Surprisingly, no one bum-rushes the show; in fact, at this panel starring Chuck D of Public Enemy, Hank and Keith Shocklee of the Bomb Squad and “Media Assassin” Harry Allen at the Chicago Cultural Center, rushing the stage seems out of the question for the mostly white, mostly beard-wearing, mostly hipster crowd.
The panel, moderated by scholar Kembrew McLeod, is supposed to be about the making of PE’s seminal rap classic “It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” but that’s the sort of thing only stodgy music nerds would be into. Indeed, as the panelists take the stage, they might be thinking the same thing: Allen appears to be on the verge of falling asleep, Chuck D just looks bored—but at least Hank and Keith seem cordial. They quickly deviate from the topic, instead regaling the audience with tales of DJing in youth centers, playing Little League football with Flavor Flav, their friendly competition with Eric B. and Rakim and the art of old-school hip-hop. At points, McLeod looks flustered as he tries to steer the discussion back to the album, mostly to little success.
When it comes time for the audience to ask questions, no one asks silly rock-journalist questions about lyrical interpretations and influences; instead, the panel’s most defining moment is when an audience member thanks the panelists for simply existing and expanding political consciousness, as a black man who was in college around the time “Millions” dropped. The panelists nod politely, and Chuck D’s wry grin suggests he’s thinking, “Why do you think we did that shit, man?” (Jeremy Gordon)