Uri Amador, Nicholas Cubarney, Elycee Wilson
Music as a Social Expression – April 22, 2014
During the 1980s, an empowered new generation of Black youth began to interpret the civil rights movement in a different, more direct way, far removed from the "I Have a Dream" Idealism of the 1960s. This movement was pioneered by Spike Lee's film Do the Right Thing, and the civil rights themed song Fight the Power composed by Public Enemy. In the Fight the Power music video, which was also directed by Spike Lee, Chuck D denounces the marches and speeches of the 60’s and calls for more radical action, promising that "the young black America... ain't goin' out like that '63 nonsense." The clip documents a large rally in Brooklyn’s, Bed-Stuy against the racially motivated violence that had plagued the city. This landmark song and video are widely considered hip-hop greatest, and helped to mobilize a new youth culture with a civil rights movement of their own. The song became more than just a feature in a movie. Fight the Power means something big, refusing to let racism keep Black African Americans down. Furthermore, it's about not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk (Shmoop).
In our dissertation, we will concentrate on why Spike Lee wanted to write Do the Right Thing and the message he wanted to send to America. Then, we’ll move into Public Enemy rising as civil rights leaders for black youth and their aggressive approach for equality along with their composition of Fight the Power. We’ll then shift into text and the meaning behind the lyrics of Fight the Power. In addition, we’ll also focus on the civil rights movement that followed after the song and movie were released and how it became an anthem for black youth in urban areas. Then into the transmission of the film and song and how they’re both still relevant today after 25 years after the release of the film. Finally, we’ll bring everything we learned throughout this semester and how they’re similarities from the Amandla documentary and the civil rights movement from the 1950’s and 60’s.
In 1988, director Spike Lee approached Public Enemy with the proposition of creating a song for his movie Do the Right Thing. Lee needed an anthemic song with modernist views of what our surroundings were at that particular time. He is quoted telling Time, “I wanted it to be defiant, I wanted it to be angry, and I wanted it to be very rhythmic. I thought right away of Public Enemy” (Simpson), he is also quoted by Rolling Stone saying, “We needed an anthem… I wanted Public Enemy” (Grow). Originally Lee’s idea was to have Public Enemy do a hip-hop version of the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a Negro anthem and spiritual, but Hank Shocklee thought they needed something that would resonate with people on the streets, something you’d hear playing in cars that drove by as they rode down the street (Grow).
In the writing process, Public Enemy worked on songs from the top down, starting with the title and working forward from there. Working in this way, they came up with the title “Fight the Power” (Grow). Chuck D recalled where he drew inspiration from: “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 (Myrie, Page 122).” He told Rolling Stone that the challenge with this idea was “creating something entirely different that said the same thing in a different genre” (Grow).
Public Enemy aimed to produce a song that would be viewed as an anthem. Chuck D, the lead rapper of the group, praised the idea of freedom of speech. As a group, they were known for their politically charged lyrics and criticism of the American media with an active interest in the frustrations and concerns of the African American community. Overall, he wanted people of all races, male and female, to come together to unit and