hayes fit, though I doubt any reader would have noticed if th ...more
Bill Fuller
Extremely well-researched book about one of hip-hop's seminal albums. Overstuffed with information, it's almost a scholarly approach to Public Enemy and rap music, which is usually interesting, if not always fun to read. It's best to try and read this in one or two sittings if possible, as the book jumps around in time periods frequently and makes connections in different parts of the book that require close attention. Overall, a high quality entry in the 33 1/3 series that could have benefitted ...more
Michael Gonzalez
A thoroughly researched tale of the story behind one of rap's greatest albums. This thing moves like a parallel realities story - you get to see history meshing, overlapping - James Brown moving the beats of Funkadelic tossing over to Run-DMC and simultaneously walking with Chuck D.

You can see strong hip hop for what it is: the news, and history, life, culture, movement. Socially conscious musicians like PE are a rare breed, and something that's sorely missed.
Byron
Several magazine articles about PE, an episode of VH1 Behind the Music and maybe a book or two are compiled into an 80+ page mega Word document, for your convenience. It goes more or less in order by song, and each song serves as a jumping off point to get into a lot of biographical information you don't need about the many sampled artists, presumably via the wiki. Recommended if you'd find such a thing useful.
Travis
This book talks about not only the making of the album and the world of P.E. at the time, but all the pieces of music that went into the album via the relatively new-at-the-time practice of sampling and the world out of which all those pieces of music came, drawing all kinds of interesting parallels between them and making an interesting case for the power of the well-placed sample. A great piece of work.
Michael Trigilio
The best of the 33 1/3rd series (that I've read) so far! The authors erudite grasp of remix and the revolutionary strands found in Public Enemy's production was fresh and crisply expressed. Hip hop is African American folk-music and this book deconstructs "Nation of Millions" as both a reflection of that cultural experience but also as an avant-garde innovation for DJs and MCs alike.
Noah
An incredible sample by sample breakdown of the seminal Public Enemy album. Weingarten gives a wonderfully thorough history of the tracks that were used in the making of the album, often taking individual words and following them back in time to their source giving an amazing sense of history to the album. If you like the record you owe it to yourself to read this book.
Nathan
Aug 09, 2010 Nathan rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Professor Griff
Shelves: 33-1-3-series
For some reason, it seems that Weingarten spends more of his time discussing the ascension of the sample, with his focus leaning towards the original artists, rather than that being the main topic in his book. He spends little time with Public Enemy, which sort of renders the book and its title as useless, but at least the writing is strong, so he's got that going for him.
Pinder
I loved how it bounced back and forth between the production of It Takes a Nation of Millions and the stories of Isaac Hayes, Funky Drummer, or Wattstax concert samples used. It's nice to finally understand why the album is put together the way it is, the Live in London snippets, and the sometimes odd sequencing.
Richard Ladew
Great insight not only into the rise of Public Enemy and the development of the much-lauded production crew of the Bomb Squad, but also a great look back to the dynamism between Bobby Byrd and James Brown and how this too informed the interplay between Chuck and Flav.

I would highly recommend it!
Tobias
The density of information we get here is impressive -- it's not unlike getting a concentrated dose of forty years' worth of musical history, which echoes the dense production of the album in question. And it reads neatly to boot. (Disclaimer: I'm not an entirely objective reviewer here.)
Shenanitims
Okay, I'm biased because I'm listed in the book, helping supply some of the research material. Still though, out of the entire 33 1/3 line, it's one of the better ones, being focused on the actual music unlike some of the other ones (_Rid of Me_ I'm looking at you...).
Rich
Never wanted this book to end. Definitely my favorite 33 1/3 book so far. One year, someone will get me the birthday present I really want: an hour with Chuck D.
J T.
Wish it came with an mp3 of all the samples discussed! Intoxicating read!
Brent
For me, an education.

"Here we go, again . . . "
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