Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos

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"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"
Single by Public Enemy
from the album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
A-side"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"
B-side"B Side Wins Again"
ReleasedJanuary 6, 1989
GenreHip hop, Political hip hop
LabelDef Jam
Producer(s)The Bomb Squad
Public Enemy singles chronology
"Night of the Living Baseheads"
"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"
"Fight the Power"

"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" is a song on the American hip hop group Public Enemy's 1988 album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. It was released as a single in 1989.[1] The song tells the story of a conscientious objector who makes a prison escape. It is built on a high-pitched piano sample from Isaac Hayes' "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic", from 1969's Hot Buttered Soul.


The vocals are mostly by lead rapper Chuck D, with sidekick Flavor Flav appearing between verses, seemingly speaking to Chuck over the phone. Flavor went to another room and called the studio to achieve this effect.

It features a slower, more melodic beat than other songs on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Aside from the aforementioned Hayes sample, the song samples "Little Green Apples" by The Escorts and "Living for the City" by Stevie Wonder.

The lines in the scratch breaks – "Now they got me in a cell" and "Death Row/What a brother knows" – are samples from "Bring the Noise", another song on the same album.

The lyric "anti-nigger machine" became the title of a song on the group's next album, Fear of a Black Planet.

Music video[edit]

The music video was filmed in the abandoned cell blocks of the nationally landmarked old Essex County Jail in Newark, New Jersey.[2] The official video was directed by Adam Bernstein. According to Bernstein, Public Enemy wanted Joey Ramone to play a prisoner. Ramone refused, as group member Professor Griff – despite not appearing in the video – had been reported making antisemitic remarks.[3]


Chart (1988) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks 86
U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Singles 11


Samples of the song[edit]


Poster for the 2016 docudrama In the Hour of Chaos.

The title and cover art of writer/director Bayer Mack's 2016 American documentary drama In the Hour of Chaos – which tells the story of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr.'s ("Daddy King") rise from an impoverished childhood in the violent backwoods of Georgia to become patriarch of one of the most famous, and tragedy-plagued, families in history – are influenced by Public Enemy's song.[8][9] The original trailer for the docudrama featured a portion of "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" by Isaac Hayes.[10] In the Hour of Chaos aired on public television July 25, 2016.[11]

"I don't feel like there's ever been music that's been political in this way that's been so bad-ass," observed musician Joan as Police Woman. "It's so raw, angry [and] extremely intelligent… The music's really cutting and funky, but not in the way you'd hear it now. It's not refined, all the samples are jarring, and the drums are really harsh. It's very punk rock! There's no other rap song that I've learned every word of, and people will be astounded that it was ever made."[12] (Joan As Police Woman covered another Nation of Millions song, "She Watch Channel Zero?!", on her album Cover.)


  1. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (October 21, 2004). The Great Rock Discography (7th ed.). Canongate U.S. p. 1226. ISBN 1841956155.
  2. ^ "Old Essex County Jail Research Resources". Myles Zhang. 2019-06-11. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
  3. ^ Ducker, Eric. "On the Job Training: Part Two - Adam Bernstein". Wax Poetics. Archived from the original on 2018-08-21. Retrieved 2018-08-21.
  4. ^ DiVita, Joe (August 26, 2021). "Sepultura Unveil 5-Album Box Set Highlighting Early Derrick Green Era From 1998 to 2009". Loudwire. Retrieved September 23, 2023.
  5. ^ Buskin, Richard (June 2007). "Classic Tracks: Tricky 'Black Steel'". Sound on Sound. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  6. ^ Ciarán (October 26, 2006). "Tricky - Black Steel (Cover version of Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos by Public Enemy". Archived from the original on January 3, 2008. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  7. ^ "DJ Muggs, Dr. Dre and B-Real's 'The Puppet Master' - Discover the Sample Source". WhoSampled. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  8. ^ Kelly, Kate (January 18, 2016). "Daddy King's Story Told in New Documentary". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  9. ^ "In the Hour of Chaos". IMDb. January 15, 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  10. ^ "In the Hour of Chaos (2015)". Block Starz TV. Archived from the original on February 8, 2017. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  11. ^ "In The Hour of Chaos!". Cambridge Community Television. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  12. ^ "Mind blowers!". Mojo (245): 25. April 2014.

External links[edit]