I was listening to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back on the drive home after a conference with one of my students writing about Dylan’s rejection of 1960s counterculture idealism in comparison to Public Enemy and other “conscious rap” groups (and also so-called “gangsta rap”) as a reaction to what they saw as the failures of the Civil Rights movement obvious in Reagan Era inner cities, and got to thinking about PE again.
I love Public Enemy (esp. It Takes a Nation. . . and Fear of a Black Planet), but in recent years, looking back I can not help but think of PE and their oeuvre as an important step in the commodification of black militancy. I am not trying to say they are sell-outs, but that the popularity of Public Enemy among a certain segment of white dudes of my generation (and beyond) points to a separation of their message from their aesthetic that undermines any revolutionary potential of their work. I guess I am going a little Frankfurt School on this.
I think despite Aaron McGruder’s best intentions, the Boondocks is not only possible as a viable TV show because of this groundwork laid by Chuck, X, and Flav, but another example of it as well.
It’s going on 25 years since It Takes a Nation. . . dropped and shit is worse than ever.