It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

July 17, 2008


Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theatre
United States

FMC and Pitchfork Music Festival Present:
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theatre
Thursday, July 17, 2008, 3 pm

Truly legendary hip-hop releases are rare, but Public Enemy’s groundbreaking 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back easily earns the distinction. With its pointed socio-political commentary and inventive production, the album represented (and still does) urban music’s cutting edge.

On Thursday, July 17, this essential piece of hip-hop history got its due. Future of Music Coalition and concert destination Pitchfork Music Festival hosted a discussion with PE frontman Chuck D, members of the group’s production team and music media experts about It Takes a Million. The free event took place at 3 PM at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater.

Urban poet and cultural force Chuck D joined Hank Shocklee and Keith Shocklee — one half of Public Enemy’s production unit, the Bomb Squad — to discuss how they fashioned their powerful world of sound. Harry Allen — journalist, activist, and PE “Media Assassin” — also participated in the lively discussion led by documentary filmmaker Kembrew McLeod (Copyright Criminals: This is a Sampling Sport).

It Takes a Nation fused politics and music in unprecedented ways, creating a dense sound collage of rhythm, noise and the voices of 20th century black leaders. An early example of collage-based production, there’s some doubt whether the album could be created today due to the difficulty and costs related to clearing samples. Even twenty years later, it’s considered one of hip-hop’s finest achievements.

Chicago’s in-depth discussion explored the making of It Takes A Nation, as well as the cultural events that helped shape its message. The talk took place one day before Public Enemy reunited to play the album in its entirety at the Pitchfork Music Festival.