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"
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 by the American hip hop group Public Enemy. It was originally featured on their 1988 album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, before being 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 the 1969 Isaac Hayes song "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" from the album Hot Buttered Soul.

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

In 1995, English trip hop musician Tricky released a cover version entitled "Black Steel", with Martina Topley-Bird performing the vocals backed by the techno-rock band FTV.[2]


The song features a slower, more melodic beat in comparison to other songs from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back but still remains highly chaotic. 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 from the same album.

Music video[edit]

The official music video was directed by Adam Bernstein. According to Bernstein, Public Enemy originally wanted Joey Ramone to play a prisoner in the video. However, Ramone refused, as group member Professor Griff had recently been reported making anti-Semitic remarks - despite not appearing in the video.[3]


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


  • This song has been covered by the Brazilian metal band Sepultura and the rapper Sabotage.[4]
  • It has been performed live on separate occasions with Chuck D on vocals by Asian Dub Foundation and Rage Against the Machine. In 1998, a live version from 1996 featuring Chuck D appeared on the Rage Against The Machine album Live & Rare.
  • Tricky covered the song, changing its name to "Black Steel", on his debut album Maxinquaye released in 1995. The stripped down rap sound of the original is replaced by pounding drums and guitars. Martina Topley-Bird sings the lyrics instead of rapping.[5]

Samples of the song[edit]


  • The song "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".
  • The song "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 the song "Southern Gangsta" from Ludacris's album Theater of the Mind, Rick Ross begins his verse with the line: "I got a letter from the government the other day; I opened and read it, it said we was hustlers".
  • The Paris song "What would you do" (from the album Sonic Jihad) begins with words "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 the line, "I got a letter from the government the other day, I opened and read it, and burned it, man." The song appears on Brother Ali's 2007 album, The Undisputed Truth.
  • Rappers Talib Kweli has a song called "Letter From The Government", with a chorus very similar to the opening lines of "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos". The song appears on Talib Kweli's 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 the song "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 uses the opening lines to the first verse, saying "I got a letter from the government the other day, opened it, read it, it said they was bitches!"

Movies and television[edit]

Poster for the 2016 documentary film 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 are influenced by Public Enemy's song.[7][8]

The original trailer for 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, also featured a portion of "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" by Isaac Hayes.[9]

In the Hour of Chaos aired on public television July 25, 2016.[10]


  1. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (October 21, 2004). The Great Rock Discography (7th ed.). Canongate U.S. p. 1226. ISBN 1841956155.
  2. ^ Buskin, Richard (June 2007). "Classic Tracks: Tricky 'Black Steel'". Sound on Sound. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  3. ^ Ducker, Eric. "On the Job Training: Part Two - Adam Bernstein". Wax Poetics. Retrieved 2018-08-21.
  4. ^ "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" cover by Sepultura on YouTube
  5. ^ 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.
  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.

External links[edit]