Honorable Mentions: N.W.A “Fuck the Police,” De La Soul “Me Myself & I,” EPMD “So Wat Cha Sayin”
Public Enemy put out some of the most socially conscious raps of the genre during a period when the crack era was ravaging low-income areas, in particular their backyard of NYC. But PE’s seminal hit, “Fight the Power,” is not only their magnum opus, and hip-hop’s calling card for 1989, it’s quite possibly the most symbolic song of the entire culture.
Commissioned by Spike Lee for his film Do the Right Thing, Chuck D and the crew came up with the perfect antiestablishment anthem. Containing nearly 20 samples interwoven by the Bomb Squad, the instrumental captures the essences of black music with elements of soul, R&B, rap, jazz, and reggae. It’s all there. Not to mention the epic video, which was an awe-inspiring mini-Million Man March through the streets of New York.
PE's bass player, Brian Hardgroove, summed up the song’s poignant message saying, “Law enforcement is necessary. As a species we haven’t evolved past needing that. 'Fight the Power' is not about fighting authority—it’s not that at all. It’s about fighting abuse of power.” Twenty-six years after its release and we’re still fighting. —C. Vernon Coleman II