Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos

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"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"
Blacksteel.jpeg
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"
Released1989
Recorded1988
GenreHip hop, Political hip hop
Length6:23
LabelDef Jam
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)The Bomb Squad
Public Enemy singles chronology
"Night of the Living Baseheads"
(1988)
"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"
(1989)
"Fight the Power"
(1989)

"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.

Song[edit]

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 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.[2]

Charts[edit]

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

Covers[edit]

Samples of the song[edit]

Interpolations[edit]

  • "Officer" by The Pharcyde opens with the lines, "I got a letter from the DMV the other day. I opened and read it, it said they were suckers".
  • "Untimely Meditations" by spoken-word artist Saul Williams, from his debut album Amethyst Rock Star, includes the lines, "They wanted me for their army or whatever/Picture me, I swirl like the wind."
  • On "Southern Gangsta", from Ludacris's album Theater of the Mind, Rick Ross begins his verse, "I got a letter from the government the other day/I opened and read it, it said we was hustlers".
  • Paris' song "What Would You Do", from Sonic Jihad, begins, "I see a message from the government, like every day/I watch it, and listen, and call 'em all suckas/They warnin' me about Osama or whatever/Picture me buyin' this scam, I said never."
  • Minnesota rapper Brother Ali opens his song "Letter From the Government" with, "I got a letter from the government the other day, I opened and read it, and burned it, man." The song appears on Ali's 2007 album, The Undisputed Truth.
  • Rapper Talib Kweli's song called "Letter From The Government" has a chorus similar to the opening lines of "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos". It appears on Kweli and DJ Z-Trip's 2012 mixtape, Attack The Block. The following song, "That's Enough", begins with a sample from "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos".
  • In "Psychopathic Psypher 4", the Psychopathic Records line up (Cold 187um, Twiztid, the Insane Clown Posse, and others) rap about being mislabeled as a gang. Shaggy 2 Dope of the ICP says, "I got a letter from the government the other day, opened it, read it, it said they was bitches!"

Legacy[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.[7][8] The original trailer for the docudrama featured a portion of "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" by Isaac Hayes.[9] In the Hour of Chaos aired on public television July 25, 2016.[10]

"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."[11] (Joan As Police Woman covered another Nation of Millions song, "She Watch Channel Zero?!", on her album Cover.)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (October 21, 2004). The Great Rock Discography (7th ed.). Canongate U.S. p. 1226. ISBN 1841956155.
  2. ^ Ducker, Eric. "On the Job Training: Part Two - Adam Bernstein". waxpoetics.com. Wax Poetics. Retrieved 2018-08-21.
  3. ^ "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" cover by Sepultura on YouTube
  4. ^ Buskin, Richard (June 2007). "Classic Tracks: Tricky 'Black Steel'". Sound on Sound. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  5. ^ Ciarán (October 26, 2006). "Tricky - Black Steel (Cover version of Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos by Public Enemy". Sample-as-that.blogspot.com. Archived from the original on January 3, 2008. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  6. ^ "DJ Muggs, Dr. Dre and B-Real's 'The Puppet Master' - Discover the Sample Source". WhoSampled. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Kelly, Kate (January 18, 2016). "Daddy King's Story Told in New Documentary". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  8. ^ "In the Hour of Chaos". IMDb. January 15, 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  9. ^ "In the Hour of Chaos (2015)". Block Starz TV. Archived from the original on February 8, 2017. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  10. ^ "In The Hour of Chaos!". Cambridge Community Television. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  11. ^ "Mind blowers!". Mojo (245): 25. April 2014.

External links[edit]