Nation of Millions

One of the 33 1/3 books we’ll be publishing in the early spring of 2010 is Christopher Weingarten’s stellar study of Public Enemy’s second album. Here’s an early taste of the book:


Around the release of Revolution, James Brown started noticing that radio was being segregated and formatted by genre. Despite the fact that he sold tons of records (he would have two No. 1 R&B singles in 1971, the year Revolution was released), he said that rock stations stopped playing him: “I was making some of my strongest music during that period, and I think most whites have been deprived of it.” “The radio’s scared of me,” echoes Chuck on “Hype.” “’Cause I’m mad, plus I’m the enemy.” It didn’t end there: Public Enemy would sample Revolution of the Mind throughout their career. MC Danny Ray’s intro (“Are you really ready for some super dynamite soul?”) would turn up on Nation’s 1990 follow-up Fear of a Black Planet. The rapturous screams from the audience in “Soul Power” would be transformed into whistling missiles in the bridge of “Caught, Can I Get a Witness.”

And the JB’s would find even more session work on “Don’t Believe the Hype”: Some guitar (either by Cheese Martin or Robert Coleman) from Brown’s 1971 single “I Got Ants in My Pants, Pt. 1” is sliced in under the verses. One of Chuck D’s unheralded roles as a Bomb Squad member was doing light scratching and turntable manipulation, and this song features his handiwork.

“‘Don’t Believe the Hype,’ it’s a sequel,” begins Chuck in the third verse, still mulling over the can of worms he opened in “Rebel Without a Pause.” His line “They claim that I’m a criminal” is in the same vein as “Rebel’s” “Designed to scatter a line of suckers that claim I do crime”—consecutive songs in a row that put racist cops on blast. Fittingly, Public Enemy borrow from Whodini’s “Fugitive” for that paranoid “hu-ahh-AHH-ahhhm-yah” vocal ejaculation. “Fugitive,” a hard-rocking track off Whodini’s 1986 album Back in Black is also about being wrongly accused.

But this time, Chuck had music critics in his scope, most notably writer John Leland. Much like radio stations, American critics weren’t too receptive to Yo! Bum Rush the Show, and Leland was especially vicious in his Village Voice review titled after the Buzzcocks song “Noise Annoys.” Chuck later told NME that he attended a Spin party looking to fuck Leland up. Chuck heard he was hiding. When Public Enemy were cornered, they would bite back. Here was a band that not only read their press but would call writers out on it. In a Spin interview in 1988, they had a comically tense exchange: “Your last single, ‘Bring the Noise,’ was basically about what other people are saying about you.” … “Oh, yeah, that was about you. I was talking right at you.”

“White media were terrified of these guys,” said Public Enemy publicist Leyla Turkkan at a panel in New York City. She told a story about how one prominent rock critic cowered in fear during the drive to a face-to-face interview with Chuck.

Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin spent his summer vacation in L.A., recording metal bands Danzig and Slayer for the Def Jam helmed soundtrack to Less Than Zero, the chilly, druggy, cult flick loosely based on the Bret Easton Ellis book. When Rubin returned to New York in August, he wanted a Public Enemy track to top the soundtrack off, and they submitted “Don’t Believe the Hype.” Rubin didn’t think the song fit. Hank Shocklee was never the biggest fan of it, and the rest of the group agreed they wanted to make something “turbulent, not funky.” Ultimately, the song was scrapped for the punkier “Bring the Noise.” The group put “Don’t Believe the Hype” on the shelf and forgot about it.

“Don’t Believe the Hype,” the true “sequel” to “Rebel Without a Pause,” became more of a Part 3, since it didn’t see the light of day until later. Like with “Rebel,” Chuck’s heroes Run-DMC were integral in giving the song the go-ahead. Since tapes were easy to get in the Def Jam office, DMC had gotten a copy of “Don’t Believe the Hype” after mastering.

Hank later stumbled across DMC blasting the track from his Bronco on a Saturday night—on the Lower East Side or in Harlem depending on whom you ask. The entire block was grooving along. Public Enemy changed their opinion on the track immediately and, once May 1988 rolled around, wrapped tightly under Friedman’s surveillance-camera cover, it became Nation of Millions’ third single.


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