And yet another Public Enemy hip-hop classic, Fear Of A Black Planet

Public Enemy (

Public Enemy

Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was simple and plain
Motherfuck him and John Wayne
Cause I’m Black and I’m proud, I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped
Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps

Fight The Power


In the late 1980’s Public Enemy was the most important rap group in the world. In 1988 the group had released its first masterpiece, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, which was followed by the highly influential single Fight The Power in the summer of 1989. Surrounded by accusations of anti-Semitism and homophobia, masterpiece 2 was released on April 10th, 1990: Fear Of A Black Planet.

En route to Fear Of A Black Planet

Logo Public Enemy (

Logo Public Enemy

Following It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back‘s release Public Enemy was in the public eye. The album still stands as a hip hop classic and was hugely successful. The album also played a big part in the acceptance of hip hop as a viable artistic art form and was (definite) proof that rap and hip hop were more than just a temporary hype.

Their message though, wasn’t embraced everywhere, particularly white America was shocked. Reverted racism it was called, and the group’s affiliation with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was frowned upon (to put it mildly). When Public Enemy member Professor Griff made some heavy anti-Semitic remarks during an interview with The Washington Times in early 1989, the press jumped at the occasion and the group was attacked from every angle, accusing them of racism, homophobia and sexism. Chuck D’s lamenting reaction to the controversy further escalated the case. Professor Griff was fired, and re-hired, Public Enemy was disbanded and then it wasn’t. Anyway, Professor Griff is still named as a group member on the next album.

Public Enemy - Fight The Power - Video (

Public Enemy – Fight The Power – Video

Do The Right Thing

In 1989 the Spike Lee movie Do The Right Thing was released. As memorized in the story on It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Public Enemy (‘s music) played a pig part. The song Fight The Power pops up on many places in the movie, also instrumentally. When the single was released in July 1989, it was a true revelation. It was a huge success and it is still the one song the group is remembered for. It also brought some peace around the Public Enemy name in the press.

Click on a page to enlarge.

Advertising campaign

Still, the record company was thinking big, really big. A lot of time and effort went into advertising, interviews and informational campaigning. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back‘s success was to be equaled at the very least. All the stars were aligned for Fear Of A Black Planet becoming a mega success.

Fear Of A Black Planet

Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet (

Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet

Fear Of A Black Planet is the third studio album by Public Enemy and was released on April 10th, 1990 by Def Jam Recordings and Columbia Records.

As could be expected the 1989 controversy is featured in several songs. The album was made at a time that the ‘copyright’ on samples hadn’t been legislated yet. Just like on It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back that resulted in a highly creative use of samples. Production team The Bomb Squad was known for its very innovative and original use of samples, but on Fear Of A Black Planet they reached new heights. The aggression of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back has been replaced by musical diamonds and a heavily funk influenced album.


Fear Of A Black Planet was recorded from June to October 1989 at Greene St. Recording in New York City, The Music Palace in West Hempstead and Spectrum City Studios in Hempstead. This album was also produced by The Bomb Squad, the team that would grow out to be my favorite hip hop production team. Sound wise, the intention was to build upon and expand on It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.

We wanted to create a new sound out of the assemblage of sounds that made us have our own identity. Especially in our first five years, we knew that we were making records that will stand the test of time. When we made It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back we were shooting to make What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye and when we made Fear of a Black Planet I was shooting for Sgt. Pepper’s.

Chuck D
© 2011, Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling door Kembrew McLeod en Peter DiCola

AKAI S900 sampler (

AKAI S900 sampler

Because every member of The Bomb Squad came from a different background and had a different part to play, everyone contributed something different. Hundreds, thousands albums were listened to, using only a small percentage as a source for the new Public Enemy album. Just like the recording of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back the SP-1200 sampler by E-mu Systems was used, this time complemented with the Akai S900 sampler and a Macintosh computer.

In an interview with Keyboard magazine in 1990 Shocklee stated:

We approach every record like it was a painting. Sometimes, on the sound sheet, we have to have a separate sheet just to list the samples for each track. We used about 150, maybe 200 samples on Fear of a Black Planet.

E-mu Systems SP 1200 sampler (

E-mu Systems SP 1200 sampler

Public Enemy’s mode of operation was innovative and exciting. The wall of sound created by layering the samples was so unique that Fear Of A Black Planet stands as a singular piece of art and album, that has never been equaled since.

Despite the fact that the recordings for the album were already done in October 1989 (by which date the album was planned to be released), it took 6 more months for the album to be released. The external pressure the group encountered was felt internally as well (and fought over to an extent). Professor Griff was angry at everyone, Flavor Flav was a free spirit that wasn’t to be contained. The Bomb Squad wanted to continue on their own, but saw their ambitions being stifled by the ludicrous quotes by Professor Griff and the slow/inconsistent reaction of Chuck D. But within The Bomb Squad things weren’t that great either. So, it wasn’t the best of times.


A 15 page pamphlet by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing titled The Cress Theory of Color – Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy) played the role of inspiration for the album. A controversial text, which was sent along with promotional copies of the new album to reviewers.

In March 1990 a Chuck D interview was published in which he talked about the merits of the album and the thought that went into making it.

The whole concept is that there is no such thing as black and white. The world is full of different complexions. The difference between black and white is set up by people who want to remain in power. This black and white thing is a belief structure, not a physical reality. There is nobody on this planet who is 100 percent black or 100 percent white. This is not news to black people – black people know they’re mixed. The only reason that Public Enemy promote Afrocentricity and Back to Black is that we live under a structure that promotes whites. At the moment, we got to hold onto our blackness out of self-defense. The bottom line is that white comes from black – the Asiatic Black man – and Africa isn’t the third world but the first world, the cradle of civilization.

SPIN magazine, March 1990

Many of the songs deal with racism and use sound snippets that are (in)directly connected with it.

The song Incident At 66.6 FM contains recordings of a radio interview with Chuck D prior to a Public Enemy show. Remarks like “And when I see somebody who’s wearing one of their shirts I think that they’re scum too”, “Why do you even pay homage to these people by putting these monkeys on?” and “Go back to Africa?” clearly demonstrated the controversy surrounding the group. By the way, support for the group was just as palpable.

911 Is A Joke was a title Chuck D gave to Flavor Flav with the assignment to do something with it. It did take some time (almost an entire year), but Flavor did return with lyrics. Combined with one the most funky pieces of music Public Enemy ever recorded, 911 Is A Joke was a huge success ánd hit.

Welcome To The Terrordome was written in the period Chuck D had to deal with all the internal and external pressure (partly because of the Professor Griff situation): “I got so much trouble on my mind, I refuse to lose. Here’s your ticket, here the drummer get wicked.”. According to Chuck D the song announced the start of the 1990’s. Now’s the time to do things right.

Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet - Poster (

Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet – Poster

Other subjects like AIDS (Meet The G That Killed Me, inter racial relationships (Pollywannacracka), the treatment of blacks by police, government (Anti-Nigger Machine), abuse of religion (War At 33⅓) and pronouncing the new rejuvenated p-funk: “The P-E-F-U-N and the K will stay” (Reggie Jax).

The bitter charge against Hollywood, the corporate film industry and the way it portrayed blacks in (mainstream) movies, Burn Hollywood Burn, was created by coincidence. Big Daddy Kane, who had wanted to work with Public Enemy for quite some time, and Ice Cube, who desperately wanted The Bomb Squad to produce his debut album, were in the studio. Just the title was there. Within a short time an entire song was created organically.

Chuck D himself thinks that Who Stole The Soul? is one the most important songs Public Enemy ever recorded. It essentially talks about the struggle between rich and poor, black and white and (ultimately) society and individual.

But the black community isn’t spared either: in Revolutionary Generation the hope is ventilated that the next generation will be able to show respect to its women and is able to build a future together.

Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet - The singles (

Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet – The singles


Five singles were culled from the album:

  • Fight The Power
    (released on July 4th, 1989)
  • Welcome To The Terrordome
    (released in January 1990)
  • 911 Is A Joke
    (released in April 1990)
  • Brothers Gonna Work It Out
    (released in June 1990)
  • Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man
    (released in October 1990)


All music and lyrics written by Carl Ridenhour aka Chuck D, Eric Sadler and Keith Shocklee, unless stated otherwise.

Public Enemy - Burn Hollywood Burn - Lyrics - Newspaper clipping (

Public Enemy – Burn Hollywood Burn – Lyrics – Newspaper clipping

  • Contract On The World Love Jam
  • Brothers Gonna Work It Out
  • 911 Is A Joke (William Drayton aka Flavor Flav, Eric Sadler, Keith Shocklee)
  • Incident At 66.6 FM
  • Welcome To The Terrordome
  • Meet The G That Killed Me
  • Pollywanacraka
  • Anti-Nigger Machine
  • Burn Hollywood Burn (feat. Ice Cube & Big Daddy Kane) (O’Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube, Antonio Hardy aka Big Daddy Kane, Carl Ridenhour aka Chuck D, Eric Sadler, Keith Shocklee)
  • Power To The People
  • Who Stole The Soul?
  • Fear Of A Black Planet
  • Revolutionary Generation
  • Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man
  • Reggie Jax
  • Leave This Off Your Fuckin’ Charts (Norman Rogers)
  • B Side Wins Again
  • War At 33⅓
  • Final Count Of The Collision Between Us And The Damned
  • Fight The Power


Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet - Poster (

Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet – Poster

  • Agent Attitude – performer
  • Big Daddy Kane – rapper
  • The Bomb Squad – producer
  • Brother James I – performer
  • Brother Mike – performer
  • Chuck D – producer, rapper
  • Flavor Flav – rapper
  • Ice Cube – rapper
  • James Bomb – performer
  • Branford Marsalis – saxofoon
  • Professor Griff – rapper
  • Terminator X – scratching
  • Wizard K-Jee – scratching


The first new sign of life since the summer hit of 1989, Fight The Power, was the release of the single Welcome To The Terrordome. Once again the shit hit the fan. According to Jewish representatives in New York, the phrase “Crucifixion ain’t no fiction / So-called chosen frozen / Apology made to whoever pleases / Still they got me like Jesus” was the affirmation that Professor Griff’s remarks weren’t coincidental, but were the product of the group’s institutionalized anti-Semitism.

But, next to the suspicious sympathy for Louis Farrakhan’s Nation Of Islam, the inspiration behind the album was deemed highly questionable as well.

Los Angeles Times - Logo (

Special Report : Public Enemy and a Psychiatrist’s Theory of Race : Review copies of ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ contain her 15-page booklet on white supremacy

APRIL 29, 1990

Public Enemy is being put on the hot seat again.

The controversial rap group made headlines last spring when its Minister of Information, Professor Griff, declared that Jews were responsible for “the majority of wickedness” in the world. (Griff later backed away from the statement and has since left the group.)

* In January, the band released a new single, “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which prompted more uproar over lyric references to crucifixion and “so-called chosen” people that were decried as anti-Semitic by Jewish leaders. (The band’s chieftain, Chuck D, insists the lyrics referred to his treatment by the media.)

Now the band has become embroiled in another flap. When key pop critics around the country received “review” copies of the band’s new album, “Fear of a Black Planet,” which is distributed by Columbia Records, they were also sent a 15-page booklet titled “The Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy).”

The booklet, written by Dr. Frances L. Cress Welsing, a Washington-based psychiatrist, “should be seen as some of the inspiration for ‘Fear of a Black Planet,’ ” said Harry Allen, the group’s Director of Enemy Relations.

That’s what bothers some critics, who were shocked by the booklet’s unusual theories about white supremacy. “It’s understandable to be frustrated and infuriated by racism,” said Entertainment Weekly music critic Greg Sandow, who referred to the booklet in his column as “a miserable new chapter” in the Public Enemy story. “But this explanation is really loony. It’s crackpot and offensive. You don’t know whether to laugh or weep.”

New York Daily News pop music writer David Hinckley, who said he’s writing a column about the booklet, added: “This will probably cause another controversy. And I’m not at all sure, from my dealings with the group, that they wouldn’t welcome it.”

Reviewing the album earlier this month, Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn described “Fear of a Black Planet” as a work of “confrontational social commentary” whose title track “questions the integrity of a nation where, as Chuck D. maintains, black blood is considered impure.”

Welsing’s booklet couches this theory in more academic terms. She holds that racism resulted after “white or color-deficient Europeans responded psychologically with a profound sense of numerical inadequacy and color inferiority upon their confrontations with the massive majority of the world’s people, all of whom possessed varying degrees of color producing capacity.”

Among its other arguments:

  • “That whites do indeed desire to have colored skin can be seen by anyone at the very first signs of spring or summer when they begin to strip off their clothes . . . in an attempt to add some color to their white, pale, colorless bodies.”
  • “Whites desire sexual alliances with the ‘non-whites,’ both male and female, because it is only through this route that whites can achieve the illusion of producing color.”
  • “The body area attacked during most lynchings of black males by white males is the area of the genitals where the powerful color-producing genetic material is stored.”

Welsing, who is celebrated as one of 36 “Legends in Our Time” in the currentissue of Essence magazine, says her theory of pigment envy is the foundation of her general and child psychiatry practice. She has never met Public Enemy. “I’d never heard of them–I’m not a big expert on popular culture,” she said. “But I’ve talked to Harry Allen, who said the band had apparently heard some of the tapes of my lectures.”

Frances Cress Welting - The Cress Theory Of Color - Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy) (

Frances Cress Welting – The Cress Theory Of Color – Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy)

Welsing’s Color-Confrontation theory was first published in 1970 when she was an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Howard University. She says she was subsequently denied tenure. “It was definitely because of my political theories. I spoke with the head of the medical school who told me he felt my ideas did not make sense.”

While Welsing is delighted that Public Enemy is spreading her message, she didn’t appear surprised that some critics–in particular white critics–found the theory outlandish.

“I define racism as a global system of behavior that exists for the purpose of white genetic survival. I understand that my theory is disturbing. But science can be disturbing. If you don’t like the truth, you kill the person who speaks it. But it’s still the truth.

“If you saw the recent cover story in Time magazine (“America’s Changing Color: What Will the U.S. Be Like When Whites Are No Longer the Majority”) you’d see my point. That was an alarm. The white people writing those stories have a real fear of genetic annihilation.”

However some critics contend that by saying racism has a genetic origin, Welsing brands all whites as racist. Not so, she says.

“I’m saying that white people must first acknowledge that something awful has been going on, just as the Germans would have to accept responsibility for what they did in the Holocaust. Unfortunately, in white America, there’s a denial among 99% of the people that anything has happened.

“If they read my book, they would see I’m asking white people to respect themselves. Because if they respect themselves, they would respect others and get along with the other people on this planet instead of killing them off.”

Allen said Wesling’s booklet was sent out with “total input” from Chuck D: “He knows everything I do.” However, the Public Enemy leader refused to comment on the booklet. CBS Records corporate publicity chief Bob Altschuler had no comment, saying he had not seen the booklet. The band’s manager, Russell Simmons, responded: “They just read it to me–I didn’t see anything that shocked me.”

Asked if the controversial topic didn’t raise a warning signal, he replied: ” Everything they do raises warning signals. But I don’t get involved in everything they do.”

Allen defended the booklet, saying, “We drop bombs. And we don’t make any of this stuff up. We consider Dr. Welsing an important voice because of her standing in the African community, the intellectual level of her study and its lack of deference to white standards.”

Told that some critics found Welsing’s theories outlandish and crackpot, Allen replied: “Is it more outlandish or crackpot than white supremacy? Or flipping through the TV and seeing white people every time? Or seeing white faces on every magazine cover? Or walking through Harlem and seeing poor black people for miles and miles?”

Still, the early reviews aren’t very positive. “I’ve always liked the band,” Sandow said. “But if they believe they’re part of a political struggle in this country, I can’t see how writing off all white people is going to help them.”

The Bomb Squad 1990 (

The Bomb Squad 1990


One of the consequences of the release of Fear Of A Black Planet was that lawsuit after lawsuit was filed against Public Enemy because of copyrights of the samples used on the album. The group was acquitted, due to the lack of sufficient legislation regarding the matter. It didn’t take long for legislation to materialize. The Bomb Squad was hit hard by it, because their music was almost entirely based on samples, even though the sounds were almost unrecognizable and didn’t resemble the original music and or sounds by the initial performers.

That legislation was badly needed, is something that can’t be denied. The originality Public Enemy portrayed wasn’t the standard by any means. Many just used a song to rap over it. So, of course copyrights are in place. Unfortunately, it also meant the end of the unique collages of sound made by The Bomb Squad.

In fact, if Fear Of A Black Planet, a million seller, was released today selling the same amount, Public Enemy would be left with a 5 Million dollar debt!

Public Enemy 1990 (

Public Enemy 1990

Status Fear Of A Black Planet

Just like It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Fear Of A Black Planet is regarded as a hip hop classic. A dizzying album, that challenges listeners even nowadays, for the questions it asks and raises.

And it was a commercial hit and still is the best sold Public Enemy album. In 2005 the Library Of Congress added Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet to the National Recording Registry.

And next

Public Enemy - Apocalypse 91 The Enemy Strikes Black (

Following the release of Fear Of A Black Planet Public Enemy went on tour. In 1990 Ice Cube’s debut album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, a production by The Bomb Squad, would put Fear Of A Black Planet to the background. The rise of gangsta-rap led to less attention to the message of Public Enemy, which was confrontational, to the black communities as well. None of the Public Enemy albums that followed, would ever match the sales of Fear Of A Black Planet, not even the successor, the sublime Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black.

In closing

What’s your take on Fear Of A Black Planet? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: And yet another Public Enemy hip-hop classic, Fear Of A Black Planet. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

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