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Fight the Power Turns Twenty
May 21, 2009 8:00 AM   Subscribe

1989, The Number. Public Enemy's anthem Fight The Power turns twenty.
posted by Burhanistan (65 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps.
posted by exogenous at 8:11 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


With recruitment down sharply, and the prospect of being held back by the nation of millions appearing once again likely, top-ranking Public Enemy officials issued an order Monday for all retired Security Of The First World personnel to return to active duty. ...

"I am proud of my service to Public Enemy," said retired S1W Roger Chillous, 41. "I was right there in the front of the stage for the First London Invasion tour of duty right before I retired. But I can no longer effortlessly execute the complex choreographed maneuvers that were once required of me."

posted by Joe Beese at 8:11 AM on May 21, 2009


By the Time I Get to Arizona.
Rebel Without a Pause.
posted by ardgedee at 8:17 AM on May 21, 2009


Things have changed since then, but at least they're gettin' paiiiiiid boyeee.
posted by not_on_display at 8:17 AM on May 21, 2009


I remember being a white suburban kid mowing the lawn and listening to "Fear of a Black Planet" on my Walkman. Dad was trying to keep me down with his chores, and I had to vent my rage through the music. I understood that shit.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:18 AM on May 21, 2009 [7 favorites]


Damn...has it been that long since Grade 11? There were lots of great albums released in 1989.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:20 AM on May 21, 2009


PE, in effect!
posted by Edward L at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2009


In the same way I loved Ice-T as a suburban white girl living in a black neighborhood, middleclasstool?

(You want some really funny looks, roll up to a stoplight with "Original Gangsta" playing LOUD.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's still one nagging question, considering that "Fight the Power" was and remains an anthem against The Man — the traditional white repressors. With Obama sitting in the White House, does his new role inherently make him The Man, too? "In a way, yes," Chuck says. His campaign "never really had a face on it. It was a theme without a face."

I'm unclear about what Mr. D means by this. The Obama campaign was associated with Barack Obama's face more than I have ever seen any political campaign associated with a candidate's face. I worked as a field organizer for the campaign, and any bit of chum that came into our office with The Face on it was grabbed up as soon as possible. There are bumper stickers still on cars with the iconic Shepherd Farey HOPE logo prominently featuring The Face. His face is on t-shirts, posters, and any other bit of campaign shwag you can think of. Volunteers brought in dozens of handpainted signs of Obama's face.

Not to derail from the fact that Fight The Power is an amazingly influential and kickass song.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:22 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Farey's HOPE logo has had the color changed. I never realized the significance of that until now.
posted by DU at 8:24 AM on May 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


With recruitment down sharply, and the prospect of being held back by the nation of millions appearing once again likely, top-ranking Public Enemy officials issued an order Monday for all retired Security Of The First World personnel to return to active duty...

That Onion article reminds me of a headline pitch I sent them ten years ago (they didn't use it): "C&C Music Factory Workers Laid Off"
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:24 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey, you got your Anthrax in my Public Enemy!
posted by not_on_display at 8:26 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Flavor Flav sets "Yeah, boyeee" world record
posted by Joe Beese at 8:27 AM on May 21, 2009


It may have been 20 years, but movie it was written for is still just as powerful -- and, in many ways, just as relevant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, sadly, there will probably never be another "Fight the Power." A song so rich with meaning, so smart and defiant, couldn't reach today's listeners, their senses numbed by too many years of schlock.

My generation is turning into the Baby Boomers. Just like they said they wouldn't!
posted by cardboard at 8:37 AM on May 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


For optimum listening enjoyment, adjust volume to louder than a bomb levels.
posted by orme at 8:45 AM on May 21, 2009


Also, don't forget to Shut Em Down when you're finished.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:48 AM on May 21, 2009


The world needs more bands like Public Enemy. Most current hip hop is just drivel by comparison.
posted by caddis at 8:52 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


it would've taken a nation of millions to stop me from approving of this post.
posted by the aloha at 8:58 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was my f*ckin'anthem when I was a kid. Now I listen to Weezy. Jeez...
posted by chartreuse at 8:59 AM on May 21, 2009


In 1990 or so I bought a cassette tape of Fear of a Black Planet from a snaggle-toothed, overall-clad, rebel-flag-cap-wearing, mullet-sporting redneck who was selling stuff (including lamps, gilt-edged picture frames, and chickens) out of the back of a muddy pick-up truck at the Mountaintop Flea Market in Blount County, Alabama. It cost $3.

As the guy handed me my change he said, "That's one hell of a good record."

True story, and one reason I like to think that I'll never completely lose faith in humanity.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:03 AM on May 21, 2009 [30 favorites]


If "Brothers Gonna Work it Out" doesn't make you start tearing up office equipment right this moment, you don't have a pulse.

* sells out; goes back to work without actually ripping up shit*
posted by Burhanistan at 9:11 AM on May 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


burhanistan, here is a peace sign that i mean from my heart. (united we can get over.)
posted by the aloha at 9:15 AM on May 21, 2009


After all, are we not all bhip-bhoppers at heart?
posted by Artw at 9:20 AM on May 21, 2009


Goddamn. GodDAMN.

Classic PE is still fucking fresh-sounding. I don't know how, but there it is.
posted by grubi at 9:28 AM on May 21, 2009


Oh hells yes, the best-ever Public Enemy single.

IMO, "Welcome to the Terrordome" is not the best PE track, rather, it is the ultimate PE track.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:38 AM on May 21, 2009


word.
posted by Sailormom at 9:38 AM on May 21, 2009


His campaign "never really had a face on it. It was a theme without a face."

I wonder if Chuck is being misquoted here, the "Campaign" part is added outside the quotes. And it makes a lot more sense if you view it as him talking about the song's theme. Like, "Fight The Power" didn't have a face on it, wasn't about a particular person, but was about the powerful in general. Just speculation, but it makes more sense to me that way.
posted by Durhey at 9:40 AM on May 21, 2009


Elvis was a hero to most. But he never meant shit to me you see. Straight up racist that sucker was. Simple and plain. Mother fuck him and John Wayne

I'm whiter than Obama and yet had no problem getting behind the Public Enemy machine for a while way back when. Fight The Power in particular just cut through the noise of the world and spoke to my anger and frustration at the powers of the world in a way that no other song could at that particular point in the zeigeist.

The first time I heard it was live, at the Toronto Concert Hall, June 1989, before DO THE RIGHT THING (album or movie) was released, and just before Professor Griff got tossed for certain inflammatory comments. Fight The Power was the encore as I recall and it wrapped up a rather astonishing set of full-on anger, energy, beauty and yes, love.

And no, I've never worn my baseball hat backwards, except that year in little league when I played catcher.
posted by philip-random at 9:55 AM on May 21, 2009


Between the PE version and the classic Isley Brothers song, it would seem that the seem that fighting the power will lead you to making a truly bad-ass song. Though, I suspect that at some point someone like the Jonas Brothers will do a version and break the spell.

As for PE, I fell in love with their music as a direct result of the Anthrax collaboration linked above, at that point I was all about the metal, but when I felt the pure awesome that was Bring the Noise, I knew I wasn't going back.

PE sold be, but it was Ice-T that hooked me and reeled me in. Shit, to this day I still know the entire the OG album by heart and will sometimes surprise myself those around me by demonstrating my lyrical mastery of it.

Because old white guys shouldn't be able to rock Straight Up Nigga nearly as hard as I do.
posted by quin at 9:59 AM on May 21, 2009


Though I've never understood the "Elvis was racist" thing, unless it's insofar as any white musician in the 1950s appropriating R&B music to achieve success was racist (in which case Pat Boone was off the charts), I still think PE's first 3 albums mop the floor with almost any hip-hop album released in the past 10 years.
posted by blucevalo at 10:01 AM on May 21, 2009


Possibly PE were just kind of racist themselves. Which is all part of their charm. Apart from the whole anti-Semitism thing. And the homophobia is kind of icky too.
posted by Artw at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2009


But the important thing to remember here is that PE were fucking awesome.
posted by Artw at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite songs for life.
But watching that video again for the first time in years, I realize I had forgotten how stupid those guys in the Security Of The First World look.
Dressing up in military uniforms and playing army looks stupid when white rednecks do it, and it's no different for black militants.
posted by 2sheets at 10:04 AM on May 21, 2009


It may have been 20 years, but movie it was written for is still just as powerful -- and, in many ways, just as relevant.

How many you say?
Twenty, motherfucker, twenty!
Motherfuck you!
'Motherfuck you'? You-- you all right, man.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:04 AM on May 21, 2009


Of course, back in the day I also really liked Derek B, which probably conveys a huge number of negative cool points.
posted by Artw at 10:06 AM on May 21, 2009


@2sheets you should see overweight and out of shape S1Ws (the gig in australia from that site a few days ago was a laugh)
posted by NiteMayr at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2009


So many good (and happily so) style elements in "Fight The Power": acid-washed denim, the hi-top fade, the Big Daddy Kane/Terminator X/Your Grandma wraparound shades, and Africa medallions. I remember my Boy Scout camp's handicraft department got lots hipper after one of the counselors realized he could repurpose a set of coasters and craft strips to outfit Oakland and Berkley's youth with signs of The Struggle. They were also pretty popular with white wankers (the "other man" in that sad vernacular) from the Ea$t bay as well.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2009


I have this weird "maxi-single" CD which contains an instrumental version of "Fight the Power," on top of which as been laid down a pretty damn fiery Branford Marsalis sax solo. I think it's called "Powersaxx." It fucking rocks. Found some interesting tidbits about it here.

Mefites who *need* to hear this song should MeMail me.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:19 AM on May 21, 2009


The "Elvis was racist" thing was based on some apocryphal anecdotes circulating at that time alleging various statements made by E to his familiars that indicated he might have been racist, and not so much his musical appropriations. The allegations have since been leavened over the years by the counter testimony of folks like The Sweet Inspirations, his black female background singers, who asserted they would know if Elvis was a racist and said he wasn't in their experience.
posted by bonefish at 11:25 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the sax is in the opening sequence of "Do the Right Thing".
posted by Burhanistan at 11:26 AM on May 21, 2009


Chuck's 98's still boomin' with a trunk of funk.
posted by rusty at 12:38 PM on May 21, 2009


I'm unclear about what Mr. D means by this

No it's not. Pretty obvious I think. You can be "the man" and be any race . The fact that Obama has a face is irrelevant.


Fight the Power, was never my favorite PE song, it doesn't flow too well, but I guess it's more about the message.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:47 PM on May 21, 2009


Seriously, check out the S1Ws at this gig
posted by NiteMayr at 12:52 PM on May 21, 2009


man, this makes me feel old.
posted by desjardins at 1:56 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is one of those albums that gets my nephews eyes to REALLY roll when ever I put it on. "Eminem? You call that rap? FUCK THAT SHIT! Listen to this!"

AS for Lee's film? No. In my opinion it doesn't hold up. At all. In fact most of Lee's films don't.

I find Do The Right Thing kind of viscerally embarrassing to watch now. It's like being hit over the head by a hammer for 73 minutes and then being driven deaf by Rose Perez's fucking annoying-ass voice.

'MOOOOOKEEEEEE! MOOOOKEEEE..."

Jesus Christ.
posted by tkchrist at 2:03 PM on May 21, 2009


Yeah, the sax is in the opening sequence of "Do the Right Thing".

Case and point.

Good god that was horrible. The horrible dancing (BOXING gloves?) there goofy "Jazzy-Afro" type face. The god awful over done lighting. Ugh. Goofy right out of the box.

And I remember thinking how awesome and important it was at the time. DOH!
posted by tkchrist at 2:14 PM on May 21, 2009


I agree that Lee's films, including DTRT, go stale. DTRT is entirely a vehicle for "Fight the Power", in my book.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:16 PM on May 21, 2009


Summer of Sam is great!
posted by Artw at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2009


Summer of Sam was the one that convinced me that Lee had syphillis or some other disease that made him a functional psychotic. YMMV.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:28 PM on May 21, 2009


Liquidwolf, the lead in to the quote and the quote were worded in such a way that it appears that D is claiming that Obama's face was not part of the "theme" of his presidential campaign. That is nonsense. We sent out crates and crates of posters, stickers, buttons, and other promotional items prominently featuring Barack Obama's face. It was unprecidented. Veteran campaigners told me that they had never before seen so much material with the candidate's face featured .
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:28 PM on May 21, 2009


Summer of Sam is great!

I have yet to see it. Get on The Bus was so bad I just couldn't see SoS.
posted by tkchrist at 2:39 PM on May 21, 2009


Flavor Flav sets "Yeah, boyeee" world record

Holy shit! Flavor Flav is 50 years old! Damn, we're all getting old!
posted by jonp72 at 3:54 PM on May 21, 2009


As a white boy from the suburbs, my first memory of Public Enemy was having a hand show me a cassette tape of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, while he said to me, "This ain't no happy rap." When you think of how most suburban white kids only knew of rap from novelty songs by the Fat Boys or DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, you can imagine how mind-blowing Public Enemy was. They were so good that they had the token Jewish boys at my lily-white high school saying, "Farrakhan's a prophet I think you oughta listen to. What he can say to you, what you oughta do..."
posted by jonp72 at 4:02 PM on May 21, 2009


The "Elvis was racist" thing was based on some apocryphal anecdotes circulating at that time...

I saw Chuck D on one of those "VH-1 Hip Hop Memories" types of shows, responding to a question about that line. Apparently he regrets the line about Elvis, and said that he no longer thought Elvis was a racist. He did specifically not apologize for the John Wayne part, though.
posted by dhalgren at 5:31 PM on May 21, 2009


Here's a 2-hour "lecture" with Hank Shocklee. You know -- the BOMB SQUAD.
posted by Hammond Rye at 7:04 PM on May 21, 2009


Oh man... I remember watching Do the Right Thing as a ten-year old and loving that film. I think I might risk seeing that film again soon. The last couple of Spike Lee films I saw were Inside Man and He Got Game and I quite liked both.

Branford has always been my favorite Marsalis
posted by Kattullus at 7:53 PM on May 21, 2009


Some would differ with tkchrist over how well Spike's films have aged. When Mr. Christ has made a better film then perhaps he wil have something to say. Until then it is mere blather.
posted by caddis at 10:24 PM on May 21, 2009


"Though I've never understood the "Elvis was racist" thing, unless it's insofar as any white musician in the 1950s appropriating R&B music to achieve success was racist (in which case Pat Boone was off the charts)"

Maybe I've always parsed the lyrics wrong, but I assumed Chuck was saying that the situation was fucked up. Elvis became famous for doing something black folks had been doing for years, just because he was white. Imagine eminem or even Vanilla Ice being held up as the greatest rapper of all time, just because they were the first major hip-hop artist with white skin to break out?

Rather than:
"Elvis was a hero to most. But he never meant shit to me you see. Straight up racist that sucker was. Simple and plain. Mother fuck him and John Wayne..."

I always read it as:
"Elvis was a hero to most. But he never meant shit to me. You see, [things were] straight up racist. That sucker was simple and plain. Mother fuck him and John Wayne..."

I don't think D held any personal grudge against Elvis; he was just saying that it was fucked up that Elvis became an American symbol because co-opting the work of black people was something that this nation was no longer supposed to stand for. But it totally was (and still is, though now it's more [evidently?] class than racial divides), and that was the real shame. America was talking one kind of talk, but walking a completely hypocritical walk. That is what was racist. Not Elvis himself. His popularity was symbolic of continuing racial prejudice.
posted by Eideteker at 4:50 AM on May 22, 2009


They were so good that they had the token Jewish boys at my lily-white high school saying, "Farrakhan's a prophet I think you oughta listen to. What he can say to you, what you oughta do..."

Didn't Jewish teenagers invent the kaffiyeh-as-fashion-accessory meme?
posted by acb at 4:53 AM on May 22, 2009


The Elvis was a Racist meme began with a rumor started by Sepia magazine in 1957, which was in turn refuted by Ernest Robinson, editor of Jet magazine in the the same year.

And yet Elvis appeared at the WDIA Goodwill Revue in Memphis in 1956. A white southerner crossing the color line and socializing with blacks at a black charity evenr--no doubt your typical racist act in the segregated South in the 50's.
In 1956, Elvis attended the otherwise segregated WDIA Goodwill Revue, an annual charity show put on by the radio station that called itself the "Mother Station of the Negroes." In the aftermath of the event, a number of Negro newspapers printed photographs of Elvis with both Rufus Thomas and B.B. King ("Thanks, man, for all the early lessons you gave me," were the words The Tri-State Defender, a black Memphis newspaper , reported he said to Mr. King).

When he returned to the revue the following December, a stylish shot of him "talking shop" with Little Junior Parker and Bobby "Blue" Bland appeared in Memphis' mainstream afternoon paper, The Press-Scimitar , accompanied by a short feature that made Elvis' feelings abundantly clear. "It was the real thing," he said, summing up both performance and audience response. "Right from the heart."

The underlying point of Elvis' music is this: Far from asserting any superiority, he was merely doing his best to find a place in a musical continuum that included breathtaking talents like Ray Charles, Roy Hamilton, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and Howlin' Wolf on the one hand, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and the Statesmen Quartet on the other. "Let's face it," he said of his rhythm and blues influences, "nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. I can't sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that."

When a reporter referred to Elvis as the "king of rock 'n' roll" at the press conference after his 1969 Las Vegas opening, he rejected the title, as he always did, calling attention to the presence in the room of his friend Fats Domino, "one of my influences from way back." The larger point, of course, was that no one should be called king; surely the music, the American musical tradition that Elvis so strongly embraced, could stand on its own by now, after crossing all borders of race, class and even nationality.

"The lack of prejudice on the part of Elvis Presley," said Sam Phillips, the Sun Records founder who discovered him, "had to be one of the biggest things that ever happened. It was almost subversive, sneaking around through the music, but we hit things a little bit, don't you think?"
Peter Guralnick: How did Elvis get turned into a racist?

See also

Elvis Presley once said, "The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes."
Status: False.

Urban Legend Reference Pages:

See also
'Elvis was my close personal friend. He came to my Deer Lake training camp about two years before he died. He told us he didn't want nobody to bother us. He wanted peace and quiet and I gave him a cabin in my camp and nobody even knew it. When the cameras started watching me train, he was up on the hill sleeping in the cabin. Elvis had a robe made for me. I don't admire nobody, but Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you'd want to know'.
- Muhammad Ali

'A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man's music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis'.
- Jackie Wilson

'I wasn't just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good and I said he was good; we never argued about that. Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him. Last time I saw him was at Graceland. We sang Old Blind Barnabus together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There'll never be another like that soul brother'.
- James Brown

'That's my idol, Elvis Presley. If you went to my house, you'd see pictures all over of Elvis. He's just the greatest entertainer that ever lived. And I think it's because he had such presence. When Elvis walked into a room, Elvis Presley was in the f***ing room. I don't give a f*** who was in the room with him, Bogart, Marilyn Monroe'.
- Eddie Murphy

'I remember Elvis as a young man hanging around the Sun studios. Even then, I knew this kid had a tremendous talent. He was a dynamic young boy. His phraseology, his way of looking at a song, was as unique as Sinatra's. I was a tremendous fan, and had Elvis lived, there would have been no end to his inventiveness'.
- B.B. King

'Elvis was an integrator. Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn't let Black music through. He opened the door for Black music'.
- Little Richard

'Early on somebody told me that Elvis was black. And I said 'No, he's white but he's down-home'. And that is what it's all about. Not being black or white it's being 'down-home' and which part of down-home you come from'.
- Sammy Davis Jnr

...'Describe Elvis Presley? He was the greatest who ever was, is, or will ever be'. - Chuck Berry

....He was a mild tempered, quiet, nice guy. He treated everyone the same. There have been rumors about him, saying that he said 'The only thing blacks can do for me is shine my shoes'. Now, I don't believe that. I never saw him act in anyway like that'. 'I overheard one of Elvis' friends at the time ask Elvis 'Why do you call him 'mister' -- he's just a barbecue guy?' Elvis looked at him and said 'He's a man'. ' 'That', Withers says, 'Was the humility in his temperament'. - Ernest Withers

'Elvis was a great man and did more for civil rights than people know. To call him a racist is an insult to us all'. Ernest Withers
Elvis & Racism: The Legacy of Elvis Presley is Cloudy Through The Lens of Race
posted by y2karl at 1:54 PM on May 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


In a Sepia article, B. B. King supported Elvis. “What most people don’t know,” stated King, “is that this boy is serious about what he’s doing. He’s carried away by it. When I was in Memphis with my band, he used to stand in the wings and watch us perform. As for fading away, rock and roll is here to stay and so, I believe, is Elvis. He’s been a shot in the arm to the business and all I can say is ‘that’s my man’.”

In his 1957 investigative article in JET, Louie Robinson concluded that not only did blacks know Presley; he also knew blacks. “I always wanted to sing like Billy Kenny of the Ink Spots,” Robinson quoted Elvis. “I like that high, smooth style.” When Robinson asked about the origin of his “earthy, moaning baritone” singing voice, Presley responded, “I never sang like this in my life until I made that first record—That’s Alright, Mama. I remembered that song because I heard Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup sing it and I thought I would like to try it.”

...Robinson was impressed with Presley’s honest evaluation of his contribution to the genre. “A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Elvis explained, “but rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it; I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music.”
The Shine Rumor in 1957
posted by y2karl at 2:17 PM on May 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


When Mr. Christ has made a better film then perhaps he wil have something to say. Until then it is mere blather.


So I I take it in order to evaluate him by your own logic you must have made a film as good or better than Spike Lee yourself? Right?

Blather indeed.
posted by tkchrist at 2:27 PM on May 23, 2009


tkchrist, I think a more charitable reading would be that until you can post a more nuanced explanation of why you think Lee's films suck rather than just saying it sucks, then it will be regarded as something more than blather.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:32 PM on May 23, 2009


Got your goat tk? Well, unsolicited "sucks" posts are so puerile, so 13 years old. Perhaps something a bit more thoughtful explaining what you found missing might fly, but "sucks" especially of something which has received much critical acclaim, that's just middle school. So Spike Lee is an acclaimed director and you are an internet nobody. If you want to validly criticize his work you are going to have to do better than "sucks." If you were a known talent like say flapjax at midnight then perhaps your naked opinion of this sort might be more accepted. As it stands - blather.
posted by caddis at 8:17 PM on May 23, 2009


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