Public Enemy's 'Fear Of A Black Planet' Track-By-Track
Public Enemy's Chuck D. tells the story behind the songs on 1990's smash 'Fear of a Black Planet.' Read, listen and learn. Excerpted from Chuck D's "Lyrics Of A Rap Revolutionary." Used with Permission of the Author.
"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. One person called and said, "I don't believe these guys you have on your show. I seen them with the Beastie Boys, a couple of people were wearing their shirts and I think they're scum.' Another person called up and said, "Yeah, PE in full effect.' All that was real. Another person called up and said, "Why they hell do you have these monkeys on?' Another person called up, "Terminator X.' So it was people routing for us and people routing against us. I took that and pieced it together and made a whole song about it which led into "Welcome to the Terrordome.'
When we dropped "911 Is A Joke' we were already overseas. We had left to go over to Europe in March, so the song was being debuted while we were in Europe. In Europe they were like, "9-11 is a joke?' The didn't know what 911 was. So we explained to people that 911 is the emergency system and how it doesn't come to black neighborhoods on time, they'll be delayed or get there whenever they get there. They would prefer a white neighborhood and will get there quick. They ignore us.
"911 Is A Joke' was a title I wrote down in the beginning of 1989 and gave to Flavor and said, "Here I want you to write this song. Here's the title, '911 Is A Joke,' write a story about 9-1-1.' It took a year, but Flavor was saying he had a personal incident that he could relate that to. At the end of the year when it was time for him to record he was ready. Keith had the track, and it was the funkiest track I heard. It reminded me of uptempo Parliament Funkadelic. Myself and Eric added the hooks and the arrangement to it. It only had two verses. We brought in a couple of Flavor's friends from Freeport to do background vocals to give it that real back-in-the-projects feel.
There was so much drama in September and October of that year for me that I took my Bronco and one Friday night I drove to Allentown, Pennsylvania. I wrote that jam driving out to Allentown, stayed out there, and then drove back the next morning and finished writing "Welcome to the Terrordome.' I came back and we cut it in Greene Street. I just let all the drama come out of me. "I got so much trouble on my mind, I refuse to lose. Here's your ticket, here the drummer get wicked.' That was some true stuff. I just dropped everything I was feeling.
"Welcome to the Terrordome,' what does it mean? It means the 1990's are coming, if we as a people do the right thing we'll be all right, if we do the wrong thing the black situation is out of here at the end of the decade. The terrordome is the 1990's. I got it from this article called "Welcome to the Terrordrome' that was in Melody Maker magazine. I just changed it to Terrordome, the house of the 90's.
"Meet the G that Killed Me' was an experimental jam. The whole jam was only a minute long. The 'G' could have been a girl, a guy, a germ, the government. It was about how AIDS was transferred. We were questioning whether AIDS is a man-made disease. It starts out with a sample of Dr. Francis Cress Welsing. Flavor brings his girl to a gig, but she already gave him the germ, and he was like, "What's up y'all, meet the G that killed me.' He was gone, he was dead, it's over, there's no cure for this disease. The release of these lyrics occurred in an atmosphere about a year before Magic Johnson's admission of contracting HIV.
"Pollywannacracka' talks about race preference and how a lot of brothers will get a white girl based on what they think a white girl could offer, not on love. The same thing with sisters dissing brothers and talking to a white boy because he has some ends. The record was a little controversial in itself. This was written in 1990, where the mainstream still had cultural apartheid going on, and hip-hop was mashing young people into each other. Vanilla Ice, 3rd Bass and six years of the Beasties had broken a lot of ice and MTV couldn't stop the black faces from entering white towns and living rooms with rap. Thus the concept of race and love were issued in discussion and ushered in through the back door of rap.
The police system, the government, the law is an anti-ni**er machine. We as a people have to be able to control our own education, economics and enforcement. As long as the police have to come in our neighborhoods to protect and serve, we have to know that when they come to protect and serve they're coming to protect and serve the property owners. black people in America own very little property, so they come into our neighborhoods with authority over black people. They treat us like ni**ers. Actually the cops are at the bottom rung of the scale. They carry out the orders from above.
We had been big fans of Kane, and we also had been tour buddies a couple of times. Kane was saying for years, "when are we going to do that record.' Once again I jumped the gun and was doing this article and I said, "Me and Big Daddy Kane are going to get together and do this record called "Burn Hollywood Burn.' I hadn't written the jam, I didn't have a track, I just went off the top of my head.
Finally when it came time to do it I had my topic ready, which was basically talking about the messed up side of the film industry, which I had studied from all of the pressure that Spike Lee had gotten, and I was pretty much making a knock on Hollywood, because black people have been made to look like fools and buffoons through that form of mass media through the early parts of the 1900's, and how it's controlled by everybody else but us. That was my angle on it.
I invited Kane down and he came to the studio and wrote his part in like 20 minutes. Ice Cube happened to be in the studio sitting on the couch. So he asked, "Yo, can I be down?' Kane and I looked at him like, "Come on, f- it.'
Eric Sadler had this uptempo track, it almost sounded like Miami based music, and we decided to put something different together. I still like the cut because it had a scratch through it. The thing I envisioned when we made that song was South Africa, and if I ever did a video for that song I was going to make it in South Africa with South African people jumping up and down saying, "Power to the people." We never shot a video on it, but that vibe was fast, strong and more diverse.
"Who Stole the Soul?" is one of our most meaningful performance records. We talk about reparations. Whoever stole the soul stole us from our proper place and has to pay up. Whoever stole the soul has to pay the price. The song continues to be a question and mystery, with a whole lot of people ducking the issue of historical involvement. Now the reparation issues of other people are being handled by Germany and some
other countries, and the USA still is shady regarding this big payback.
We had been to a lot of places on the planet and we had seen similar stories of oppression and similar stories of the rich trying to beat down the poor. Our philosophy is that black people suffer from white supremacy because we're easily identifiable, therefore we've been used as the easiest pawns in the game. But there's also other pawns in the game. In places where they don't have black people, they find a way to make people the scapegoat based on their religious or cultural differences, so that the rich can get richer and the poor can get poorer. No matter if it's capitalism or communism. Capitalism is where you have the rich, and then you have the poor who have an opportunity to get rich, but it's going to be a long, hard road. Very few of the poor will get rich. So they're both govermnental tricks, big corporate governmental tricks. And governments, to me, have proven to be a cancer of civilization. They use them to trick the majority of the people, so we say fight the power.
A lot of people were saying that we were misogynist and talked about women in a derogatory way. This record kind of cleared all that bullsh*t up. "Revolutionary Generation" was saying the next generation will be that of change where we uphold and respect our women and go forward with her. It was a different uptempo dance/housey type of track. I had been on record as saying, "F- house, I hate house.' So my thing was to make that housey type of track with even more of a B-Boy feel to it. It's a record that seems improbable
today in hip-hop.
I wrote "War At 331/3' on a Greyhound bus trip from Erie, Pennsylvania to Cleveland, Ohio. Then I caught the Greyhound bus from Cleveland to Dayton. My whole thing was to show my skills on how fast I could rap and how hectic I could get on a record. "War At 331/3" questioned the thrust of religion upon us without getting to the most basic fact of the matter - respecting your fellow man and respecting the planet. I was calling fake
preachers 'evangelical hustlers'. God didn't hand out religion like a card game. There's still one religion on this planet, but man has taken religion and used it for his own tool.
"Fight the Power" was a record that was done by the Isley Brothers back in 1970-'71 and it was a record I heard as a child. The record was startlingly powerful to me because it was the first record that I ever heard use a curse word. Rap makes up for it's lack of melody with it's sense of reminders. So we did our own version of "Fight the Power.' As a matter of fact when we completed the version I heard that the Isley Brothers' publishing company was looking for samples the first day, but we didn't use any samples from the original song or hardly any reminders from the original song.
What more can I say? If "Bring the Noise' signified our rock and rap musical signature, no question this song reflects the heart, soul, spirit, and comittment of Public Enemy wrapped in one toss. Spike Lee, of course, was a giant genius for adding the visual effect to the lyrics. It's the video that repeatedly gets played over and over across the years, so therefore the song goes along with it.