One of the most interesting facets of Public Enemy’s 1988, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back” for me personally, is the way it took shape. As we mentioned in discussing P.E’s “Rebel Without a Pause”, the musical innovations of Eric B & Rakim and Boogie Down Productions, featuring lead rapper KRS ONE, made the crew dissatisfied with the sound they achieved on their debut, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show”. Public Enemy got moving quickly, creating the “Rebel” single and giving their career new life. “Bring The Noise” would be their next single in ’87, which would make two key cuts released as singles before “Millions” was finished and released in 1988. A third single, “Don’t Believe The Hype” would also be released in 1988, several months before “Millions” was released. These singles laid out P.E’s brand new bag and set the stage for what many call the greatest Hip Hop album of all time. In the case of “Bring the Noise”, the song was composed for the Def Jam soundtrack to the movie “Less Than Zero”, which was a popular book and film in its time that told the story of rich kid cocaine dealers. “Bring the Noise” was a mission statement for P.E and has gone on to become an anthem in the repertoire of the band.
The song begins with a Malcolm X sample saying, “Too Black too Strong.” Which is followed by a very noisy horn sample of Marva Whitney’s James Brown produced “It’s My Thing” (an answer record to The Isley Brothers “It’s Your Thing.”) “It’s My Thing” provides several musical elements of the track. Right alongside that is a thunderous drum kick playing insistent 16th notes, as Flavor Flav delivers the type of hype man energy that secured his place in Hip Hop history, “Yo Chuck, these Honeydrippers is still frontin’ on us/show em that we can do this/cause we always knew this.” After which he lets out an epic “Yeah, Boyeeee!” as the snare drum hits on all fours and a bass fill leads up to the verse. Chuck D booms out the lines which have become so well known in the years since, “BASS! How low can you go?/Death Row?/What a Brother know?/once again/back is the incredible/rhyme animal/the Incredible!/D!/Public Enemy Number One/Five-O said “Freeze!?And I got numb.” Underneath that The Bomb Squad concoct an amazing track of sampled riffing JB’s horns from “It’s My Thing.” Greg Tate remarked at the time the horns sounded like “Decaying kazoos.” Underneath that Terminator cuts up Funkadelic’s “Get off Your Ass & Jam”, focusing on the trippy, alarm sounding guitar solo that ended up being very close to DJ scratching. So right there, the track combines the two pillars of funk, J.B, and P-Funk. A loud guitar sample from “Get off Your Ass” loops, with its guitar solo peak energy sounding more like an alarm than music. Chuck D goes on to describe a scenario where he is literally persecuted for his music, put in jail because of the Pro-Black stance the group espouses. Which would almost literally happen to rappers such as 2Pac, Ice T, Ice Cube, N.W.A and many others in the next few years after this song.
The chorus gets even noisier musically, with D proclaiming, “Turn it Up!/Bring the Noise!!!” Vocal samples, scratches, and horn blasts mix as Flavor says, “Yo Chuck! They sayin we too Black man!” The next verse was always super unique to me for the early triplet based cadence Chuck used. The rhyme is supported by a sample of Clyde Stubblefield playing on James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, but The Bomb Squad don’t leave it naked, they lay a heavy stomping drum kick over the top of it, for Chuck to lay down his flow, “Never badder than bad/but the brother is madder than mad/at the fact/thats corrupt like a Senator/Soul on a roll/but you treat it/like soap on a rope/cause the beat and the lines are so dope.” After which the arrangement returns to the original verse. Chuck D also calls out Black radio at the end of the verse, “They call themselves Black but we’ll see if they play this.” Chuck spends the last verse praising his D.J and talking about music more generally, defending the artistic merits of Hip Hop compared to artists like Yoko Ono and Anthrax (which would lay the groundwork for P.E to redo this song with Anthrax in 1991). The song goes out with a sickly sounding “Transformer” D.J scratch routine.
“Bring the Noise” was a musical marvel that was the second step in paving the way for the classic P.E sound. It utilized a unique combination of samples and placed all that “noise” within a context of song structure, with an intro, verses, a bridge where the beat changes, and D.J solo space as you would give a musician. All of this was the perfect music to match with Chuck D’s stentorian baritone, and he laid down a great rap that broke new ground for Rap, in so much as it was bragaddocio, but it was strong, defiant and bold about political situations and the world at large, as Chuck took on both his critics and the critics and naysayers of Hip Hop and Rap music as a whole. He achieved 3 different unique flows by taking three verses he had from different songs and combining them here. With the creativity of Chuck, Flav, The Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler) and Terminator X all in play, “Bring the Noise” was another important 1987 step to P.E’s 1988 triumph.