Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back vs. EPMD’s Strictly Business. 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” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.

If there was a Round 1 upset in “Finding The GOAT Album,” EPMD’s Strictly Business corporate takeover against Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill was it. The tightest margin (less than 1%) of victory saw the Fresh Records release bump off the only diamond-certified 1980s Hip-Hop album. Now, Erick and Parrish’s gold debut must face another crown jewel in the Def Jam Records catalog: Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, a landslide Round 1 winner. The battle of Long Island, New York gets real, as two ’80s Rap benchmarks (lyrically and musically) enter a grudge-match (click on one then click “vote”).


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

– First Round Winner (against The Jungle Brothers’ Straight Out The Jungle, 91% to 9%)

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


Strictly Business by EPMD

– First Round Winner (against Beastie Boys Licensed To Ill, 50.7% to 49.3%)

In the summer of ’88, Erick Sermon and Parish Smith set it straight with an incredible audio achievement. Strictly Business was a cottage industry, in its advanced sound and rich microphone chemistry from the two Brentwood, Long Island MC/producers. “You Gots To Chill” broke ground with a style that would go on to be associated with West Coast production. In the closing days of boom-bap, E-Double and PMD gave audiences wide-body tracks with melody and pulsating Funk. This song in particular appealed to pop-and-locking dancers more than breakers, while the deft lyricism from the pair rode the beat tightly, in step, in a way that others couldn’t. “Strictly Business” did the same, with an effective loop and rhythm scratching from DJ K La Boss. In the era of the Jeep, EPMD rose to the top immediately with songs that refused to compromise strong lyrics, for glass-shattering beats.

EPMD’s sound, especially in the ’80s, has been revered as timeless. The specific sample chop and arrangements of Strictly Business reappeared as hits for The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and Jay Z in the late ’90s. The album’s lyrical themes largely maintained a cool exterior. “Strictly Business” and “It’s My Thing” were B-boy bravado moments, songs about how even out the gate—EPMD chased away biters. “Jane” however, showed that E and P could break from that, launching a legendary series (like the catalog titles), and thus, a Rap archetype. Meanwhile, “The Steve Martin” presented a group that was not just serious business, and could laugh at the world, to go along with their pop-culture-infused rhymes. As independents on a label that would close its doors by the 1990s, EPMD’s debut would go gold in mere months. Strictly Business is pure pleasure to listen to, and launched a product that was highly influential, although impossible to replicate in the Hip-Hop landscape.

Album Number: 1
Released: June 21, 1988
Label: Fresh/Sleeping Bag Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #80 (certified gold, November 1988)
Song Guests: DJ K La Boss
Song Producers: (self)

So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Ambrosia For Heads’ Finding The GOAT: The Albums