Looking back over Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee's 1989 look at racial tensions & their often awful aftermath, it becomes apparent that there is a tangible kinship between its director & the suppliers of an attendant often heard snippet of soundtrack...
...Public Enemy's Fight The Power serves as an anthemic purpose through the efforts of Radio Raheem & his boombox. The incidental score, though, is handled by Spike's father Bill, a jazz bassist.
Dad would score only his son's first four films, prior to a falling out believed to have its roots in Bill's second marriage following the death of his first wife & indeed Spike's mother. Nonetheless, the perfect foils were found in the shape of Public Enemy!
The group had its roots in the early days of hip-hop, Chuck D, the group's beating politicised heart, hosted a radio show on WBAU. He would issue a tape to promote the station called Public Enemy Number One- see where this is going? The man also known as Carlton Ridenhour would benefit from contacts at the station when its director of programming Bill Stephney moved on to Def Jam Records. Producer Rick Rubin heard the tape following a recommendation from Dr Dre. The line-up was fleshed out with Flavor Flav & production wizards the Bomb Squad.
As Rolling Stone would reflect...
"The director may have asked for an anthem for his 1989 chronicle of big-city racial tensions, but what he got was a salvo. A quarter of a century has passed since Radio Raheem's boom box served as a megaphone to a generation, spreading Public Enemy's rap reveille over and over again in the movie, but "Fight the Power" has not lost an ounce of its revolutionary power or poignancy."Chuck D would say of the genesis of the project that,
"Spike, [producer] Bill Stephney, Hank and I had a meeting, and Spike simply said, "Hey look, I've got this movie based on all this tension going on in the New York area, the clashing neighborhoods, and I'm looking for an anthem."Which was inspired by a similarly named Isley Brothers song.
All I remember was Spike was saying, "I'm looking for an anthem.""
Bomb Squad man Hank Shocklee found the film itself resonated with him.
"We lived in the suburbs and were sandwiched by nothing but white communities. It was like we were the leftovers: We got what the white communities didn't want to have, we got their spillovers. So we always had to kind of fight this adversity.And it would seem director & lyricist shared an approach. Consider the line "most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps"......
We wanted to just make something that was going to say, "I'm mad as hell, I'm not gonna take it any more – I'm going to fight the system." So that song that the Isley Brothers did, "Fight the Power," resonated, but their version was a little soft. It didn't resonate as deeply as I thought it should."
"That came from the fact that Spike also discussed how there was a wall in the movie with people we respected as heroes on it. So "Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps," was saying, "You know what, we've got heroes on the wall, too."A perfect fit, you may well conclude, yet Flav, the clown prince next to Chuck's politician, was as surprised as anyone by its success let alone his part in it!
"When "Fight the Power" was being created, all I did was just come in, lay down my lyrics and I was out. I didn't know that the record was going to be as big as it turned out to be. I just wanted to make a great record and keep it moving. And next thing you know, this phenomenal record was being played on the radio over and over and over. I'm like, wooow. This is crazy."It's jazzman Branford Marsalis, who also played on it, who perhaps hits the nail on the head cinematically though.
"They had the greatest marketing tool in the world. They had a movie that people were going to see two and three times, that was going to be all over the world and it scared white people half to death — which ensured that it was going to sell."Musically speaking, he would add that,
"It was not a normal chord progression. If it was C minor then it went to A-flat 7. It has the same sensibility as a James Brown tune, which is completely where they got it from. If you listen to when they go, "Fight the Power" and you hear that voice that goes, "Aahh," that voice is not in the same key as the other shit. A musician would never do that."And yet they did do that, & it proved to be the right thing!