Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos

Album: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1989)
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Songfacts®:

  • This song was built around a sample from the song "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" by Isaac Hayes. Chuck D of Public Enemy admired Hayes, who stood up for civil rights and had a strong presence throughout the entertainment industry as a singer, musician, songwriter (he was the first black composer to win a Grammy with "Theme From Shaft"), businessman and actor. Chuck D worked on Hayes' 1995 album Branded. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • Many Public Enemy songs are fictional tales of oppressed people fighting back. In this song, Chuck raps from the perspective of a prisoner who escapes from jail.
  • The video was directed by Adam Bernstein, who did many early rap videos, including "Hey Ladies" for Beastie Boys and "You Gots to Chill" for EPMD.

    It was shot at the Essex County Jail in Newark, New Jersey, which closed in 1970 - portions of the films Turk 182! and Malcolm X were also shot there.

    According to Bernstein, he asked Joey Ramone to play a prisoner in the clip. This was soon after Public Enemy member Professor Griff made hateful, anti-Semitic comments in a Washington Times interview (he said Jews are responsible for "the majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe"), and Ramone, who is Jewish, took Bernstein (also Jewish) to task for working with the group. "He laid a big Jewish guilt trip on me," said Bernstein.

Comments: 2

  • Sam from Seattle, WaDuring live performances, Rage Against the Machine will have Chuck D come on and sing this with the band. This can be heard on the CD Live and Rare
  • Blind-fitter from Leeds, United Kingdom"Black Steel" was covered by UK trip-hop pioneer Tricky in 1995. The "Black Steel" single reached #28 in the UK singles chart. The track also featured on Tricky's critically-acclaimed album, "Maxinquaye", which reached #3 in the UK album chart. Tricky's cover of "Black Steel" featured vocals by Martina Topley-Bird, now a successful artist in her own right.
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