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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
Did You Know?
The song was first featured in Spike Lee's movie DO THE RIGHT THING.
Fight The Power

Flavor Flav and Chuck D
Although the song helped make the phrase, "fight the power" commonplace, Public Enemy didn't originate it. Fourteen years earlier, in 1975, the Isley Brothers struck gold with their top-five pop smash of the same name that featured a chugging, looping funk groove. Their "Fight the Power," a record Chuck D had heard while growing up, was one of the former doo-wop group's angriest political hits, and it even included an expletive in the hook. But PE's "Fight the Power" was more straightforwardly bitter, thanks to Chuck D's Mack Truck-like delivery and the Bomb Squad's riot of beats.

"Fight the Power" was actually written as a theme song for one of director Spike Lee's best and most politically charged films, DO THE RIGHT THING, an examination of racial tension in Brooklyn that was released in 1989, a year before FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET. Coming on the heels of several racially charged incidents in New York City in the late 1980s, the song, incorporated throughout the film, gave voice to the rage and dissatisfaction within the African-American community. It challenged assumptions about black America and highlighted white America's perpetuation of negative black images. Over the driving beats, Chuck D firmly stated his purpose for any Public Enemy song: "As the rhythm designed to bounce / What counts is that the rhymes / Designed to fill your mind."

Chuck D with bullhorn
His lyrics, like the speeches of Malcolm X, were often misinterpreted as racist. The highly intelligent rapper spotlighted social ills in his music the way Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye had done years before in their own. But Chuck D and Public Enemy didn't soften the blow with strings, lush melodies, and aching falsettos. Songs like "Fight the Power" were sonic, Muhammad Ali-like jabs. Public Enemy's mission wasn't just to shock us. The group was serious about raising consciousness in a culture that had been too focused on excess and self-indulgence. With the general inanity and transparency in much of today's rap, another "Fight the Power" right now would be a beautiful revolution.

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