Saturday, June 24, 1989

Public Enemy charted with “Fight the Power”

Fight the Power

Public Enemy

Writer(s): Carlton Ridenhour, Eric Sadler, Hank Boxley, Keith Boxley (see lyrics here)

Released: July 4, 1989

First Charted: June 24, 1989

Peak: 20 RB, 29 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 11.0 video, 35.29 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

With two albums, Public Enemy had established themselves as a poltically-charged rap group, making them the perfect go-to group for director Spike Lee when he was seeking a song for his 1989 movie Do the Right Thing. The movie explored racial tension in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He told Time magazine, “I 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.” WK

Chuck D wrote most of the song while flying over to Italy while on tour. He said, “I wanted to have sorta…the same theme as the original ‘Fight the Power’ by the Isley Brothers and fill it in with some…modernist views of what our surroundings were at that particular time.” WK Bass player Brian Hardgroove said the song “is not about fighting authority…it’s about fighting abuse of power.” WK

The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s production team, incorporated multiple samples into the song alongside saxophone work from Branford Marsalis and scratches from Terminator X, the group’s DJ and turntabalist. WK As Chuck D said, “we put loops on top of loops on top of loops.” WK He said there were “17 samples in the first ten seconds.” SF

The samples are largely drawn from some of the most important figures in the development of African-American music in the late 20th century. They included Afrika Bambaataa’s hugely influential 1982 rap song “Planet Rock” and James Brown’s 1970 song “Funky Drummer,” one of hip-hop’s most sampled rhythmic breaks. WK

The song did reach the top of Billboard’s rap chart, but only peaked at #20 on the R&B chart and didn’t even knick the pop chart. Time magazine’s Janice C. Simpson called it “an anthem for millions of youth,” WK which fit Spike Lee’s vision for the song “to be an anthem that could express what young black America was feeling.” SF Salon’s Laura K. Warrell said it “captur[ed] both the psychological and social conflicts of the time.” WK The Village Voice named “Fight the Power” the best single of 1989. It has since become Public Enemy’s best-known song.


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First posted 10/10/2021; last updated 10/29/2022.

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