Setlist History: Public Enemy Inducted into Rock Hall of Fame

Hip-hop wasn't always as accepted as it is today. Even though it began to peak about a decade after punk, the two American styles shared a lot in common and broke similar boundaries.

Leading the way for rap's entree into mainstream radio and MTV was Def Jam Records, founded by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. Together they helped launch the careers of Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy, all of whom changed the musical landscape of the 1980s.

Each of them, along with Grandmaster Flash, became the first four hip-hop artists to get inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The cover of the program of the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony

So when people call Rick Rubin a genius, he could have stopped his producing in the '80s, and rested on his laurel of producing the first three of four rap outfits who broke through to the Rock Hall.

Rubin and Simmons were in the front row, not far away from Rush, Randy Newman, Tom Morello,and Donna Summer, when Chuck D., Flavor Flav, Terminator X, and S1Ws took the stage to receive their honor.

The Oscar-winning director Spike Lee and then actor/activist Harry Belafonte introduced the New York pioneers who were one of the first artists to inject heavy doses of politics and activism into their rhymes.

Lee told the 7,000 at the Nokia Theater (now The Peacock Theater) in downtown LA how when he was crafting his breakthrough feature film Do The Right Thing how he needed an anthem that would not only epitomize the love and hate elements of the heated film, but would become the song of the summer.

"I called Chuck up, said 'Chuck, I need an anthem,' Lee said, dressed in a the pizza boy costume he wore in the film where he starred as Mookie. "We knew the song was coming out in the summer of 1989, and in the summertime there’s always one song in New York that if it’s a hit, you can hear it everywhere – on the subway, cars, in front of people’s houses. I wanted this song to be an anthem that could express what young Black Americans are feeling at this time."

Lee explained how when he got the first attempt at the anthem, he told the baritone rapper he needed to try again.

"I said, 'Chuck, you gotta go back into the woodshed. He came back with an anthem, 'Fight the Power.' Fight the powers that be."

The song was rough, tough, and took no prisoners. It called John Wayne a racist, it said "Elvis was a hero to most but he didn't mean shit to me," and it even gave the stink eye to Bobby McFerrin's giddy "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

Some movie theme songs are played in the film once... maybe twice. Spike used it in the opening credits, at the end, and 13 other times throughout the film.

VH1 named it the greatest hip-hop song, AFI ranked it #40 out of the 100 best songs in American cinema, and in 2021 Rolling Stone ranked it as the #2 greatest song in music history right behind Aretha's "Respect."

Spike got his anthem.

Public Enemy Fear of a Black Planet, just their third studio album, dropped the following summer which not only contained "Fight The Power," but also "Welcome to the Terrordome," "Burn Hollywood Burn," and the Flavor Flav classic "911 Is a Joke."

The album quickly went platinum, making it the 24th rap record to sell over a million copies, according to Hip Hop database, and the second by the Long Island natives.

At their induction that was also attended by Oprah, Dave Grohl, and Chris Cornell, PE performed "911 Is A Joke," "Fight The Power," and their crossover hit "Bring The Noise."

While some make wince at rappers being honored in the Rock Hall, Chuck D told the audience it shouldn't be shocking since both rock and hip-hop are rooted in the blues.

Starting their set with "Bring the Noise," was genius since it showed how rock and rap and thrash can blend together beautifully.

Public Enemy have no shows lined up at this time, but Chuck narrated a fascinating 5-part audio experience about the birth of hip-hop in the Boogie Down Bronx.

It's available for free for Audible subscribers.

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