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Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (33 1/3) Paperback – April 8, 2010
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About the Author
Christopher R. Weingarten is a professional freelancer living in Brooklyn, whose work can currently be seen in the Village Voice, RollingStone.com, Spin, Revolver, The Guardian, eMusic and much more. His speech, Twitter And The Death Of Music Criticism at the 140 Characters Conference in New York became a viral sensation in 2009. He reviewed 1000 of 2009's new records over Twitter on his account, @1000TimesYes. He is the shadowy figure behind hipsterpuppies.tumblr.com and is also the author of its corresponding book, upcoming via NAL/Penguin.
Top customer reviews
Growing up, I was always much more concerned with lyricism than production. I remember I used to consider hip-hop beats "background music" for the rhyming. My favorite emcees as a kid were Rakim, KRS-ONE, and Chuck D. Rapping was about being smart, first and foremost, and it wasn't until The Chronic that I really started paying attention to beats. Now, I make beats (or at least try to) on the MPC 2000, and I've been doing that an and off again for 15 years. I collect records and always listen for samples, but this is a comparatively recent development, if you consider that the bulk of the formative years of my hip-hop education came B.C. (Before Chronic). Thus, while I have a keen appreciation for what guys like Pete Rock, J Dilla, DJ Premier, and even Kanye West do and have done with their samplers, I never really gave a whole lot of thought to the Bomb Squad. Chris Weingarten's book is actually much more about Nation's production than Chuck D's lyrical content -- and that really surprised me.
As a beat-digger myself, I loved Weingarten's approach. He takes each of the major samples used by Public Enemy, and traces not only why and how they were used, but also the conditions under which the original recordings were made! The amount of care and research required to do this is staggering, and it is no surprise that at 138 pages (prior to Works Cited), this is the longest of the five hip-hop books in the 33 and 1/3 series. For example, when looking at P.E.'s usage of James Brown's "The Grunt," Weingarten goes back to an evening when the J.B.'s were in mutiny, refusing to take the stage for the Godfather of Soul unless he paid them more. Refusing to bow down to his band, Brown tracked down Bootsy Collins and his Pacesetters and sent his private jet to pick them up and play the show! From here, we get "The Grunt." Each of the major samples used are traced in similar fashion, and I especially liked the sections on Isaac Hayes and Rufus Thomas (and the whole Wattstax thing, which I knew nothing about).
The denseness of information caused me to read this book over three or four days, whereas I finished most of the other 33 and 1/3 books in a day or two, but the entire time I was reading it, I kept relaying stories to my wife and telling her, "This is like the greatest thing I've ever read!" All the while, I was listening to Nation of Millions, and I haven't stopped. It is once again in heavy rotation, and now -- for the first time ever -- I truly appreciate its greatness. You know how P.E. had that chaotic, rock 'n roll intensity to their music? That's because they didn't sequence their beats -- they'd all stand around at samplers, tapping them in, jamming like a live band! Four samplers (or more), with even Flavor Flav responsible for the snares! These are the kind of details that I love, and they're missing from all of the other 33 and 1/3 books (save Paul's Boutique) that I've read. I've enjoyed all the hip-hop books in the series, and Paul's Boutique gives it a run for its money, but this is the best. Stop what you're doing and buy this book NOW!
The story of It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back has been told before. If you are writing a term paper, check out these sources too: Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation,Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies, and Don't Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin': The Authorized Story of Public Enemy.
Having already read the above, I was hesitant to purchase this book. However, not only did the author offer additional information, he uses a clever literary device. Weingarten argues that the back story of each of the samples that makes the music of It Takes a Nation are essentially important to the new songs that were created. I think going into an explanation would only detract from a new reader's enjoyment, but (in my opinion) it is executed perfectly.
Before reading this book, I could explain why this album is a favorite. But after reading it, I understand so much better! It is a sum of many things I love. James Brown. Funkadelic. Stax Records. And, most of all, sampling: taking something old and making something new with it. For me, it was a big "Ah-Ha!" moment. Weingarten explained to me something that had been swirling around in my head for years. Thanks. When I was finished, I let it sit for a week. Then I picked it up and read it again.
Even if my analysis sounds a little over the top , if you are interested in Public Enemy, enjoy music history, or love learning about sample sources, you won't be disappointed with this book.
Christopher Weingarten starts pulling on strings to see where they lead, and you get the sense that he could have gone on for another hundred pages with no problem.
If the records sampled were played in your house growing up, I'm not sure how riveting this book would be for you. If you were raised on Neil Diamond and Joan Baez (or some similarly James-Brown-less palette)and Nation of Millions sounded like a screed from another planet when you heard it, then every page of this book is a revelation and a story well-told. Weingarten pulls out individual samples and tells the stories of those records, often tying them to PE, explaining how they were chosen.
The writing is crisp and the writer has a good eye for interesting detail, regularly stopping to tell a good story only tangentially related to Nation of Millions.
After reading the book, I listened to the album, and it's almost new to me. An immensely enjoyable trip overall.