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Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos

Artist: Public Enemy

Year: 1988

By Andrew Kay | 18 May 2010
Opening with a quote from soul group The Escorts and the track ‘Little Green Apples,’  but which cuts off before the State prison is actually mentioned - in this case, Rahway, New Jersey - this is Public Enemy at their most political.


Taking Isaac Hayes’ piano arrangement from ‘Hyperbolic Syllabics Esquedalymistic’, Chuck D speaks as a conscientious objector to the draft and war in general, ending up in prison for his troubles. 

This is as fierce and troubling as anything Public Enemy put to wax, but which worked so well on such a groundbreaking album as ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back.’ Made in an era of crack, Reganomics and Thatcher’s children, this was a prime example of rap being used as a catalyst to try and change the status quo. 

Apart from the cinematically atmospheric video, look out for cameos from EPMD and Eric B. in the disused prison, which looks eerily like it’s only just become decommissioned. 

The production from the Bomb Squad has hidden talents. While the piano sample is used for a droning defiant sound throughout, if you listen closely there’s a lot of samples, snares, kicks and noises that make the track far more layered and complex. 

Luckily for PE, sample crediting wasn’t the hot topic it soon turned out to be, meaning that ‘Black Steel,’ like the rest of their incredible second album, would have cost millions in sample clearance if it had even been attempted in these days and times. 

The ‘B’ side of ‘Black Steel’ on 12” vinyl had the cut ‘The B Side Wins Again’- a stellar slice of cold medina in its own right. However, it was sonically mutated and mutilated on ‘Fear of a Black Planet.’ Try and seek out the original, which was recorded as a phone conversation by Chuck D and just sounds raw and purposely distorted.

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