Chuck D Had Real Revolutions In Mind When He Wrote “Fight The Power”
Public Enemy’s Chuck D has penned some of Hip-Hop’s most inspirational verses. While P.E. only had one official Top 40 single (1994’s “Give It Up”), songs like “Rebel Without A Pause,” “911 Is A Joke,” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” are etched in the memory banks of millions for their information and call to action. These propelling anthems merged perspectives on real issues with captivating Rap deliveries. Within P.E.’s nearly 30 years of catalog, no song may resonate more than “Fight The Power.” The 1989 single first appeared on Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing soundtrack, with an alternate version on 1990’s Fear Of A Black Planet LP. At a time when police, government, and judicial systems were showing their prejudices towards Black Americans, Chuck D’s booming vocals pumped a fist and rallied a boisterous call for change.
Speaking with Billboard, the MC who is now touring with the Prophets Of Rage super-group (consisting of Cypress Hill’s B-Real, all members of Rage Against The Machine except Zack De La Rocha, and Chuck), revealed his ambitions in writing songs such as “Fight The Power.” “I didn’t start [working with Public Enemy] as an 18-year-old. I already was grown when I wrote the songs and I understood great songwriters of the past. So I knew if I was gonna write something I was gonna have to live with it when I wrote it at 27, 28, 29 and 30.” Chuck was 29 years when P.E.’s acclaimed third album was released by Def Jam/Columbia Records. “I wrote Fear Of A Black Planet based on a theory from a psychologist, so I was writing every word to resonate. I learned that when traveling to another country early in my career that ‘Fight the Power’ could actually be used by the Serbs and the Croats looking for the freedom between them two as former Yugoslavians.” The Croatian War Of Independence would begin in March of 1991, less than one year after Fear Of A Black Planet released. The war lasted until late 1995. Chuck’s plans for the songs to inspire proved to be true very quickly. He continues, “The Public Enemy songs are always in effect. The key is it’s not a long period of time anyway. Maybe in music terms, maybe in culture terms, but in real terms, 40, 50 years is not a long time.”
In the Spike Lee-directed video to “Fight The Power,” the ’89 single began with a Universal International news reel short by Ed Herily from 1963’s March On Washington. Chuck D pointed to that same year and connection, as to why revolutionary music endures—and why powers are slow to fall. “So if [institutions] were pulling some bullshit in 1963, its effect could still be felt in 2016 in many ways. Many of the countries still have the same names and although it’s a different Bush, you have Bushes who are governors and ex-president Bushes that are still sitting around spewing their philosophies. As new Clintons come in and other ones watch over them, I tweeted this yesterday: ‘Those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat it.’ You got a lot of things on repeat.”
Read: Chuck D’s June 2016 Billboard interview by Steve Baltin. Also in the conversation, he discusses his displeasure with Kanye West’s music being labeled Hip-Hop and plans regarding Prophets Of Rage.
“Fight The Power,” while never on the popular charts, would climb to #1 on the Rap singles charts.