100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #7 Public Enemy – Fight The Power

Released : 1989

Four years after Fight The Power was released along with the package that was Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, fellow second generation rap alumni Ice-T released his fifth album Home Invasion. The phrase had a double connotation, both a reference to the hyper violent takeover burglaries which had become as much a media phenomenon as a crime one, but it was also a metaphor for the colonisation by stealth of American teenage minds, as hip hop quickly took root outside the inner city communities of it’s birth.

Back in 1989 two savage Reagan terms had added countless gallons of fuel to rap’s fire and the movement’s diversification from the intra-crew battle scats of Boogie Down Productions only a couple of years past threw the moral majority into paranoid tailspin. The highly elevated consciousness PE had demonstrated from the start helped to differentiate them from many of their less sophisticated peers – and Lee instinctively knew he could repurpose their heavyweight commentary to dynamic effect. Drawing inspiration from The Isley Brothers 1976 tune of the same name, Chuck D and The Bomb Squad hit the studio.

Fight The Power was made up directly from snatches of Black history, culture and music, micro sermons wrapped up in progressive thought. Using sampled voices ranging from activist Thomas ‘TNT’ Todd to the ubiquitous James Brown, it’s roughness channelled the energy and dissonance of street crowds and dusted both Elvis and John Wayne, a calculated assault on icons still much too present to even think about terms for reconcilliation. But the real payload was less obvious, the message “What counts/ is that the rhymes designed to fill your mind” was designed for millions of headphones in well kept neighbourhoods across the country: without so much as a key, Public Enemy had broken into bedrooms from Anchorage to Arizona.

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