Public Enemy – “Fight The Power”

Steve M says:

Clearly I picked this because I was worried there wouldn’t be enough rockist rap in the list. I still think this is their best and most succinct single, although I know the general consensus would point to any of the three before it. The street sound of Summer ’89, this reference run deep into the ground by its gratuitous use in Do The Right Thing. The track is presented in that movie as some ultimate, towering concoction of black punk, following two years of consolidation and growth by the most exciting band in the world at that point.

It feels a little busier, more infectious and, perhaps crucially, more Pop than their other anthems, with the production unit and MCs on peak form. Containing arguably Chuck D’s most famous lyric (Oh, NOT an Elvis fan you say?), he wins sympathy from me as even today I know friends equally indifferent to the stature of John Wayne. Other great lines are strewn throughout. Another highlight lies in Chuck bitterly stressing that Bobby McFerrin’s message of ‘don’t worry be happy’ amounted to nothing more than denial, for D’s target audience at least, and simply wouldn’t do. How they got away with this level of fun-hating lyrically whilst attached to some of the funkiest party music of the time is the real skill of the act.

I often miss the rawness and maximal approach that came with so much hip-hop at this time as things have moved on since then in more ways than one. This represents well though the point where their message managed to capture maybe their largest universal audience yet, before being drowned out forever by the far greater demand for bitch/gun/money-obsessed gangsta fantasies (N.W.A. etc.) as opposed to dour b-boy political aspirations, regardless of how def the jam. It’s also the last track on their last truly great album and a fitting ‘exit theme’ as a result.