The Story Behind The Sample: James Brown inspires Public Enemy
(Credit: Wikimedia)


The Story Behind The Sample: James Brown inspires Public Enemy

Public Enemy is widely considered one of the most overtly political hip-hop groups ever. The collective was the precursor to political commentators such as 2pac and the New York group mobilised African-Americans across the US with their conscious lyrics. Aside from N.W.A. on the West Coast, Public Enemy was one of the only hip-hop acts using their music as a vehicle for social commentary in the 1980s and changed the game.

Comprised of Chuck D, Flava Flav, and Terminator X, the group arose during the horrific crack epidemic of Ronald Reagan’s America. Dedicated to highlighting the vast array of injustices African-Americans faced, the collective’s music called upon the government directly. However, the powers that be often didn’t receive this well. One of the ensemble’s most well-known tracks is ‘Fight The Power’, a simple call to action for young people worldwide to challenge authority.

Released in 1989 for their third full-length studio album, Fear Of A Black Planet, ‘Fight The Power’ peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and has become a hip-hop anthem. Produced by The Bomb Squad, the track features many samples, including civil rights speeches and gospel services. However, the ‘Godfather Of Soul’ James Brown made one of the most prominent samples featured. ‘Fight The Power’ utilises 1974 single ‘Funky President (People It’s Bad).’ 

The ’70s funk track from Brown features in multiple hip-hop hits, N.W.A’s ‘Fuck Tha Police’ and A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Oh My God’. It was released as a single for James Brown’s 39th studio album, Reality. The drums and funky wah-pedal of the track made it particularly appealing to producers, and, akin to other funk and disco tracks, its breakdown was phenomenal. Made with the help of a studio band that included the legendary guitarist Joe Beck, the single was recorded at Sound Ideas Studio on West 46th Street and released by Interscope Records.

The track’s title is a reference to Gerald Ford who had just been inaugarated into the White House at the time of the songs recording. The single’s B-side was ‘Coldblooded.’ The frontman of The Bomb Squad, Hank Shocklee, was a huge James Brown fan and, in an interview with The Find magazine, when he was asked his frequent choice of James Brown samples he replied, “I looked at James Brown as a rapper, I never really looked at him as an R&B singer, and I don’t think that anybody has ever classified James Brown as an R&B singer. I mean he dabbled in what was known as doo-wop when he first started. Crooning vocalist types of songs. To me, he was already doing what was known as rap.”

Directed by Spike Lee, you can watch the iconic music video for ‘Fight The Power Below’ as well as hear ‘Funky President (People It’s Bad).’