PUBLIC ENEMY feat. Branford Marsalis / “Powersaxx”

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7 Responses to “PUBLIC ENEMY feat. Branford Marsalis / “Powersaxx””

Nadir L. Bomani Says:
August 14th, 2005 at 1:50 am

Fight the Power was a major statement in 89. Spike Lee had shot the video for this summer sizzler in Bed Stuy (do or die) Brooklyn. A rally ensued and there were some actual discourse about nation building (imagine that). You can hear snippets of the Branford version towards the end of that classic video.

It was ingenious to have Flava Flav (the resident coon/jester) say “muthafuck him (elvis) and john wayne" in reference to our heroes not appearing on stamps, instead of the group leader/activist Chuck D. This showed that every Blackman was on board to fight the system.

I remember how hot it was that summer, and how hype we were in the theatre every time “radio raheem” came on the scene with the boom box blasting Fight The Power.

As a fan of hip hop, I would be remised if I didn’t point out this fact:
Fight the Power was the final public enemy song produced by the bomb squad (hank shocklee left the group before “fear of a black planet’ was recorded). After his departure, their sound was never the same. No songs, post fight the power, came close to the bar that was set by PE during spike lee’s best movie (four little girls was a documentary), or any cut on “It takes a nation on millions to hold us back” (PE’s classic 2nd album).


Mtume says:                                                       

Gotta disagree with you Nadir. "By The Time I Get To Arizona." "Can’t Truss It." "Hazy Shade Of Criminal." "Live & Undrugged" (especially Part 2). All of these cuts were done post-"Fight The Power" and are at least the equal of anything P.E. on their first two albums. IMO, 1990’s-era P.E. is vastly underrated.

ekere Says:
August 14th, 2005 at 6:14 am

Every time I hear “Fight The Power,” I am pulled back to late eighties NYC and my political awakening. Around that time, I remember going to my first rally on the steps of a courthouse in Brooklyn where Joseph Fama was being tried for the murder of Yusef Hawkins. I had read Malcolm’s autobiography and the world was looking different to me. “Fight The Power” embodied many things I felt at that time.

Public Enemy is AMAZING because they conjure a mood, they never let you chill with blindfolded eyes. Yes, “By the Time I get To Arizona” and “Can’t Truss It” –and the videos–were VERY powerful. Two years ago I saw PE in London and I am telling you, I left that theater with chills, I was not ready to leave or even have drinks, I was ready to get in the trenches. They did this joint called “What Good Is A Bomb”–whew.

A few years ago, a friend and I talked about how the hip-hop in the late eighties and early nineties used to send us to the library; hell, it even made us reconsider our diets (Beef by KRS) :) . Mtume, I think you wrote about this period in hip hop last week and said it didn’t do much for you, but something tells me that you were already very aware; for me that musical period coincided with an awakening . “Fight The Power” is defintely THE rally cry Anyway, I wish hip-hop still moved me like “Fight The Power” does.

Mtume says:                                                      

Wow. There aren’t too many things I read or hear that cause me to COMPLETELY reevaluate things, but one line Ekere wrote definitely did that. He She (sorry) said: "You wrote about this period in hip hop last week and said it didn’t do much for you, but something tells me that you were already very aware; for me that musical period coincided with an awakening."

There is a lot, a whole lot, of truth in that. I guess so much time has passed since then, that I’ve forgotten what it meant to people—especially young Black people—to see those images (firehoses, lynchings, bombings) and hear those things (X, King, Davis, Chesimard/Shakur, etc.) for the first time. I grew up seeing and hearing those images. There was a book in our house of first-hand accounts from the days of slavery. By the time we kids (there were five of us) were eight or nine years old, we’d all read it cover to cover. And not because we ‘had’ to, we read it just because it was on our bookshelf. We had no TV—we actually read for fun. Hell, WE HAD A BOOKSHELF!!! I just realized what I wrote. How many children grow up with a frickin’ bookshelf—not a collection of kiddie books, but honest to goodness, politically-charged, factually-accurate books—in their rooms? (Well, not always factually accurate. Remember the comic-book-style histories of the adventures of Mao’s army, Baba? All the heroes were women who were big and strong and young and gorgeous and unafraid, striding their fine-ass, fearless selves into the glorious, perfect future-to-be with an automatic rifle in their hands and a baby strapped on their backs. What was that all about? Talk about propaganda. I should sue. emoticon)

But on the serious tip, Malcolm X has been a hero figure for me for as long as my memory extends back. (Since at least five, six years old.) I was 21 years old when Spike Lee’s X came out and I already knew the story so well (The Autobiograpy of Malcolm X) that I got aggravated every time the movie deviated from the book. (Which was very often—particularly in the first third or so.) On the walls in our family home there were paintings and photographs of the same political figures who would eventually find their way onto the album jackets of my 12" singles. We had a Black Liberation flag (red, black & green for those not in the know) in the house. We had a map of Africa (with countries and capitol cities listed) in the house.

Last night, I saw Four Brothers (it’s worth seeing by the way, just keep in mind that it’s a movie, not a film; meaning, it wants to entertain you, not teach you/move you/hurt you/help you, etc.), and I couldn’t believe the number of children in there. The movie is rated R for all the reasons movies should be rated R and by ‘children’ I don’t mean twelve- and thirteen-year-olds (although the movie is clearly inappropriate for them too), I’m talking about two- and three-year-olds. At first I wrote it off as a generational thing ("Man, these young people today need help") but as the closing credits rolled, my sister Asante (‘Thank you, Peace’ in Swahili) and my Mama, Tayari (‘Always prepared for Peace’—dig the names, y’all), and I, sat there amazed (well, I was amazed—they were like, "You need to get out more") as we watched a pair of sixty-somethings walk out holding the hands of a little girl who couldn’t have been more than three years old. About half the audience was white, but all of the kids I saw in there were Black. Which reminds me of a Raphael Saadiq song, "Grown Folks," that I need to post one of these days. The chorus—"Lord, help these grown folks / They need more help than the children do"—is true like a motherfucker. How do you think the children got that way? They’re not raising themselves. Well, actually, they are—which is exactly the fucking problem. Those grandparents I saw last night need one of my Baba’s classic ass whippings (which entailed severe pain followed by a candle-lit, one-on-one dinner date to discuss why your ass was hurting so much in the first place). In less than two hours, their poor little grand-daughter had seen and heard more sex, violence, profanity and negative images of Black folk than I saw and heard during my entire childhood. (By the way, I’m joking about the whipping thing. There never were any candles.)

Anyway, y’all can tell how hard Ekere’s line hit me. (Wait, hold on. "There never were any candles." Oh, that’s good. Wait ’til my Baba reads that part. I probably just won’t answer the phone. emoticon) When I evaluate an issue, I try to leave my personal opinion out of it (as ridiculous as that sounds—and yes, I’m aware that it’s impossible to actually do so) and simply ‘go with the facts.’ Well, the facts in this case are that the political era in hip-hop was very, very meaningful to a great number of young people. I forget that. It was the first time some of my young people ever heard X or King speak. I forget that. It was the first time they ever saw images of the slave ships or the cotton fields or the fire hoses. I forget that. It was the first time they ever felt strong and beautiful because of, as opposed to ‘in spite of’ (or as opposed to ‘at all’) their dark skin, wide features and nappy hair. I grew up singing songs with lyrics like, "Look at [name] she/he’s Black and beautiful!" For us, that was a nursery rhyme (and I’m not kidding). So, again, I forget.

I could go on (and on and on and on) but I’m going to stop now. Just know, Ekere, that I respect what you had to say and I’ll remember it. For me, the messages of the political hip-hop era might’ve been a review; for most, it was probably a baptism. Hip-hop music, baby.


Castro (Jason) Says:
August 15th, 2005 at 5:12 pm


You know what’s bugged out? I had a set of encyclopedias and a rack of Hardy boys books, but my parents had three, count’em, 3 books in the house NOT related to church- a reader’s digest trilogy that included Jaws, Alex Haley’s Roots, and the Autobiography of Malcolm X….I had read excerpts of the first two before I was twelve, and then at thirteen, I finally pulled that tattered book with the angry man wearing glasses pointing off of the coffee table. It was 1984 Bruh and LL Cool J was hard as …HELL.

Needless to say, things changed. Couple my reading of the Autobiography with the appearance of one Rakim Allah and next thing you know, it was on. PE’s ascension of interesting, because when their first album, ‘Yo, Bum Rush The Show’ came out, nobody in my area liked it, me included. I thought Chuck’s voice was dope, but he was trying to experiment with flows that didn’t rhyme, and at that point, that was a no-no in Hip-Hop. But when they dropped ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ as a b-side to the single ‘My Uzi Weighs A Ton’-‘Rebel’ that was when PE took off.

PE, along with BDP were the groups that jump started ‘conscious Rap’, and for those of us who weren’t initiated into a family where liberation struggle was an everyday function, they are extremely important. For the first generation that was brought up in front of the color TV (with cable), having a group that was part of Pop culture ‘in crowd’ provided reinforcement that at least led us to investigate…like who is Joanne Chesimard and why is Chuck supporting her? That kind of thing is why PE carries weight even with Flav bugging out….

AumRa Frezel Says:
August 16th, 2005 at 1:42 pm

This is truly a stolen legacy.

It is an extremely interesting phenomenon how rap music is raising itself while simultaneously defending itself from attackers of both native and foreign origin. I know many claim that rappers are not ‘real’ musicians or how rappers steal others music. Try to avoid this perception. If rap music is a forest then this argument is the thin veneer covering porous walls that small people wish were sound proof. A tree fell and even if you didn’t hear it, if you were down with your roots, you felt the vibrations.

Any sensible person should admire one who has the awareness to carve and hollow-out a tree trunk, stretch a goat’s hide across the top and make a drum. Or what about a person who takes a wooden box, connects a pole and strings cat guts to make a stringed instrument and then uses this to accompany him/herself while singing. This is the same creativity employed by rap. It is both Black and organic. Rap is the sound of life and if this sound concerns you then you must certainly ask yourself why because it is the sound your children use to reflect the world.

Look at the culture and music of the BaBenzele or the BaMbuti people of the Ituri forest as an example: these people (erroneously referred to as pygmies) see themselves as simply another organism, of no more or less importance than any other organism, in the forest. The BaMbuti derive 100% of their sustenance from the forest. They give thanks to the larger organism of the forest as a whole by mimicking and singing in harmony with the sounds of the forest. It is an ecstatic cacophony of harmony, ensemble performance, soloing, call and response and trading verses. It is the sound of their environment. Hello Bomb Squad.

At its best, rap is an inherently gifted descendant reflecting the resourcefulness of African culture while projecting its own unique I AMness across the diaspora. Rap utilizes whatever means necessary to compel you to hear the world. Perhaps the world is changing and your ears have become complacent.

Taking music out of public schools doesn’t necessarily mean you can take away music. It may not sound like what you are used to hearing but most rap is not music in the traditional sense though it is definitely artistic expression. The underlying sound may very well be bombs, gunshots, sirens, shouts, traffic and other ‘urban’ sounds surgically cut into dense, tightly packed grooves of funky drum beats and booming bass lines. This is the soundtrack to life for the majority of Black youth. But rap music is being forced to grow up too fast because the children are being forced to grow up too fast. Not enough time is being spent nurturing our children. Commerce is not allowing the children their childhood. And even though the music may swing, the sound of dissonance is evidence that there’s a lot of shit that ain’t been resolved. We have not shown our children how to resolve the seventh chords of life. Who’s gonna take ‘em to the bridge? Who’s going to show today’s youth how to navigate the channels connecting streams of awareness to oceans of consciousness? Who’s gonna break down the hipness of the 2-5-1 turn around? I’ll tell you who. Nobody, that’s who, because in the age of computers, software, internet and virtual reality it’s not about music in the known sense. (It’s becoming less and less about a human teacher or positive human contact.) Whether real or virtual, it’s more about sound. They weren’t asking Branford to play a D7 or Bbm7. They were asking Branford to play Branford. We’ve been practicing revolution for over four hundred years; let’s get free. Or at least give me the sonic equivalent to how you feel about life, the world. It’s an honest request. But in Branford’s world there is a universe of discipline that has to be mastered before you can attain that freedom. Sun Ra’s Arkestra sounds like the last jazz on earth yet Sun Ra demanded discipline. I imagine one of the reasons Branford thought John Gilmore on Powersax was because Gilmore had spent damn near his whole adult life learning discipline with Sun Ra and the Arkestra and as a result that education delivered freedom to Gilmore and those who heard the urgency of his tenor. For those who don’t know just who John Gilmore is find the recording Sun Ra Live at Montreux and listen to Take The A Train.

But in this case there ain’t no chart because The Bomb Squad doesn’t need their shit to conform to the same old ways. This time the revolution will not be telegraphed by charts. Welcome to the Terrordome; a musical collage of all sounds scored by (orchestrator) turntablist, (accompanist) human beatboxes and (soloist) mc’s, So part of rap’s legacy is that it broke down beats in ways beats ain’t never been broke before. This beat down was a major battle that almost broke the music industry. It just goes to show you that in this power-mad, money-crazed world ain’t shit safe or sacred. Anybody can get got and anybody can get free. Everybody get a damn bookshelf! Know Yourself. Do your thing. Fight the power.


AumRa Frezel Says:
August 16th, 2005 at 4:27 pm

Free Professor Griff Now!

Chris Defendorf Says:
April 8th, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Thanks so much for all this information… I am remaking all the samples that PE usedon Nation& Fear (sound-alikes), and then re-mashing them together to recreate Instrumental versions of those CD’s. Part of the rights to the sounds will be owned by the Zulu Nation, part owned by me, part Public Enemy, and part a tribe in the Amazon Rain Forest called the Schuar.
My dream is to bring these remixes down to the Amazon in the future and teach my friends down there how to remix these tracks. And teach their neighbor tribes how to do the same … I’ve talked to Chuck & Hank & the s1w’s about this , hopefully they can come down and bring the “Flavof all Flavors”.

I really appreciate the scholarship … Powersaxxx is one of my favorite tracks, too!

What’s interesting most to me about Brandford’s sax is that on the chorus, when the track goes to Bb Major (really Bb Major 7th because the original guitar groove has an “A” in it), Brandford makes it into a BbDominant 7th chord… which means during that part he must have heard the chord change to Bb. Otherwise, if hadn’t played the Ab in the Bb7 chord, he could have played the same Dminor (really dorian, I think) mode/scale over the chorus and it would have worked. Obviously I’m speaking from a strictly technical sense, since the Blues notes he puts into the chorus part show that he heard it as a BbDominant (NOT Major) 7th chord. ie it’s rare for a musician to play blues notes over a major 7th chord.

Anyway, I have pictures of me with Hank, Chuck, and Rod Hui (inventor of the 808 boom) on my page.

I will have info up on this year.

Please send me an email if you’d like to hear some dubby versions I made of the “Fight the Power ” track. I remade the Funkadelic “You’ll like it too” beat , “Hot Pants Road” drums, guitar & bass line, “FunkyDrummer” beat, “Let a Woman Be a Woman and a Man be a aMan” beat, as well as all the other little sounds that make up the basic part of the “Fight the Power” groove. Then I added analog echo effects to the mix and dubbed it out into 2 mixes, each around 10 minutes long…

email me at for some sounds!

peace. i haven’t read everything that’s been written, but I’m psyched that all of you are writing about this one song…

Fight the Power,
Peace, Unity, Love, and Having Fun,
Chris Defendorf
True School
aka DJ Chris Def
aka Raspberry
aka As8auQaa (pronounced Ahh-Sahh-Haaaa)

young ice Says:
April 17th, 2006 at 2:04 pm

yo public enemy is sick i wish they were back but there legends now so respect i love the song fight the power respect shout out to public enemy number 1.

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