Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back vs. Common’s Be. Which Is Better?

One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?

“Finding The GOAT Album” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you and your vote have decided the final 32 albums (including Wild Cards), the final rounds begin.

Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is often considered one of the most advanced Hip-Hop albums ever made. On their sophomore set, Chuck D and his musical militia stepped to the forefront of the genre in their ability to balance substance and style. On his sixth LP, Common revamped his substance and his style. The Chicago, Illinois veteran aligned with Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music imprint for Be. The album refreshed Comm’s range, pointedness, and placed his skills against the trending production styling of ‘Ye and J Dilla. These albums mean a ton to many people, and the culture of Hip-Hop. Will the 28 year-old platinum juggernaut land on its feet, or the Grammy-nominated comeback exhibition? Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).


It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy

Public Enemy’s sophomore album is an intersection of substance and style at the highest possible level. A year-and-a-half removed from their stellar debut, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, and Professor Griff raised the stakes through an audio explosion. “Bring The Noise” ushered in the album’s barrage of hard-hitting lyrics. They outed inequalities, decried sample critics, stripped the glamour off drug use, and put a militia behind the movement. Chuck D found his greatest stride, not rapping as much as rhythmically proclaiming powerful verses into MC scripture. Flav played the consummate supporter, taking the role of hype-man to the top of class. Terminator X’s (and Johnny Juice’s) skills made the turntable more akin to the hard rock guitar, in its dazzling, head-banging display. Although It Takes A Nation… yielded monumental singles in “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Don’t Believe The Hype,” it contains few—if any—weak links. The album cut almost does not exist in the case of this Def Jam sophomore. Songs like “Louder Than A Bomb” and “Prophets Of Rage” resonate through the times, alongside the hits. P.E. made one of Rap’s premier end-to-end discs.

With the issue-focused Chuck D, The Bomb Squad elevated their own craft. The stacked samples of Yo! Bum Rush The Show were intensified on the follow-up. Elements were sliced and chopped extra thin, with careful additions to the whole song. The lyrics of this album were heavy lifting for the mind, just as its sonic backbone was a workout for the ears. The raw energy of Heavy Metal was translated to Hip-Hop. Chuck’s Anthrax shout-out was not only telling, but a perfect explanation of the kind of energy and attitude that P.E. shared. While Public Enemy dismissed the Grammy snubs, they were clearly showing how album-like the genre had become. Just minutes under an hour, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was social empowerment, and at times, propaganda. It was a complete mind-shaping Hip-Hop package that exercised freedom of speech in a way entirely different from Ice-T, N.W.A., and 2 Live Crew. However, P.E.’s message was felt across the Rap landscape, with the most organized group at the time. Twenty-seven years later, every contemporary artist seeks the kind of response to art and substance as this landmark LP.

Album Number: 2
Released: June 28, 1988
Label: Def Jam/Columbia Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #42 (certified gold, September 1988; certified platinum, August 1989)
Song Guests: Harry Allen, Fab 5 Freddy, Erica Johnson, Oris Josphe, Johnny Juice
Song Producers: (self), The Bomb Squad (Chuck D, Hank Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler), Bill Stephney, Carl Ryder


Be by Common

Common is a proven master of reinvention. After reaching a new plateau with Like Water For Chocolate, Common trusted his hot artistic hand. The MC enveloped his bohemian lyrics with a live band for the Electric Circus. While the daring album produced hits, Comm’s status as a purist Hip-Hop hero was challenged. More than two years later, Common returned with Be. Without much warning (only a Chappelle’s Show shot in the air), Rashid Lynn reappeared in the midst of the Kanye West meteoric rise. However, the album simply did not attach Common’s wagon to ‘Ye’s horsepower. Instead, Be allowed Common to step out of his own corner, and project his artistry on the mid-2000s populist problems, his own city’s vibe, and flip some mean street narratives. With a Grammy nomination, a new plaque, plus the restored trust and faith of a culture, this may be the most important pivot between Common the B-boy and Common the Oscar winner.

“The Corner” would return Common to the concrete. Although the South Side MC had never been a gangsta rapper, he was always able to rap about hanging out, swilling beer, and being relatable to the figures of the block. Having watched that change a bit in the early 2000s, this song—assisted by Rap pioneers The Last Poets, delivered Comm’ to his turf. Kanye West made that drop-off sound nothing short of incredible, with his chirped-up Soul, and sharp arrangements. Throughout Common’s career, the MC had the ability to command attention in long-form, story-driven songs. “Testify” would reach new terrain. With a femme fatale, suspense, and the art of the reverse, the soulful record was Film Noir-meets-a Dateline crime special. Common basked in the opportunity, and could artfully and unabashedly rhyme about things beyond his wheel-house. With Kanye on the mic, “The Food” somehow was a 2005 rendition of a record that sounded like it could have belonged to One Day It’ll All Make Sense. With a revamped sound, and refreshed demeanor, Common was making a pilgrimage back to the place where he was his best. But Common had hardly dropped his MCA years sound. The J Dilla-produced “Love Is…” not only retooled the perceived sonic misfires of Circus, it forecast where the MC would go through the rest of the 2000s. Be reassessed. It refined. The album restored Common to one of Hip-Hop’s most human, gifted voices. With Kanye, Dilla, James Poyser, and Karriem Riggins at the table, Common made an album that seemingly nobody saw coming. When Hip-Hop was especially unforgiving, Be was a reminder that art is a series of advances, experiments, and retreats. No 15-year veteran seemed to be using the opportunity more righteously than Comm’ Sense.

Album Number: 6
Released: May 24, 2005
Label: G.O.O.D. Music/Geffen Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #2 (certified gold, July 2005)
Song Guests: Kanye West, The Last Poets (Abiodun Oyewole & Umar Bin Hassan), Bilal, John Mayer, John Legend, James Poyser, DJ Dummy, DJ A-Trak, Derrick Hodge, Karriem Riggins, Luna E, K. Lewis
Song Producers: Kanye West, J Dilla, James Poyser, Karriem Riggins

So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums.