Public Enemy released Fight the Power back in “1989 / A number, another summer,” as the famous opening line announces. This groundbreaking track has been the soundtrack to countless social movements and protests. The original took on racism, white supremacy, police brutality and asserted black pride. Chuck D was at his most pyrotechnic and the track was a molotov cocktail thrown into the middle of the white power structure. However, does the track still carry the power it had 31 years ago?
In short, yes. Most importantly, Chuck brings on hip hop luminaries Nas, Rapsody, Questlove, Black Thought, YG and Jahi to bring the track into current protests. The result is a call to action every bit as urgent, poignant and raw as the original cut. Each artist brings his or her own style to the table and lyrics that reflect the issues black people face every day. Musically, these verses fit seamlessly and are bookended by Chuck D’s cutting lyrics, which are as important today as they were over thirty years ago. Fight the Power 2020 is a personification of the anger, sorrow and demand for justice emanating for thousands of voices in the streets screaming Black Lives Matter.
There is so much going on in this song it is difficult to break down each verse; therefore, I will focus on Rapsody and Chuk D. Most communal rap tracks have a stand out artist that you may not know a lot about, but sets the whole cut on fire. For me, Rapsody is that artist in Fight the Power 2020. She just throws her verse off with such force that it reverberates throughout the rest of the track. It is as if she rips the blindfold off Lady Justice and pushes her face into people marching in Kenosha, Atlanta, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Washington D.C. and across America. She starts with: “To the boys in the hood, duckin’ bullets and batons / From boys in the hood, triple Ks on they arm / Four fingers on my palm screamin’, Fight.” The fight is for people to see the truth, which racists and white supremacists try to silence with violence and killing black people. The truth is: “The value of black life the cost of goin’ to Wendy’s / For a four-quarter burger, ended in murder.” When describing police brutality in such stark terms, she is forcing you to see how white power values black lives. It is a powerful verse that cuts through the think pieces and Fox News panel discussions to expose white destruction of black people.
Chuck D ends the track with his original verse from Fear of a Black Planet, which is as powerful now as it was in 1989. “Elvis was a hero to most / But he never meant shit to me” is a famous lyric that questions a white constructed society. He continues with one of the strongest lyrics in rap history: “‘Cause I’m Black and I’m proud / I’m ready, I’m hyped plus I’m amped / Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.” Chuck shuns a whitewashed society where he is told to venerate “American heroes,” usually straight white men, over black heroes. However, he is proud of his blackness and will not society, the people on stamps, dictate his intrinsic value as a human being.
On one hand, remixing Fight the Power in 2020 illustrates how Public Enemy speaks to multiple generations. On another hand, there is a tinge of sorrow in how the fight has been going on for 30 years and Chuck’s verses then are still important now. However, there is some hope in how thousands of people from different generations are galvanised around this fight. The track itself has artists from various generations coming together, which mirrors what it happening in the streets. Jahi states: “People, people, stronger than this evil / Smashin’ your power structure.” So, it is the people who need to continue fighting, because it is that collective voice that will bring down evil.
Listen to Fight the Power 2020