This Day in Music History- Public Enemy Edition

Public Enemy Fight the Power

In 1989, Spike Lee brought the world Do the Right Thing. It was both a commercial and critical success. Do the Right Thing was lauded for its reflection of race relations in America. It came out after my senior year, before I headed off to college. It just felt different and delivered an important message. Very eye opening for this midwestern kid.

A movie this powerful needed an anthem. Spike Lee looked to Public Enemy and Chuck D to supply its anthem. And boy, or “yeah boy,” did they deliver. Public Enemy came up with Fight the Power, which would appear on its 1990 release Fear of a Black Planet. On this day, April 22, 1989, Public Enemy shot the video for the song.

Fight the Power (FP) was perfect for the movie and a success on its own merit. FP rose to number one on the US Rap chart. It came in at number 20 on the US R&B chart, 24 on the Dutch charts and 29 on the UK chart. Like the movie, the song was a critical and commercial success. The message is clear:

Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be

The inspiration behind Fight the Power goes back to when Chuck D, or Carlton Ridenhour as he was known then, was 15 years old listening to the Isley Brothers song of the same name, Fight the Power. The line that rang true for Chuck D was, “I tried to play my music, they say my music’s too loud.” When thinking about the anthem that Spike Lee was looking for, Chuck looked to the original. “We were in the middle of R and B — that’s Reagan and Bush. So I said, “We don’t want to sample from the record. What we want to do is carry the torch of the meaning — to yell and scream back at hypocrisy.” That is exactly what they did. Public created something new and fresh while reaching back and building on what had come before.

So, let’s celebrate April 22, 1989 as the day that Public Enemy brought Fight the Power to the world. This song, and Public Enemy, mean so much to me. They changed the way I see the world and have inspired me to question the way things are. Their video is fantastic, but the opening sequence to Do the Right Thing, using FP as the opening song, is even better. Check it out here.

Come back to Wanderings and Woolgathering tomorrow for This Day in Music History- tomorrow’s edition.

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