Friday, July 22, 2011

Public Enemy -- "Fight the Power" (1990)

Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps . . .
What we got to say
Power to the people with no delay
Make everybody see
We got to fight the powers that be
Fight the power!

Public Enemy was a groundbreaking hip-hop group.  Their music is relentless and dense -- they usually cram a lot of samples into their tracks -- and always politically charged.  (It's more Louis Farrakhan than Martin Luther King, Jr.)  Listening to a Public Enemy album is not a relaxing experience.    

Chuck D
The genesis of Public Enemy goes back to the meeting of Carlton Ridenhour and William Drayton, Jr., two Long Island boys, at Adelphi University.  Ridenhour had a hip-hop show on the campus radio station, and the two developed their own rap act while working for Ridenhour's father's furniture delivery service.

In 1984, Ridenhour -- who called himself Chuck D -- released a single called "Public Enemy #1" with the help of Drayton -- who called himself Flavor Flav.  Hip-hop pioneer Rick Rubin liked Chuck D's tape and offered him a recording deal with the Def Jam label.

Flavor Flav
In addition to Flavor Flav, Chuck D recruited a DJ named Terminator X, the members of the "Bomb Squad" (a collection of several hip-hop producers and performers that Chuck D had worked with previously) and an ex-MC named Professor Griff (who took on the roles of road manager and "Minister of Information" for the act).  Voilá -- Public Enemy was born.

Flavor Flav -- whose trademark was the large plastic clock he wore around his neck --was one of the first famous rap "hype men."  A hype man is usually a secondary MC who struts across the stage at live performances waving his arms and doing call-and-response chants that demand audience participation.

In 2004, Flavor Flav ended up as a regular on the third season of The Surreal Life, a VH1 reality show.  The other washed-up celebrities on the show included Charo, Full House's Dave Coulier (the man who was the subject of Alanis Morissette's screed, "You Oughta Know"), and the Amazonish Danish actress (and ex-wife of Sylvester Stallone) Brigette Nielsen.

While they were on the show, Flavor Flav and Nielsen got busy.  Their romantic relationship spawned a spin-off reality show called Strange Love.  (That's a fact, Jack!)

Chuck D was a pretty serious dude, and I don't know why he insisted on having a clown like Flavor Flav as part of Public Enemy.  Maybe it goes back to their personal relationship, or maybe Chuck D was just as interested in showmanship as in politics. 

Public Enemy's 1987 debut album was titled Yo! Bum Rush the Show.  Next came It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.  "Fight the Power" comes from Public Enemy's third and most successful album, Fear of a Black Planet.

"Fight the Power" was prominently featured in Spike Lee's 1989 movie, Do the Right Thing.  One of the movie's characters, a young man who is called "Radio Raheem," walks around playing "Fight the Power" constantly on his boombox.  

Radio Raheem
One night, the Italian owner of the pizzeria in the black New York City neighborhood where the movie takes place can't stand the loud music any more and goes after the boombox with a baseball bat.  A fight breaks out, a riot ensues, and the pizzeria is destroyed.

Here's "Fight the Power":

You can use this link to buy "Fight the Power" from Amazon:

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