Study Guide

Fight the Power

Fight the Power Introduction

In a Nutshell

"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" (source).

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
Year1990
LabelDef Jam
Writer(s)Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour), Keith Shocklee, Eric Sadler
Producer(s)The Bomb Squad
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 and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song," and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock"
AlbumFear of a Black Planet

Music Video

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Influences on Public Enemy

The Isley Brothers
Bob Marley
Afrika Bambaataa
James Brown

Influenced by Public Enemy

Saul Williams
Rage Against the Machine
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Rakim
Common
NOFX
Run DMC
The Beastie Boys
Korn

Fight the Power Resources

Books

David L. Shabazz, Public Enemy #1 (1999)
Shabazz looks at the Black national movement that surrounded the rap group during its rise in the late 1980s and onward.

Jeff Chang, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (2006)
Read about Public Enemy's importance in great detail in this excellent history of hip-hop.

Albums

Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987)
It didn't sell very well, but the band's debut set off the rise of the new black nationalism of the late 1980s.

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
With their sophomore effort, Public Enemy was getting more mainstream success with singles like "Don't Believe the Hype."

Do the Right Thing (1989)
If "Fight the Power" doesn't do it for you on this successful Spike Lee soundtrack, check out the forgotten but great New Jack Swing band Guy.

Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
Controversy surrounded the band at the time of their third album's release.

Images

"Fight the Power"
The single "Fight the Power" was originally released alongside Spike Lee's 1989 movie Do the Right Thing.

Fear of a Black Planet
The track found itself on Public Enemy's third album release the following year.

Public Enemy Logo
The Public Enemy logo was a black man in a trigger sight.

The Bomb Squad
The production crew behind Public Enemy's great beats.

Movies & TV

Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee commissioned "Fight the Power" for this movie, which he wrote, directed, and starred in. It's an explosive movie that aims to capture the sentiments of the time.

Websites

Shut 'Em Down
A dedicated fan put up this site to provide more information about the band.

"Fight the Power" Remembered
Writing for Salon, Laura K. Warrell gives her own retrospective on the impact of "Fight the Power."

Video & Audio

"Fight the Power"
Spike Lee directed this street protest music video for the group in 1990.

Do the Right Thing
Watch the trailer for Spike Lee's 1989 film, featuring "Fight the Power."