Study Guide

Fight the Power Technique

  • Music

    With "Fight the Power," production team the Bomb Squad set the gold standard of hip-hop production. The song's beat mixes, impressively, more than a dozen different sounds and tracks. Where earlier hip-hop DJs tended to loop one or two different samples for an entire song (with the exception of greats like Afrika Bambaataa), the Bomb Squad took the art to an entirely new level, creating a large number of beats from a variety of genres and sources.

    Let's look at the song beginning to end in the context of these samples.

    The first sample is a speech that introduces the song: "Yet our best-trained, best-educated, best-equipped, best-prepared troops refuse to fight. Matter of fact it's safe to say that they would rather switch than fight." This excerpt comes from a 1967 speech by attorney Thomas "TNT" Todd. He was referring to the AWOL soldiers that abandoned the war effort in Vietnam on moral grounds. The Bomb Squad re-appropriated the quote to encourage more African Americans to get involved in defending their rights.

    The ascending intro riff comes from the obscure hair metal song "Bird of Prey" by Uriah Heep. In the background of the mix you can hear the intro of "Pump Me Up" by Trouble Funk.

    The 1988 New Jack Swing song "Teddy's Jam" by Guy gives the main beat of the song its snare hits and drums together with "Pump Me Up." Funky jazz bunch The J.B.'s get their song "Hot Pants Road" harvested for the bass line. The female vocal loop "Come on and get down" comes from the aptly-titled dance song "Let's Dance (Make Your Body Move)" by the West Street Mob. And the skanking funk guitar is pulled from The Dramatics' "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get."

    A lot of samples accent the lyrics throughout the song. Chuck D's line "People, people" gets its echo in the James Brown sample from "Funky President" playing under it. After the line "Yo! bum rush the show," the Bomb Squad inserts this moan from "Sing a Simple Song" by Sly and the Family Stone. At the end of the third verse, Afrika Bambaataa's hit hip-hop song "Planet Rock" gets its play with the tremolo'd "Yeah" sample.

    Even in this limited index of the song's sources, it's apparent that the Bomb Squad took sampling to a level that rivaled Afrika Bambaataa in its scope of sources—from jazz to funk to dance to hair metal—and certainly exceeded all previous production in its quality. "Fight the Power" tightly integrated these diffuse sources in its beat, taking sampling to a new level and setting a standard for all future samplers.

  • Songwriting

    For starters, Chuck D uses inner rhyme to create flow. Inner rhyme is the rhyme of two parts of a single line. For example, "Listen if you're missin' y'all" has a rhyme between "Listen" and "missin'." 

    One effect of Chuck D using inner rhyme is that the words in the lines become easier to hear, because your ear is drawn to what Chuck D says inside the line rather than to the end of the line. If Chuck D only used rhymes at the end of his lines, you might forget the rest of the line. For a rapper as political and message-oriented as Chuck D, inner rhyme is an important ally.

    Secondly, "Fight the Power" has a lot of coherence for a song that doesn't really use end rhymes very often. This has to do with Chuck D's use of consonance and assonance to make lines that just sound good together. Consonance is the matching of consonant sounds in words, as in "pumpkin pie." Assonance is the matching of vowel sounds, like in "fly a kite." Check out the first few lines of "Fight the Power:"

    1989 the number another summer (get down)
    Sound of the funky drummer

    The "m" and "n" sounds tie the two lines together more so than the rhyme, even. The matching of "num" "sum" and "drum" with consonance and assonance makes the lines sound like they were made for each other.