By Tristin Marshall
29 years ago in June, Spike Lee commissioned Public Enemy to make a song for one of his most politically-charged movies ‘Do The Right Thing.’ That song, titled “Fight The Power” was released through Motown Records in 1989, and is now known as one of the most prominent songs in music history.
It’s impossible to leave “Fight The Power” out of greatest hits list, and especially those with a focus on hip-hop and protest music. Rolling Stone named the anthem one of 500 greatest songs of all time and ranked it No.7 on the publication’s “100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time,” barely scratching the surface of the accolades that the song has received. It was nominated for a Grammy in 1989 for Best Rap Performance and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018.
“Fight The Power” epitomizes the emotion of the Black struggle. Motown is no stranger to the plight of the Black people in America–having lived through the Detroit riots in 1967 with their headquarters in the midst of the city. (Their business wasn’t completely destroyed, with the exception of a few bullet holes in flower pots and a single bullet in the bathroom wall because of their relative distance to where all the looting, shooting, and fires were happening.)
Songs like James Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” expressed the joys and the sorrows of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as “We Shall Overcome,” which was originally recorded by Charles Albert Tindley in 1900 and perhaps the most popular protest song during the movement in the 1960s.
Motown also released Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Great March On Washington” album in October 1963, which featured his speech and others and a rendition of “We Shall Overcome” sung by Liz Lands.
In 2016, Barack Obama officially declared June as African-American Music Appreciation Month, celebrating all the joy, and in some cases, healing powers of African-American music. In the same way that Dead Prez’s “Hip-Hop” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” has done for Black protest music over the last two decades amidst a new wave of race riots and police brutality, was the same that “Fight The Power” did for the 1990’s. Music is known to build off the notes of its predecessors, and it is hard to imagine hip-hop without “Fight The Power” and the songs that came after it to fight the good fight.