Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
GET UP, STAND UP: The Story of Pop and Protest Revolutionary Music
About the Program
Revolutionary Music
Flash Points
The Preacher and the Slave
We Shall Overcome
Give Peace a Chance
Get Up, Stand Up
Fight the Power
Song Facts
Writer: Chuck D, Eric Sadler, Hank and Keith Shocklee
Year: 1989
Genre: Rap
Performers: Public Enemy
Fight The Power -- ''We got to fight the powers that be''

Chuck D
By Rashod D. Ollison

Around 1989-90, I tried to connect myself to all that was beautifully African-American. I grew a high-top fade, a tall, natural, crownlike do brothers sported coast to coast. I bought a t-shirt that read, "It's a Black Thang. You Wouldn't Understand," and around my neck hung a small, round leather medallion emblazoned with a red, black, and green shape -- the African continent. I absorbed the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Gil Scott-Heron, and Etheridge Knight, and I wrote my own poems that shamelessly regurgitated what had already been said far more eloquently: There must be a revolution. NOW!

Of course, I had to have a soundtrack to this period of my teenage life. And Public Enemy's aggressive, politically charged music was an ideal fit. In March 1990, the group dropped a musical bomb on the world, the classic album FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET, featuring the hits "Brothers Gonna Work It Out," "Welcome to the Terrordome," "911 is a Joke," and the masterful "Fight the Power." Like all of PE's cuts, "Fight the Power" boomed with urgency. Rapper Chuck D's forceful baritone perfectly suited the dense, relentless beats set down by the Bomb

Squad, the group's celebrated production team. Whenever the song came on the radio, you almost felt the need to stop whatever you were doing, slip on a black leather glove and hold your fist in the air like Tommie Smith and John Carlos did during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics. Not since James Brown's anthem of black power, "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," had there been such a potent rallying cry.

Among the early rap hits that broke into the mainstream, "Fight the Power" extended the history of the genre as a Technicolor snapshot of inner-city life, capturing its seething anguish and "ugly beauty," to quote jazz icon Thelonious Monk. This was rap as trenchant social commentary, which started with 1982's "The Message," by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and -- like that classic cut -- "Fight the Power" transcended rap's origin as party music: fun beats overlaid with lines and lines of boasts and braggadocio. Chuck D's political fervor certainly wasn't lost in the wicked, bottom-heavy mix of layered, slightly familiar samples. "Cause I'm black and I'm proud / I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped / Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps . . ."

Continue to Page 2

to top
Tools: Feedback Print Page E-Mail Page
Produced by: Thirteen/WNET

Go to Print Resources