Kurt’s favorites is a new series where Alternative Nation will take a look back at some of Kurt Cobain’s favorite albums. This will give a better understanding of what helped shape Nirvana and Grunge’s sound. In our first entry, we took a look at one of the worst albums of all time. For this second entry we are looking at Kurt Cobain’s favorite hip-hop album. This album is It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy.
Though one of the most popular forms of music today, there was a time where hip-hop was viewed as a “disco fad” by music critics and got limited to no attention from much of the mainstream. This changed in 1986 when Run-DMC broke into the mainstream with their third album, Raising Hell. This was the start of what is referred to as the “Golden Age of Hip Hop.” This period lasted from 1986 to the late 90’s and saw the release of many of the most iconic and celebrated hip-hop albums of all time. One of the greatest records from this era is Kurt’s 43rd favorite album of all time, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy.
Released in 1988, It Takes a Nation of Millions is the hip hop act’s second album. It influenced the use of politically charged lyrics in the rap world. Its impact was also felt by many rock artists. For example, Rage Against The Machine have cited rapper Chuck D’s lyrics as an influence on their own. The track “Bring The Noise” was even later remade to feature Anthrax as guests. Sonically, this album is just as intense as many metal albums. The track “She Watch Channel Zero” even samples “Angel of Death” by Slayer. The lyrics are just as in your face as the era’s hardcore punk bands. Topics mostly include racism and persecution, with some songs having their own themes such as drug abuse (“Night of the Living Baseheads”) and America’s poor taste in television (“She Watch Channel Zero”). Chuck D helps bring these messages to life and really demonstrates to the listener just how much he is angry that the society that allowed these issues to flourish.
On the flip side of Chuck D’s anger, we have hypeman Flavor Flav. Flav gives the messages a more comical approach without distracting the listener from their true meaning.
Musically, the record is very diverse thanks to the production team, The Bomb Squad, as well as the group’s DJ, Terminator X. The beats and samples draw from a variety of genres including funk, free jazz, electronic music and heavy metal; this gives the album a trippy and almost industrial feel while still being very catchy. This was something pretty rare in the 80’s and would be explored much later by acts such as Kool Keith, Death Grips and Saul Williams. This writing style, in a way, is similar to Kurt’s mix of abrasiveness and melody. Could this be where he got the idea for this counterbalance?
This is the perfect album to show to someone who believes that “all rap is crap” due to its negative stereotypes. The record contains zero misogyny, violence, drug glorifying, or repeated nonsense lyrics. Flavor Flav’s humor keeps the album from coming off as too in your face, while Chuck D’s aggression keeps it from getting too goofy. The whole team’s talents all help make this record the best rap album of the 1980’s as well as one of the best records in the entire genre.