Fight the Power
Quick Note from Jason: This month is the first issue published from my brand new site. If you subscribed to the email via Substack you are all set – no need to re-subscribe, in fact you can manage your subscription by clicking Login on the new site.
If you subcribed via RSS or read issues by visiting the Substack site, you will need to update your links. This will be the permanent home for One Last Wish from here on out.
I’m super excited about this for a few main reasons:
- I can own my content and not worry about Substack going away or changing for the worse.
- I can publish other posts, without having to include it in a newsletter.
- I can offer a way to support the site through Cash App and PayPal tips.
- I am looking into offering perks for supporters, including record giveaways and other benefits. (More on that once I can finalize details.)
The monthly issues will always be free and found here on this site.
Thanks for reading and following along. Last month was the most successful issue to date, so I really appreciate all of the interest.
Onward to issue five! (I hope it’s worth the wait – it’s a long one.)
Believe the Hype: Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet
While Living Colour was my first true experience with overtly political lyrics, the next logical step, given my love for hip hop, had to be Public Enemy. My first PE purchase (and the focus of this issue) was the cassette version of Fear of a Black Planet – released in April of 1990.
Public Enemy was formed in 1985 by Chuck D and Flavor Flav. Fear of a Black Planet was Public Enemy’s third studio album — a followup to 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and 1987’s debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show. The album is certified platinum by the RIAA and both “Fight the Power” and “911 is a Joke” both reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles chart.
My first exposure to Public Enemy was music videos off the It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back album via MTV’s Yo! MTV Raps. Songs like “Bring the Noise”, “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Rebel Without a Pause” certainly sold me on Public Enemy – they were the real deal.
In addition to MTV and their first two releases, Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee had a big impact on me – not only as the debut of “Fight the Power”, but the overall message and power of the Lee’s work. It’s still one of my favorite movies to this day.
The absolute peak of my Public Enemy experience was at the 1994 University at Buffalo Fall Fest during my freshman year of college. There you would have seen eighteen year old me, up front for PE, getting a high five from Flavor Flav after he came to life out of a casket on stage early in their set. It was an otherworldly experience I will never forget.
Now that we have a little backstory, let’s dig in to my focused listen:
1. Contract on the World Love Jam
PE was no stranger to criticism, so what better way than to open your third album with samples of that criticism. Face it head on.
“A lot of the samples on ‘Contract’ came from me taping radio stations, taking bites of interviews and commercials. Sometimes I might go through the dial, just sampling at random, keeping it on a cassette, listen to the cassette, and say, ‘Well, being that I’m the lyric writer, how should I arrange these fragments so they’ll add up to a kind of a song?’ That’s how ‘Contract’ came along.
2. Brothers Gonna Work it Out
The first full song kicks off Fear with PE’s classic sound – driving bass, borderline caucaphonic noise, and that classic hip hop beat. Chuck D’s lyrics don’t hold back either:
History shouldn’t be a mystery Our stories real history Not ***his*** story
In 1995, you’ll twist to this As you raise your fist to the music United we stand, yes divided we fall Together we can stand tall Brothers that try to work it out They get mad, revolt, revise, realize They’re super bad Small chance a smart brother’s Gonna be a victim of his own circumstance Sabotaged, shell-shocked, rocked and ruled Day in the life of a fool
At almost 14 and questioning everything I’d been taught, Public Enemy could get you hyped and teach at the same time. It’s exactly what I needed at that age… and still enjoy today.
3. 911 is a Joke
Probably one of PE’s most recognizable songs (and video) – this was Flavor Flav at the top of his game. Only he could deliver this message:
4. Incident at 66.6 FM
Chuck D on this track:
“Incident At 66.6 FM’ was actually a live radio interview that I did at WNBC in New York before a show we did with Run-DMC at Nassau Coliseum. Those people you hear in the record actually called the station.
5. Welcome to the Terrordome
This song was Chuck D’s response to the Professor Griff anti-semitism controversy and the media focus.
Never be a brother like, “Me go solo” Laser, anesthesia, maze ya Ways to blaze your brain and train ya The way I’m livin’, forgiven, what I’m givin’ up X on the flex, hit me now I don’t know about later As for now, I know how to avoid the paranoid Man, I’ve had it up to here Yeah, I wear got ’em going in fear Rhetoric said and read just a bit ago Not quitting, though signed the hard rhymer
Musically the song is a banger, with samples from James Brown, The Temptations, Kool & the Gang, and The Jackson 5. So damn good. Chuck D is in attack mode lyrically the whole damn song too. It’s a treat.
6. Meet the G That Killed Me
Dabbling a little in the homophobic territory of early ‘90s rap on this controversial skit, Public Enemy speaks on the then recent subject of AIDS in the black community.
8. Anti-N***** Machine
Chuck D’s commentary on how the police system, government, and laws work to censor Black Americans – whether it’s literally censoring music, voting, or the taking of one’s life at the hands of the police. Still very relevant 30+ years later, as we watch George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and sadly many others… as well as Republican controlled states rush to make voting more difficult after the 2020 election.
9. Burn Hollywood Burn
A criticim of Hollywood and the treatment (and stereotypes) of Blacks in media:
Hollywood or would they not Make us all look bad like I know they had But some things I’ll never forget, yeah So step and fetch this shit For all the years we looked like clowns The joke is over — smell the smoke from all around
And an interesting annotation from Genius.com taught me something new:
Stepin Fetchit (the name is a variation of the phrase “step and fetch it”) was the stage name of the black film actor Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry. He played the “laziest man in the world” in dozens of movies in the 1920’s and 30’s.
10. Power to the People
This feels like a song that was made to take the listener out of Side A. Not necessarily a throw away song, but not one I’d target to listen to on an album this good.
11. Who Stole the Soul?
PE jumps back into side two head first. The song focuses on the continued attack on Black people’s soul – their creativity, home, family and livelihood. All while having to experience holidays and other symbols of America that have some relation to slavery and the plight of Black Americans over the generations. That in itself has to be soul killing.
We choose to use their ways And holidays notice some of them are heller days Invented by those that never repented For the sins within that killed my kin
The song features samples of The Beatles, James Brown, and the Magic Disco Machine.
12. Fear of a Black Planet
The title track – another song that is still relevant today, with the increasing popularity of white nationalism and white supremicist ideas/policy.
13. Revolutionary Generation
This song deals with America and the black community’s poor treatment of women.
Cause I’m tired of America dissin’ my sisters (For example, like they dissed Tawana) And they try to say that she’s a liar My people don’t believe it, but even now they’re getting higher
Another historical tidbit from Genius:
Tawana Bawley is an African-American woman who accused 6 white men including police officers of raping her. The judgement and racial stereotypes that ensued from the media and, ahem, whitey caused people to think she lying.
14. Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man!
Another Flavor Flav jam. Love it – he was certainly on his A game this record.
Runnin’ for your life, by the knife Runnin’ from your wife, yikes! You should’ve stuck with home Off your mind to blow your dome It was you that chose your doom You built the maze you can’t get through I tried to help you all I can Now I can’t do nuttin’ for you man
15. Reggie Jax
A freestyle from Chuck D – very Run DMC in flow – with some references to previous songs and recycled themes/phrases.
I’m here to live for the love of my people Kickin’ it all about rebuildin’ so all the children Avoid the self-destruction So long I’m gonna do y’all a favor Cause I got the flavor yea yeah
16. Leave This Off Your Fu*ckin Charts
17. B Side Wins Again
Musically, a driving bass line and PE’s patented style help make this one of the better tracks on Fear. Featuring samples from Kool & the Gang and the Commodores. Lyrically, the song pulls no punches:
And the suckers on the right get cynical Cause the record’s to the left and political And you search the stores Attack the racks with your claws For the rebels without a pause
18. War at 33 1/3
This song aim to challenge the status quo and the history taught by schools and the media – whether it’s portraying Black people as the enemy in the media or simply not given them credit for playing a major part in building the country:
Can I live my life without ’em treatin’ Every brother like me like I’m holdin’ A knife alright time to smack Uncle Sam Who don’t give a damn, look at the flag My blood’s a flood Without credit Black and close to the edit I fed it, you read it, just remember who said it
There are a lot of theories as to why the song is titled the way it is – one is a reference to the speed of the song, which is way faster than most PE songs.
19. Final Count of the Collision Between Us and the Damned
20. Fight the Power
One of PE’s best and well known songs. Chuck D on what inspired it:
I wanted to have sorta like the same theme as the original ‘Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers and fill it in with some kind of modernist views of what our surroundings were at that particular time.
The lyrics definitely hit hard:
As the rhythm’s designed to bounce What counts is that the rhyme’s Designed to fill your mind Now that you’ve realized the pride’s arrived We got to pump the stuff to make ya tough From the heart It’s a start, a work of art To revolutionize make a change nothing’s strange People, people we are the same No we’re not the same ‘Cause we don’t know the game What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless You say what is this? My beloved let’s get down to business Mental self defensive fitness
The music is anthemic, featuring samples from James Brown, Bob Marley, Rick James, Sly and the Family Stone, Trouble Funk, Afrika Bambaataa, and many more. The classic PE sound.
Then there’s the video. I definitely remember watching that on Yo! MTV Raps:
Listening to these songs and prepping for this issue, I couldn’t believe how good this album was – even 30+ years later. This was Public Enemy at it’s creative peak. It Takes a Nation of Millions may be their breakthrough and an important album on it’s own, but the confidence PE exudes on Fear is just palpable.
One of my favorite things about Public Enemy and music in general is it’s ability to teach and experience empathy – whether it’s political in nature, a culture you may not have much exposure to, heartache, or immense joy. Listening to and experiencing someone else’s feelings is one of the most crucial life skills in my opinion. I imagine as this project ages, that will become even more clear with each new issue.
In terms of this album specifically, I know it set the stage for who I am in terms of my beliefs and interests. It’s certainly what helped open me up to punk/hardcore music, reading books by folks like James Baldwin, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and having an interest in politics/social justice in general. I know I will be forever grateful to Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and Public Enemy.
This issue’s theme is 1989 + 1990 — 30 of my favorite songs from these two years. Enjoy the playlist on Apple Music.
- It’s Funky Enough – The D.O.C.
- Turnover – Fugazi
- Personal Jesus – Depeche Mode
- Kool Thing – Sonic Youth
- Fight the Power – Public Enemy
- Velouria – Pixies
- Here’s Where the Story Ends – The Sundays
- Happiness is a Warm Gun – The Breeders
- Shake Your Rump – Beastie Boys
- Stop – Jane’s Addiction
- Cave-In – Codeine
- Fourth of July – Galaxie 500
- Modern Man – Bad Religion
- Sweetness and Light – Lush
- Slow Down – Brand Nubian
- Graveyard Shift – Uncle Tupelo
- Ball and Chain – Social Distortion
- Jackin’ for Beats – Ice Cube
- The Humpty Dance – Digital Underground
- Waiting Room – Fugazi
- I Left My Wallet in El Segundo – A Tribe Called Quest
- Wave of Mutilation – Pixies
- About a Girl – Nirvana
- I Wanna Be Adored – The Stone Roses
- So Wat Cha Sayin’ – EPMD
- Picture of You – The Cure
- Sound System – Operation Ivy
- Soul Craft – Bad Brains
- Gas Face – 3rd Bass
- Start Today – Gorilla Biscuits
Here are a few recently released albums (well more than a few – it’s been a good few weeks!) I’ve been listening to:
- Family Album by Lia Ices (Listen) — she returned to more of an indie folk sound on this album, but the great songwriting remains.
- Clothbound by The Sonder Bombs (Listen) — for fans of Beach Bunny and Paramore. Solid all around.
- Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks (Listen) — awesome bedroom indie pop. Been looking forward to this for awhile.
- Uppers by TV Priest (Listen) — post-punk in the vein of The Fall, Gang of Four, Nick Cave and newer bands like IDLES and Shame.
- Ignorance by The Weather Station (Listen) — a mix of Broken Social Scene, Fleetwood Mac, and Talk Talk. Super good.
- Stay Gone by Calyx (Listen) — a mix of Lemuria, Husker Du, and Swearin’. Fast, noisy, chaotic, and sometimes catchy punk. Like it a lot.
- Pastel by FRITZ (Listen) — a little shoe gaze, dream pop, and alt-rock all mixed into one — think Alvvays crossed with Hatchie. Love it.
- Little Oblivions by Julien Baker (Listen) – to be honest, I haven’t put as much time into this album and I really want to focus on it. The songs I have listened to are everything you would expect from someone as talented as Baker. I am pretty confident this will end up on my year end list.
- Life is Not a Lesson by Glitterer (Listen) – fuzzy grunge pop from the bassist of Title Fight. One of my favorite releases from the last few weeks. Perfect spring time, driving with the window down, turn it up loud music.
- The Shadow I Remember by Cloud Nothings (Listen) – sounds like Cloud Nothings and that’s perfectly fine by me. Saw them in 2017 opening for the New Pornographers. Super good band.
- Show Me How You Disappear by IAN SWEET (Listen) – One of my favorite albums so far this year. I saw her in 2017 supporting Ted Leo. I liked her debut Shapeshifter a lot, but this one is better. Quirky, well done indie pop. Please check it out!
- Driver by Adult Mom (Listen) – bedroom/indie pop similar to what the Crutchfield sisters do in their solo work, Waxahatchee, and PS Eliot. Like it a lot.
- As the Love Continues by Mogwai (Listen) – one of their best albums in years.
And a few older ones on repeat:
- Ices by Lia Ices (Listen) — more of an electronic sound than her other albums. The songs features lots of loops, a tropical feel at times, and general happy sound all highlighted by her awesome vocals. Perfect for the winter doldrums.
- An End Has a Start by Editors (Listen) — Strangely I wasn’t familiar with this band prior to seeing it highlighted on an acquaintances Instagram feed. Interpol crossed with Frightened Rabbit and The National. Right up my alley.
- Luca by Alex Maas (Listen) – psych-rock/indie folk from the singer of The Black Angels. Some really great moments on this album.
- Left and Leaving by The Weakerthans (Listen) — a classic from one of my favorite bands. I picked up the vinyl as well.
- Population by The Most Serene Republic (Listen) — one of my favorite live bands. Quirky indie-pop similar to Broken Social Scene.
Musical Moving Pictures
Oh, live music. Someday.
That wraps up the fifth issue. Feel free to send me feedback, questions, ideas — anything. I’d also love if you shared this newsletter with anyone you think would enjoy and encourage them to subscribe.
See you next time.