Have You Heard? – (23) “Black Steel” by Tricky… and Public Enemy

I got a letter from the government the other day…

I first heard this song on the 1995 release, “Maxinquaye” by a singer called Tricky. Or thought I had…

Tricky was born Adrian Thaws in Bristol. He had quite a troubled life, but found a calling in music and rapped on Massive Attack’s seminal trip hop album “Blue Lines”. “Maxinquaye” was his first solo album, in 1995.  It was a fascinating mix of hip hop, dance, edgy rock and electronica.

For me the stand out track was “Black Steel”. It started with a slurred vocal from Tricky’s then girlfriend, Martina Topley-Bird, bemoaning the said letter from the government and denouncing them as suckers. I didn’t really listen beyond that, because the music was the thing.  From a jagged hip hop verse, it launched into a glorious metal riff, which let out all the anger of the song. It was one of the great build ups and an astonishing piece of metal. I loved the combination.

Here it is – Black Steel by Tricky.

And then in later years it dawned on me. It was a cover – a very different take – of a Public Enemy song from their greatest album – maybe the greatest rap album of all time – “It takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”. The song was “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”. It was all about about going to prison if you didn’t want to fight in a war. That letter wasn’t just an overdue tax bill…

Funny how, when I first heard Tricky and Martina I didn’t link it to the original – on an album I loved.  Just wasn’t paying attention. And they were very different.  Public Enemy didn’t go metal, not on this one.

Listen to Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos here.

Public Enemy did go metal at times though. “She Watch Channel Zero” off ‘Nation of Millions” was the classic example. I think the riff is taken from Slayer’s awesome “Angel Of Death”.  Just playing “She Watch Channel Zero” here. I’ll leave Slayer for another time.

Three amazing tunes. Never mind that I didn’t immediately figure that Tricky’s “Black Steel” was a version of Public Enemy’s.  It allowed me to appreciate Tricky in his own right. And his version totally rocked!

It occurred to me that suckers have authority…

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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2 Responses to Have You Heard? – (23) “Black Steel” by Tricky… and Public Enemy

  1. Tricky as in Trees says:

    Hard luck, John. I keep on finding stuff of interest….

    I completely love “It Takes a Million…..”, but I had somehow failed to make the connection. This is especially embarrassing as Maxinquaye has to be one of my absolutely all-time favourites. A huge, huge piece of music.

    But the really weird thing about Maxinquaye is that I really have never known anything ABOUT it. It’s just been THERE – a cassette, bless it, then a download, and now an absolute iPod stalwart – and all really stemming from my deep love for the early Massive.

    So checking out Maxinquaye, even on Wiki, is fun. Howie B I knew about – but Goldfrapp guesting on Pumpkin? Art direction and design by “Cally”? And Black Steel featured on Beavis and Butthead? How did we miss all that?

    These are the wonders of the music we love……

    • John S says:

      The two versions are so different that it is easy to miss the link. I did, for ages. And “Maxinquaye’ is such a weird – and even disturbing – album that you tend not to associate it with anything else. A great album, having said that.

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