379 to 50: #5 “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy

Public Enemy Fear Of A Black Planet

“1989, the number, another summer…” – time for my favourite hip hop song as my 379 to 50 countdown reaches the top 5, with “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy.

Still one of the most sonically, lyrically and visually exciting acts to ever exist, Public Enemy’s near flawless run of four albums from 1987’s debut “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” to “Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Back” has been hailed by the LA Times as “the most acclaimed body of work ever by a rap act”.  Public Enemy’s groundbreakingly abrasive Bomb Squad sonic assaults – frequently cited as an influence by non-rap acts from Aphex Twin to Tricky to My Bloody Valentine as well as the more obvious hip hop legacy – coupled with one of the greatest, most imposing (rap/rock/whatever) voices of all time in Chuck D, then overlaid with Flavor Flav’s humanising hype work, all combine to make Public Enemy an utterly enthralling phenomenon.  1988’s “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” just edges out 1990’s “Fear Of A Black Planet” as their greatest LP in my view, with the likes of “Bring The Noise” and “Rebel Without A Pause” from “It Takes A Nation…” very close to being chosen as my favourite PE song, but in the end this had to be “Fight The Power”.


After the release of “It Takes A Nation…”, Spike Lee approached the band to write a theme song for his forthcoming film “Do The Right Thing”, later telling Time magazineI wanted it to be defiant, I wanted it to be angry, I wanted it to be very rhythmic. I thought right away of Public Enemy”.   “Fight The Power” was then released as a single in the summer of 1989 and featured on the “Do The Right Thing” OST, before a slightly different version formed part of third album “Fear Of A Black Planet” in April 1990.  An absolute sledgehammer of a statement, “Fight The Power” certainly delivers on Spike Lee’s brief to be defiant, angry and rhythmic.  With a sampled speech by civil rights activist Thomas ‘TNT’ Todd (“yet our best trained, best educated…”) introducing the record, giving way to one of the Bomb Squad’s funkier James Brown indebted productions, Chuck D and Flavor Flav’s joint opening exhortation of “1989!” then clears the way for its indeed angrily defiant lyrics, including the timeless third verse couplet that “I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped, most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps”.  Released at the peak of Public Enemy’s powers, and now their signature song, the mighty “Fight The Power” remains utterly thrilling to this day.

Public Enemy and Spike Lee

Flavor Flav, Spike Lee, Chuck D

As the accompanying video for “Fight The Power” shows, Public Enemy are also a formidable live act who would play anywhere and everywhere, infiltrating the world of festivals long before Noel Gallagher got his knickers in a twist about Jay-Z headlining Glastonbury.  The first rap (and probably non-guitar) group to headline Reading Festival in 1992, I personally first caught Public Enemy at the now long gone Phoenix Festival in 1995 to a duly amped up crowd – and last saw them performing “Fear Of A Black Planet” in typically mashed-up form at the Forum in 2011, reliably exhilarating once more.

Public Enemy live


Public Enemy ticket

Public Enemy ticket stub, Kentish Town Forum, September 2011


2 thoughts on “379 to 50: #5 “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy

  1. Pingback: B100: #94 “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang Clan | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

  2. Pingback: Jumping Fences To Wichita: my 100 favourite songs | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

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