Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October 5: Public Enemy, "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos"

Artist: Public Enemy
Song: "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos"
Album: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
Year: 1988

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For every movement, whether in music or within a strictly social setting, there must be some individual that sets it in motion; a provocateur that sees things differently and it not afraid to let these divergent views be heard.  In most cases, a social movement takes on a song as their "anthem," but once in awhile, it is the musical work that leads to the change in society.  When it comes to provoking social change, there are few groups that were as blunt and unignorable as one finds within the hard-hitting, genre altering music of hip hop pioneers, Public Enemy.  Taking a far more aggressive and louder approach than any of their peers, it was largely due to their music that the pro-black style of hip hop was restarted, and the socially aware aspect of the genre became the focus once again.  Finding an amazing balance between ear-shattering, noisy production and a unique pop sensibility, there has simply never been another group in history that compares to Public Enemy, and they remain one of the most definitive groups in the entire history of music.  From the crushing music of Tha Bomb Squad to the iconic voice of Chuck D, there is no mistaking the music of Public Enemy, and it was their monumental 1988 record, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back that permanently cemented their names as music legends.  Though every second of the album is nothing short of phenomenal, there is no song anywhere else in hip hop history that is harder or more unmistakable than Public Enemy's 1988 single, "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos."

Though every song from Public Enemy has a sound that cannot be mistaken, on"Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos," the group redefines the hip hop genre in a number of ways.  The song is a somewhat musically restrained for the group, as the music is not as overwhelming as many of their other tracks.  However, "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos" manages to hit as hard as anything ever recorded, and it is perhaps due to the simplicity that it carries the punch it does.  The most obvious sample used is a brilliant looping of the piano piece from Isaac Hayes', "Hyperbolicsyllabicsquedalymistic," and the way that The Bomb Squad combines it with samples from Stevie Wonder as well as The Escorts creates a heavy groove that has a fantastic tension running throughout.  The Bomb Squad also samples their own work, as the original version of Public Enemy's "Bring Tha Noize" (which can also be found on the album) can be heard at various points throughout the song.  Though it is a far cry from what was being done in "mainstream" hip hop at the time, "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos" is nothing short of mesmerizing, and one cannot resist bobbing your head along with the beat, and The Bomb Squad proves that when done correctly, one can pull of a superior hip hop beat without needing any fancy studio tricks or even much change in the basic musical structure.

Perfectly complimenting the hard-hitting musical arrangement, one would be hard pressed to find a more energizing and forceful voice than one finds in the rhymes of the great Chuck D.  Truly an icon in multiple artistic venues, Chuck D's voice is absolutely unmistakable, as he brings a similar aggression and feeling of attack to every track on which he performs.  On "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos," Chuck D is more forceful and seemingly angry than ever before, and his performance here still serves as the model for all hardcore hip hop to this day.  The lyrics of frustration and defiance are perfectly conveyed by his sound, and the unaltered, straightforward style of his rhyming took the genre back to its roots.  Looking at the entire history of hip hop music, there are few opening lines that remain as iconic as when Chuck D delivers the words, "I got a letter from the government, the other day...I opened and read it, it said they were suckers..."  Over the next six and a half minutes, Chuck D goes after everything from correctional facilities to the military draft to the treatment of minorities in America, holding back nothing and delivering his critiques with pinpoint precision.  It is this all-out attack that came to define both the man and the group, and it is rhymes like this that completely rewrote everything that was possible within the hip hop genre.

Combining the simple yet heavy sound of The Bomb Squad and the absolutely phenomenal lyrical work of Chuck D, "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos" serves as a reminder of the true power of music and the original mission of hip hop music.  Proving that the genre was still capable of delivering the "news" from the streets, it was this song that opened the doors for the entire hardcore movement within hip hop, as well as the more socially aware approach to the genre.  The fact that a single group was able to refocus such far reaching approaches serves as a testament to the greatness within their sound, and there has simply never been another group that even comes close in any sense of the word since the album was released.  Taking a step back, on "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos," one can hear influences of everything from funk to heavy metal, and Public Enemy would explore this combination deeper on later records.  Due to having such a wide range of sounds behind them, this was yet another way that the group proved that much like other genres, anything was possible within the world of hip hop music.  Serving as a warning that all was not well within the hip hop community, Public Enemy used their iconic It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back album to wake up the masses and the record is still able to energize just as well as it did more than two decades ago.  Completely redefining what was possible within hip hop music, as well as serving as a rallying cry for the disenfranchised, there is simply no other song in hip hop history that packs a similar power and punch as one finds within Public Enemy's monumental 1988 single, "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos."

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