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Intro

“We’ve got to fight the powers that be!”

So says rapper Chuck D, whose group Public Enemy captured the spirit of a summer - and maybe a decade - in this song. They managed to hit an impressive balance, making the song catchy enough to find a wide audience, and powerful enough to bring that audience together. Filmmaker Spike Lee, who commissioned “Fight the Power” for his 1989 film Do the Right Thing, called it an "anthem." But an anthem of what?

Keep reading to learn more about how Chuck D and Public Enemy found themselves the spokesmen of a particular moment in time.

About the Song

ArtistPublic Enemy Musician(s)Chuck D (vocals), Flavor Flav (vocals), with samples from Uriah Heep's "Bird of Prey," Trouble Funk's "Pump Me Up," Guy's "Teddy's Jam," The J.B.'s "Hot Pants Road," West Street Mob's "Let's Dance (Make Your Body Move)," The Dramatics' "Whatcha See is Whatcha Get," James Brown's "Funky President," Sly & the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song," and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock"
AlbumFear of a Black Planet
Year1990 (1989 single)
LabelDef Jam
Writer(s)Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour), Keith Shocklee, Eric Sadler
Producer(s)The Bomb Squad
Buy this song: Amazon iTunes Try Listen and Learn (BETA)

Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
"Fight the power," as a battle cry, is a pretty powerful one: it's easy for people to interpret according to the circumstances of their own lives. (Don't make enough money? You might be inclined to blame that on the "powers that be." Got assigned too much homework? That's them, too.) In this song, though, "fighting the power" means something big—really big: it means refusing to let racism keep African Americans down. Furthermore, it's about not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

At the time this song came out, Chuck D got a lot of attention for walking the walk. It was the 1980s, and both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement had fallen somewhat by the wayside. But that didn't mean that there weren't still racial tensions in much of the country, and when Chuck D spoke, people listened.

In getting out its message, Public Enemy doesn't just talk politics, although it does encourage people to stand up and pay attention to what's going on around them. For example, it hits some of its pop culture targets pretty hard. Elvis isn't the king of rock and roll, at least not to Chuck D. And you’ve heard the song "Don’t Worry, Be Happy," right? Well, Chuck D wishes he hadn’t.

In short, if there ever was a song that was aware of the world around it, it's this one.

On the Charts

"Fight the Power" hit the #1 spot on the Hot Rap Singles chart in 1989, and #3 on the Dance Singles chart.

"Fight the Power" was also named on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

The Do The Right Thing soundtrack, on which the song was originally released, reached the eleventh spot on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.

Fear of a Black Planet peaked in the #10 position on the US Billboard 200. In the UK it faired better, peaking at #4.

"Fight the Power" was dubbed the greatest hip-hop song on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Hip-Hop.
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