Thursday, November 7, 2019

Certain Songs #1676: Public Enemy – “Fight The Power” | Medialoper

Album: Fear of a Black Planet
Year: 1990

I still remember going to see Do The Right Thing during an empty matinee at the UA at Barstow and Blackstone. At the time, there was a clearly racist hysteria that the film’s incendiary ending could somehow instigate rioting, but there certainly wasn’t any reaction but minds being blown.

Or at least mine was: I’d enjoyed She’s Gotta Have It and watched School Daze, but Do The Right Thing was a complete and utter leveling up, a smart, funny and morally ambiguous look at race, class, capitalism and everybody going crazy from the fucking heat.

Oh, and “Fight The Power,” which blasted continually from Radio Raheem’s boombox as both background music and forewarning. This was only a few months after I’d purchased It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, so I was still trying to work out what was going on in their music, but “Fight The Power” felt like an instant classic, from the moment that Flavor Flav & Chuck D us told what year it was.

Nineteen Eighty-NINE!!!
The number another summer (get down)
Sound of the funky drummer
Music hitting your heart cause I know you got soul

Somehow, impossibly, that was over thirty years ago, but “Fight The Power” has lost none of power in that time, especially in the ever-controversial third verse:

Elvis was a hero to most
Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Motherfuck him and John Wayne

Heh. In later years, Chuck D backed away from the Elvis stuff, saying what annoyed him really was the fact that Elvis was anointed as “The King” overshadowed both the tradition he came from as well as his pioneering peers. As he pointed out later in the verse — a shout-out the main conflict between Mookie & Sal in the film — “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.” Especially since, as we all know, Chuck Berry was the true king of rock ‘n’ roll.

In any event, “Fight The Power” uses its plethora of samples — according to Wikipedia, they even sample Uriah Heep — more for density than complexity: it’s as hard as a diamond and as unstoppable as a locomotive, a near-perfect example of agit-pop, making music feel dangerous for the first time in over a decade.

“Fight The Power”

“Fight The Power” original video

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