Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back vs. N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. 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 Sweet 16 bracket, things are getting really interesting.

Released in the same arid summer of 1988, Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton are game-changing albums. While one LP is often deemed to be the “conscious” archetype, and the other as the “Gangsta Rap” blueprint, these two works have a lot in common. Both records are rowdy, raucous, and righteous in raising awareness to issues in the streets, a disconnect with law enforcement, and a collage of Funk, Soul, and Rock & Roll as the musical backbone to the message. Since they released, these albums have never gone out of style. Instead, these are Hip-Hop benchmarks that birthed movements still permeating the culture nearly 30 years later. These platinum LPs mean different things to different people in terms of significance and influence. What they mean to you may be the very factor that decides the winner in this ’88 “set-it-straight” rumble. 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


Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.

“The World’s Most Dangerous Group” took Gangsta Rap to a new plateau with 1988’s Straight Outta Compton. N.W.A. (the working name for Niggaz Wit’ Attitude) accomplished plenty with their group debut. Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and MC Ren spoke out against systematic oppression—in their lexicon with “Fuck Tha Police.” Meanwhile, the sextet (counting DJ Yella and Arabian Prince, as on the album cover) urged First Amendment rights too on “Express Yourself.” But not everything on the Ruthless Records debut had deeper meaning. N.W.A. celebrated simply pissing off the moral majority on “Gangsta, Gangsta” and gave a firsthand account of a drug dealer’s perspective on “Dopeman (Remix).” The world (read: Compton) seemed to have a different set of circumstances and codes than much of election year America. Straight Outta Compton became a subversive op-ed to those living comfortably numb to the ghetto reality.

Straight Outta Compton endures not just because of what it said, but how it said it. N.W.A. was an arsenal of talent on the microphone, with Cube’s between-the-ribs jabs of hard truth, Ren’s ability to flip words in an unbreakable stride, and Eazy’s constant playing to the audience of taking it over the top. Dre was far from a slouch on the mic himself, though he and Yella arranged sounds in an unrivaled complexity for Hip-Hop. For as brash as N.W.A. may have seemed, the group showed a perfectionist dedication to their art. For those who related to N.W.A.’s world, Straight Outta Compton was a cathartic investigative report. For those who found the album to be thrilling awakening, the group packed the substance of Bob Dylan, with the “F.U.” flare of Guns N’ Roses. This album (the title song of which recently reached a pinnacle chart position after the biopic of the same name) put five men, a city, and a way of life through music on the map.

Album Number: 1 (2 as group)
Released: August 9, 1988
Label: Ruthless/Priority Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #4 (certified gold, April 1989; certified platinum, July 1989; certified 2x platinum, March 1992)
Song Guests: The D.O.C.
Song Producers: (self)

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

Related: Past “Finding The GOAT: Albums” Battles.