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Happy Birthday: Public Enemy’s ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ is 20

‘Fear of a Black Planet,’ the third hyper-political album from Public Enemy, is now 20 years old. The record’s most famous single is ‘Fight the Power,’ which was heavily intertwined with Spike Lee‘s classic ‘Do the Right Thing‘ and first released on the film’s soundtrack in 1989. Also renowned for yet another progression in production (which is really saying something as it followed 1988′s ‘It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold us Back’), ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ reportedly sold a million copies in its first week while peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard 200.

“Chuck D had this concept for the cover of ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ — the idea was to have two planets eclipsing: the Public Enemy planet and the Earth,” Cey Adams, creative director of Def Jam from 1984 to 1999, told Billboard. “It was so interesting to me that a black hip-hop act did an illustration for their album cover. At that time black hip-hop artists, for the most part, had photos of themselves on their covers. But this was the first time someone took a chance to do something in the rock n’ roll vein.”

Chuck D, the group’s defacto leader, knew that he had become a major political spokesperson and it was necessary to keep moving PE’s music, lyrics and imagery forward. He viewed ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ as a way to arm receptive minds with the information necessary to be conscious members of society in the early 1990s. In a recent interview with Yahoo, Chuck explained how 2010 represents a different era from when ‘Fear’ came out.

“You have to try to inform as much as possible even though you might be going through a lot of mass distractions,” Chuck D said. “That was part of the purpose of us doing ‘Fear.’ We knew it was going against the odds. But even though we signified and recognized a movement of people wanting to equip themselves with information to go forward, I think that became the far and the few. The climate we have now may not be as clear as it was in 1990 when you at least had people who said, ‘I know who I am and know where I want to get to.’”

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