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20 Years Later: A Ranking Of Capone-N-Noreaga's Classic Debut 'The War Report'

Listen up. 

New York City's history of producing seminal rap talent and albums is by far the most illustrious, with many of the bodies of work deemed as the greatest of all time having been birthed within the confines of the five boroughs. However, of those five boroughs, Queens boasts arguably the richest legacy of them all, with countless pioneers, game-changers, and crown-holders having called the borough home—among them being rap group Capone N Noreaga. While Run D.M.C., A Tribe Called Quest, and G-Unit may be some of the first names that come to mind when mentioning the greatest rap groups to come out of Queens, Capone N Noreaga have undoubtedly earned the cache to be mentioned in that pantheon when it comes to contributing masterpieces that have managed to stand the test of time and resonate across generations of fans.

First meeting while both were incarcerated at Collins Correctional Facility, Capone and Noreaga would find kindred spirits in one another and form a rap duo, with plans to pursue a career in music following their respective releases. Staying true to their word, Capone and Noreaga would link up with Tragedy Khadafi, a member of the iconic rap collective Juice Crew, who would take the pair under his wing. Recording a demo that would earn the duo a spot in The Source's Unsigned Hype column in 1995, which would lead to a record deal with Penalty Records. The duo would release their debut single, "Illegal Life" in 1996 as they began to craft their debut album, The War Report, but a roadblock would occur in the form of Capone's untimely parole violation during the making of the album.

However, Noreaga and Tragedy would salvage all of Capone's material as they could and complete the album, which arrived on June 17, 1997. Despite lacking a bonafide hit single, The War Report would ride off the strength of its buzz on the streets, peaking at No. 4 on Billboard's Hip Hop/R&B chart and would ultimately be certified Gold by the RIAA. The War Report, like Illmatic, Doe or Die and Reasonable Doubt, which were other debuts whose legacy would exceed their commercial success, would be hailed as an instant classic by rap aficionados, who praised its production, as well as Capone and Noreaga's individual performances. Loaded with quality material that has come to define the era in which it was released, The War Report remains a crown jewel and required listening for any fan of quintessential East Coast hip-hop.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of this masterpiece, VIBE dissects The War Report from top to bottom, ranking the songs on the album from "Worst-To-First." How does your favorite stack up?

16. Drivers Seat
Noreaga is joined by Imam T.H.U.G on "Driver's Seat," a brooding selection that helps get The War Report off to a serviceable start. Produced by Carlos "6 July" Broady & Nashiem Myrick, the boards men employs a sample of "Do the Thing That's Best You" by Willie Hutch, with Nore and Imam professing their loyalty to their comrades, as well as their Queens stomping grounds. "I keep it real wit a n***a keep it real wit me/I cut the hand off a n***a tryin steal from me," the two lyricists rhyme, as they cook up what is ultimately one of the lesser inclusions on Capone N Noreaga's debut in "Driver's Seat." However, having Busta Rhymes lending his frenetic energy at the end of the track is a welcome wrinkle that makes for a favorable consolation, if we must say.

15. Parole Violators
Tragedy Khadafi plays double-duty on "Parole Violators," serving up a sparse soundscape, powered by kicks snares, and an eerie voice sample, as well as turning in a potent stanza that anchors the track. Havoc of Mobb Deep tackles the hook, while Noreaga contributes one of his more underwhelming verses on the album, making Capone's absence more glaring than on most occasions. Despite Tragedy Khadafi's admirable effort, it's ultimately not enough to make "Parole Violators" resulting in it being one of the songs with the least replay value and falters when placed alongside the superior cuts on The War Report.

14. Capone Bone
Marley Marl throws a bone to the Juice Crew offspring by producing "Capone Bone," Capone's sole solo offering on The War Report. Doing his bidding over a samples of "Step into Our Life" by Roy Ayers and D'Angelo's "Cruisin'," Capone turns his attention to the ladies, charming 'em with promises to "Thug you out, take you on tour, to all the weed spots" as he lays his mack down. While Capone would never be appraised as the Casanova type off face value, he certainly fits the bill on "Capone Bone," one of the more slept on ditties from The War Report.

13. Thug Paradise
Produced by Charlemagne "Thug Paradise" was originally a Tragedy Khadafi song featuring Capone N Noreaga, but was tacked onto The War Report's tracklist upon its release. Coming across as more of a rehearsed freestyle routine than a album cut, "Thug Paradise" is a welcome change of pace, as it features one of the more upbeat instrumentals on the album, which the three MCs navigate with prowess, particularly Tragedy and Capone, both of whom deliver riveting outings. With the three convicted felons celebrating life, "Thug Paradise" is another tune from The War Report that is worthy of being in rotation, even two decades after the fact.

12. Never Die Alone
One of the hardest beats on The War Report is undoubtedly "Never Die Alone," a hard-boiled number that appropriates Middle Eastern and Arabic culture, as Capone N Noreaga run roughshod over the intense instrumental provided by Buckwild that's as steely as the bars in Collins Correctional, where the duo originally met. Joined by Tragedy Khadafi, CNN crafts another slice of quintessential Queens rap, with Capone making his presence felt with couplets like "No love for a got civilian/Make salat, in the spot, kneelin'/For a second, freeze dealin'," a testament to the conflict between their spirituality and illegal lifestyle.

11. Stick You
On "Stick Up," Capone N Noreaga link up with Tragedy Khadafi after discovering that they've purchased fake narcotics from a shiesty connect, and the only conclusion the trio can come up with is pull a stick-up to even the odds. "It's the money or the morgue son, ready to die/Black Infiniti, yo, Papi, call Ki" Tragedy barks, as the trio concoct a plan to rob the Dominican dealer of his cocaine and cash, however, Noreaga's descriptive verse, which sets the scene with mentions of Cuban disguises and Power Rangers, is as inventive as it gets and stands as the track's highlight. In addition to it being one of the many notable cuts on one of the more notable albums of its era, the irony of "Stick You" being produced by a guy named Naughty Shorts, giving the fact that Capone N Noreaga are rhyming about getting shorted on a crack transaction, is not to be overlooked and makes for a humorous tidbit, giving the track additional character.

10. Channel 10
Capone's appearances on The War Report may be sporadic, but of the tracks he appearances on, "Channel 10" is one that captures the core of his essence, as the QB hard-rock turns in a steely performance and steals the show from the outset. The lines "It takes nothin' but a hot slug to fill a villian/Crook I'm about to make a killin' so weed to escalate the feelin'" are as menacing an opening couplet as there is on the album, but Capone builds on that lyrical first step with a string of couplets that perfectly compliment the murky Lord Finesse production. Tragedy Khadafi commandeers the hooks, rhyming "Microchips in the celly the game don't stop/Tappin' in your bank funds with the laptop/Wanna own a block before the ball drop," a sly reference to the Illuminati, a trend that proved to be a decade ahead of its time. Noreaga's performance on this number borders on pedestrian, but quotables like "Bold face gat in your face stay in your place/Yo crime-laced, catch more beef than Scarface" and his infectious energy is enough to account for any missteps on his part.

9. Closer
Aside from guest vocals from Smoke of R&B group Complexion, Noreaga flies solo on "Closer," one of multiple cuts on The War Report that finds him tackling all of the rhyming duties. While the version that appeared on initial pressings of the album featured production by Clark Kent and female vocalist Nnkea, the Sam Snead remix is the more popular and recognizable of the two and is by far the most glossy and radio-friendly offering on the album. "Yo I started out in Iraq the wrong route/More b***hes to doubt, more money to count," Noreaga raps, as he looks back on his youth as a delinquent and Queens, as well as his newfound lifestyle as an entertainer and the perks it brings. Although Smoke crooning "You say you never leave the thugs alone/You wanna be wit Nore or Capone/You say you like the way he holds his chrome/But you will never leave him lonely" is geared towards the ladies, they're an afterthought on Noreaga's part, but does nothing to diminish this early showcase of Nore's star appeal.

8. Black Gangsta
Gary Burton's "Olhos De Gato" gets flipped on "Black Gangsta," a Buckwild produced salvo that finds the Nore, Capone, and Tragedy all rising to the occasion, making it one of the more complete offerings on The War Report. "N***as scared to pull a hit for s**t, my team will/Know a b***h sniff a pyramid of a dollar bill, she will," Tragedy boasts on the hook, setting the stage for Noreaga to land an efficient opening verse, before Capone swoops in for another electric string of rhymes. "Never sweat D’s, I let trees blow, get bent on benches/Hopping the fences, here they come in long trenches," he flows, painting a scene of him on the run from narcs and homicide detectives, and dropping witty zinger like "I'm a score, flip more raw than Dominique Dawes," capping off a highlight-reel worthy performance that only makes you wonder how much better The War Report could have been with him around for the entirety of the recording process.

7. Illegal Life
The first single released from Capone N Noreaga in support of The War Report, "Illegal Life" also doubles as one of the album's best songs, as it features the 25 to Life core of Noreaga, Capone, Tragedy Khadafi, and Havoc all coming with their A-Game. "Yo, I was in Ramada, laid up with Goldschlager/Jungle room, cowboy hat around June/Monaga, had the 45th draga/Capone-N-Noreaga, the saga, sega, mega," Noreaga raps, sprinkling one-liners like "Run through, hard-boil you like John Woo" for good measure, before Capone catches wreck of his own. Co-produced by Havoc and Tragedy Khadafi, "Illegal Life" wouldn't have hurt having a verse by Prodigy being that it essentially comes off as CNN channeling the spirit of the Mobb, but nitpicking aside, the song is another winner on one of the definitive albums of its era.

6. Live On Live Long
Taking a page out of fellow Queens native Nas, Noreaga pens an open letter to an incarcerated friend on The War Report track "Live One Live Long," however, in this case, the friend happens to be Capone, Noreaga's partner in rhyme. Recorded following Capone's parole violation in 1996, "Live On Live Long finds Noreaga, who was forced to finish their debut album without his group-mate, getting candid on what is one of the more sobering additions to the album. "Yo Pone I know you left and goin up creek soon/You know my address God write me letters keep me in tune/I still remember when we first met/Yo it was up north I had the Iraq flag your comrade," the Lefrak native reminisces, as he sends out a kite to those behind the wall on this G-Money produced classic.

5. Iraq (See the World)
"It's laundry mat track, keep the loot in Iraq/Iraq, see the world, the world see Iraq," Noreaga shouts on The War Report posse cut "Iraq (See the World)," which features appearances from CNN affiliates Castro, Musaliny (From Musaliny-N-Maze), Mendosa & Troy Outlaw, all of whom attack the EZ Elpee produced backdrop with vigor. Castro comes out strong, rhyming "It's cream on my land, original man, cross water/My team break border and court order," with his cohorts following up with verses of their own, before Noreaga closes things out with a finale verse of his own. "Since 93, locked up, I did three/Got 85 percent of y'all worshipin me," the rapper spouts, taking note of his growing buzz and popularity on one of the stronger compositions on The War Report.

4. Halfway Thugs
As soon as the haunting voice sample comes in, you already know that "Halfway Thugs" is gonna be a sonic experience of the highest order, and Noreaga backs up that notion with a composition that ranks with the best that The War Report has to offer. Produced by Charlemagne, "Halfway Thugs" captures Nore at his most menacing, sneering he's a halfway – thug that he portray/If you got locked that ass'd probably come home gay" over a grim bassline and solemn keys as he sends veiled shots in the direction of Prodigy. Assessing him as a fraudulent rapper and questioning his street resume, Noreaga doesn't attribute his words to a specific target, however, regardless of the nature of its intent, "Halfway Thugs" is essential QB music and near the top of CNN's catalog of street bangers.

3. L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix)
At the height of the war of words between the East and West Coast factions in hip-hop, among the more vocal acts out of New York to clap back were Mobb Deep and Capone N Noreaga, who made their sentiments known with "L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix)." A response to Dogg Pound's "New York, New York" single, which was released with an accompanying video depicting Snoop Dogg stomping and toppling over New York City landmarks as a perceived slight to the five boroughs, "L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix)" features production by Marley Marl and the five MCs finding solidarity in warfare. One of the greatest subliminal diss records of all time, "L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix)" helped put Capone N Noreaga on the map, as the helped wave the flag for Queens and NYC as a whole.

2. T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York)
"From Iraq to Kuwait word up, Desert Station, regulation," Noreaga states during the calm before the storm that is "T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York)," the second single released from The War Report. Being the King of New York has always been a lofty goal, but Capone N Noreaga decided to take it all the way to the top on this seminal single for New York City rap, which has become one of their signature cuts to date. Produced by Carlos "6 July" Broady & Nashiem Myrick, the two alumni of Bad Boy's Hitmen production squad utilize a sample of "Speak Her Name" by Walter Jackson, chopping it up to piece back together what is a masterpiece of an instrumental. "T-O-N-Y invade N.Y/Multiply" is Capone N Noreaga's mission statement on this timeless record, which is one of the hallmarks of the duo's debut LP, and a staple of East Coast hip-hop that has yet to be forgotten.

1. Blood Money
The War Report's finest moment comes in the form of the album's opening selection, the EZ Elpee-produced "Bloody Money," a cut that features Noreaga taking the onus from start to finish, and walks away with one of the definitive records of his career. Barking "New York get the Bloody Money, dirty cash/Live n***as who smoke weed, car seat stash," the voice of Lefrak keeps it unabashedly grimy on this outing, threatening to "put the bogey out in your face," and downplaying his alcoholism while shamelessly copping to be a crack dealer. Capone, giving his legal issues, was unable to contribute to "Bloody Money," making it yet another record devoid of his presence, however, the song remains the pinnacle of The War Report as an album and Capone N Noreaga as a whole, making it the best song on one of the greatest albums of all time.

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Rapper Flavor Flav, director Spike Lee and Chuck D of the rap group 'Public Enemy' film a video for their song 'Fight The Power' directed by Spike Lee in 1989 in New York, New York.
Michael Ochs

Music Sermon: How 'Fight The Power' Saved Public Enemy

It was “1989, the number, another summer,” and in New York City, the racial tension was thick as the season’s heat. For New York, it wasn’t just “another summer” - 1989 was a defining year for the city, and for its black and brown youth. The swift persecution of five black and brown boys for the Central Park Jogger attack, with little evidence, is in the national conversation today, but divided the city along racial and class lines that spring. The August murder of 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins by a group of teens in Brooklyn’s Italian-American Bensonhurst neighborhood sparked protests across the city. In the middle of these two events, both of which are tightly woven into the fabric of New York, Spike Lee released one of his most provocative films: the prophetic Do the Right Thing.

At the time, Lee intentionally chose Public Enemy, the most radical group in rap, to set the movie’s tone. Their seminal anthem “Fight the Power” was not only one of hip-hop’s most monumental songs, but also Gen X’s first taste of movement music. The group’s 1987 debut It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was unlike anything anyone had ever heard in music, let alone the still very new rap genre. Public Enemy’s sophomore album combined the tight flow of battle rappers, the spirit and energy of the Black Power movement, and the aesthetic presentation of the Black Panthers with their paramilitary backing group, Security of the First World (S1W), all packaged up with a logo featuring a black man in a sniper’s crosshairs (can you imagine all of that today? The “If a white group did that…” comments would be insufferable). PE didn’t just start the conscious rap movement, they sparked the gangsta rap movement – NWA’s Straight Outta Compton was directly influenced by Nation of Millions (Chuck sent an early copy of the album to the group, and you feel the inspiration in “F*ck the Police” especially. Along with the defiant social commentary in the lyrics, Dre channeled The Bomb Squad’s sonic chaos in the track. Cube went on to work with The Bomb Squad for his solo debut).

“When I wrote the script for Do the Right Thing, every time when the Radio Raheem character showed up, he had music blasting,” Lee told Rolling Stone. “I wanted Public Enemy.”

But at the time of the movie’s release, PE had technically broken up; sidelined by controversy impacting their reputation not just domestically, but abroad. On June 29, one day before Do the Right Thing hit theaters, Russell Simmons announced: ''Public Enemy is disbanding for an indefinite period.”

THE STORM

Public Enemy was made up of distinctively different personalities: Chuck D, the leader, the voice, and the “adult” of the group; Flava Flav, the blueprint for hip-hop hype men and comedic levity to Chuck’s booming gravity; and Professor Griff, the “Minister of Information,” a black Muslim who didn’t actually observe any of the tenants of Islam but subscribed to the most incendiary rhetoric The Nation of Islam offered. As the Minister of Information, Griff sometimes spoke publicly on the group’s behalf and had been known to stir up controversy with comments that were just over the line, but not far enough to cause a mainstream firestorm. Then, on May 22, 1989, he sat down with reporter (and later writer for The Wire and Treme) David Mills for an interview with The Washington Times. Because he was talking to another black man, Griff got way into his bag, and sh*t went left, quickly.

“Griff opined that ‘the majority of them [i.e., Jews]’ are responsible for ‘the majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe,” recounted LA Times rock critic Robert Cristgau in his summation of the controversy, properly titled “The Sh*t Storm.” “He… raved about how ‘the Jews finance these experiments on AIDS with black people in South Africa,’ observed that ‘the Jews have their hands right around Bush's throat,’ and concluded that he must be speaking the truth because if he wasn't the Jew who owned CBS would long since have forced him, Griff, out of the group.” It was a mess, but it still flew largely under the radar until the story was picked up by The Village Voice (pours out liquor). You know how the timeline gets when there’s controversy? Imagine that in real life amongst the music community and media.

Even the most esteemed music critics had praised Nation of Millions, many even included the LP on their 1987 Album of the Year lists. Now they were being called on to defend or condemn the group they’d once praised.

Nelson George was one of the lone hip hop writers at the time aside from Harry Allen (which is why you will always find Nelson George references in my work), and as a black man in a space where we were still fighting for voice and position, he was careful to distinguish Griff’s comments from what the group stood for. "There's no question they say Farrakhan's a prophet," George told the LA Times at the time, "but Chuck D was very specific about what they like about Farrakhan. That Prof. Griff is a (jerk) doesn't invalidate the record. And Public Enemy was signed by Rick Rubin, who is Jewish, and one of their first managers is Jewish, as is the photographer that shot most of their album cover pictures, and (so is) their publicist Bill Adler."

Chuck was torn. He first backed Griff, then seperated the group’s stance from Griff’s personal stance, then banned Griff from speaking on behald of PE, before finally condemning Griff and apologizing for his comments, stating: “We’re not anti-Jewish or anti-anyone at all. We're pro-black. To use the same mechanism that you're fighting against definitely is wrong. We don't stand for hatred. We're not here to make enemies. We're apologizing to anyone who might be offended by Griff's remarks.” Griff was expelled from the group on June 21, 1989.

The continued pressure from the Jewish Defense Organization – including calls to boycott Do the Right Thing, Def Jam and Columbia/CBS, who distributed the group’s albums, and Rick Rubin even though he wasn’t involved with the group anymore – finally wore Chuck out. He told Kurt Loder during an MTV interview that the group was done. ''He (Griff) transferred misinformation, and it was just wrong. You can`t back it,” he explained. “But we got sandbagged, and being as I got sandbagged, the group is over as of today. We`re outta here. We`re stepping out of the music business as a boycott . . . against the music industry, management, record companies (and) the industry retailers.”

In Robert Cristgau’s earlier-referenced article, written shortly after that MTV interview, he opined of PE’s future: “…it's reasonable to hope that three or six or nine months down the road, after Spike Lee returns to the set and Chuck's label flops and Flavor Flav staggers under the weight of his own album, PE will regroup.”

Instead, it only took about a month. “Fight the Power” became a hit; The song and movie combined birthed one of the biggest cultural statements of the decade.

THE ANTHEM

Spike told Hank Shocklee (of The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s famed production unit) and Chuck he wanted an anthem, but already had an idea in mind. “Spike originally proposed a rap version of a negro spiritual, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” to be produced by someone else and with just Chuck D rapping,” Shocklee told the Guardian. “I was like: ‘No way.’” Hank found an example right out of Do the Right Thing’s world to make his point. “We were in Spike’s office on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, by a busy intersection. I pulled down his window, stuck his head out, and was like: ‘Yo man, you’ve got to think about this record as being something played out of these cars going by.’” Spike knew he wanted the power of Chuck’s voice, but Chuck and Shocklee knew that the moment called for something bigger, sonically. Gen X is now considered a generation without a social movement. Boomers were engaged in the Civil Rights Movement, Millennials led Black Lives Matter, Gen X’ers were chillin’ - except we weren’t. Police brutality, the overcriminalization of black and brown people (hi, stop-and-frisk), the rise of the crack epidemic… these were our issues, and hip-hop was our movement: our way to give voice to the systemic injustices and bleak realities black people faced daily.

With “Fight the Power,” Chuck, Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad captured the energy of black resistance in a rare, perfect way – sonically and lyrically. It sounded aggressive, it sounded urgent, it sounded defiant, it sounded confident. It was the protest music of black Gen X’ers. “The song could have gone a lot softer, a lot neater, a lot tighter – but it would have lost the chaos,” Shocklee went on to explain. “When something is organized and aligned, it represents passivity. But any resistance, any struggle to overcome, is going to be chaotic. So the hardest part was making sure the track wasn’t monotonous. Lots of the samples appear only once, and a lot of stuff isn’t perfectly in time. I didn’t just want white noise and black noise – I wanted pink noise and brown noise!”

The title and thematic direction came from Ron Isley and his brothers’ 1975 song of the same name. The song struck a chord with 15-year-old Chuck D. Last year, Chuck and Ernie Isley (who, by the way, is the most criminally underrated guitar player in music history) compared notes on the two "Fight the Power's" for NPR: “I was 15 years old, so it was ingrained in me, but it was a record that I thought represented us. ‘I tried to play my music, they say my music's too loud’: That spoke loud to me,” Chuck shared with Ernie. “And I didn't even curse at the time, but that was the first time I ever heard a curse on a record.”

I can't play my music They say my music's too loud I kept talkin about it I got the big run around When I rolled with the punches I got knocked on the ground By all this bullsh*t goin’ down

Like the 1989 version, The Isleys’ joint catches you up in the undeniable bop of the track even while delivering power through the lyrics.

PE’s “Fight the Power” was also a big f*ck you to “American” pop culture, disparaging white icons Elvis and John Wayne, who in the late ‘80s were both damn near deified. It was a declaration that we black folks have our own history and culture.

'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 Sample a look back you look and find Nothing but rednecks for four hundred years if you check

A song that feels and sounds like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” will never happen again, because the Bomb Squad’s trademark sampling methods would be a legal headache and financially crippling today thanks to changes in copyright laws spurred by the growing rap industry in 1991. “It was a totally different process from today, when cats listen to a finished track then put rhymes on top – that separates emotion and content,” Shocklee shared when discussing how the song came to be. “All the samples have to work with Chuck’s emotion. We’d have to find something from all our hundreds of records to fill a second, and it all had to be done by ear, without computers or visual aids.”

THE MOVIE

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a song used as many times as “Fight the Power” is in Do the Right Thing. I can’t even tell you what other song is on the soundtrack without looking it up. Honestly, the entire soundtrack should have just been a “Fight the Power” maxi-single. Also, shout out to one of the most iconic opening title sequences ever. It’s like James Bond level. Better.

The song and the movie are inextricably linked. As mentioned earlier, Spike wanted “Fight the Power” playing whenever we saw Radio Raheem. Since Raheem is the movie’s pivotal character, PE underscored some of the movie’s most powerful moments.

Shocklee explained to Rolling Stone why using Radio Raheem as the vehicle for the song worked so well. “The track intensified the story. When Radio Raheem was with the boombox playing that song, that’s what was happening at that time, exactly. You could have walked out the theater and into a pizza shop, and that would have happened at that moment.”

Even before they retreated into self-imposed career exile, Public Enemy weren’t radio artists. The film was their only real promotional vehicle for the single – but what a vehicle. “When I heard Spike Lee put it 20 times in the movie, I was like, pssh,” he shared with Rolling Stone. “We realized early that film was probably going to be our outlet to deliver sh*t. We couldn’t rely on radio.” While the group laid low, “Fight the Power” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Rap chart and cracked the Top 20 on the Hip-Hop and R&B chart (Hammer would break down the barrier for rap on the Hot 100 and Pop charts about a year later). In August, PE came out of “retirement” to announce their renowned third album, Fear of a Black Planet.

THE VIDEO

The music video for “Fight the Power” goes down as one of the most satisfying visuals for a song, ever. In the history of music videos. It is the perfect accompaniment to the track’s energy and power. For the video, Spike created a modern-day version of the March on Washington in Brooklyn, which he called "The Young People's March on Brooklyn to End Racial Violence,” featuring Public Enemy. The march was Chuck’s idea, and Spike did the video as a favor, on the strength of them letting him use “Fight the Power” for free. If Chuck D wasn’t already firmly positioned as hip-hop’s political leader, watching him leading throngs of young people through Bed-Stuy did the trick. “It was like a rose really sprouted in Brooklyn,” he later shared about the day. “It was seriously a black movement of just being able to stand up and demand that the systems and the powers that be don’t roll you over. And this was a threat to America and it was a threat to the record companies at the time. That video was really powerful.”

Flav added, “That was one of the most craziest days of my life. But it was so amazing. It was my first time ever really doing a video shoot… (W)e had Jesse Jackson there, Al Sharpton was there, Tawana Brawley was in the video, too, as well. And the whole of Bedford-Stuyvesant…I would give anything to live that day one more time.”

Like the movie and the song, the video is on multiple “best of all time” lists.

While echoes of the controversy of 1989 followed PE through the early ‘90s, the sheer power of Fear of a Black Planet prevented it from slowing them down in any way. Nation of Millions blew the music community away, but Fear of a Black Planet surpassed it.

This has nothing to do with anything, really, except that I want y’all to peep how completely off the chain Flav is in this interview. Chuck and Fab 5 Freddie just gave up.

THE LEGACY

The legacy and impact of Do the Right Thing are perhaps immeasurable. The movie garnered two Oscar nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, was deemed one of the most important movies of the year, then later one of the most important of the decade, and is still largely considered to be Spike’s greatest and most complete work. It inspired a new generation of filmmakers, including John Singleton, who went home and wrote Boyz N The Hood after seeing the film. Radio Raheem’s boombox is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). “Fight the Power” is still one of the most important songs in hip-hop, has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and is ranked by multiple lists as one of the greatest songs in music, period. Public Enemy went on to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But as I said before, the power is in the two - movie and song - together. It’s hamburger and bun. Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cereal. Neither are as strong if they’d been presented to the world without the other.

In any other year, the movie and song just wouldn’t have hit the same. Do the Right Thing was one of the first “day-in-the-life” black movies that showcased the routine and connectivity of community - how we rely on each other, how we interact with each other, and the line between business owners integrating with the community and just making money from the community. “Fight the Power” came just as conscious rap was gaining a commercial foothold. Despite the group’s assumptions, the song did get radio play - lots of it. A year earlier, radio wouldn’t have been ready. A year later, the song wouldn’t have felt as special. Thirty years later, the movie and track aren’t just a snapshot of 1989, but they both still feel incredibly relevant and accurate. But without this partnership, the self-proclaimed Rolling Stones of hip-hop may have had an entirely different musical legacy - one smashed to bits the way Sal smashed Raheem’s boombox. Instead, they proved the galvanizing power hip-hop could have. 1989 was not just another summer; it sparked a hip-hop revolution.

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#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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Tobe Nwigwe wowed the crowd with a live musical performance at the McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden experience at BETX.
BET Expereience

Tobe Nwigwe's Southern Raps At The BET Experience Are Marinaded With Purpose

Thanks to Tobe Nwigwe, Houston’s presence could not be denied at this year’s batch of BET Experience events in Los Angeles. Sporting his signature sock/slippers combo and a mic in his hand, the Nigerian-American storyteller took the stage Friday (June 21) to perform some of his most revolutionary and captivating tracks.

There’s the lyrical strike that is “Ten Toes” and “Against the Grain” made popular from his #GetTwistedSundays series, a keen exploration of Houston. With a new batch of ears and hearts open to his music, the Nigerian-American rapper is at ease with his new purpose.

“I understand my purpose now. I understand that to do what I’m doing now is all of my life,” Nwigwe tells VIBE before taking the stage for McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden event which showcases music’s ability to continue the cultural narratives of the Black experience in America.

Before he was shining on BET Cyphers, performing at the Roots Picnic or delivering projects like Three Originals, Nwigwe had dreams of entering the NFL. Those plans were redirected after a physical injury during his senior year at the University of North Texas. The incident served as a catalyst for the rapper to transform his energy into purposeful rap for his hometown, Houston.

“That’s why I’m due diligent, persistent, and focused on what I’m doing because I understand the call of my life,” he added while speaking about his partnership with McDonald’s platform. “I just really like what the Black and Positively Golden theme is. Being bold, being brilliant, being resilient. I like the black community, I love it. I feel like black people are the most influential people in the world.”

 

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HISTORY WAS MADE AT THE @ROOTSPICNIC 🙏🏿 YASIIN BEY - - 📸: @tynie626

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Houston’s re-emergence into mainstream hip hop culture, from a cultural enclave to an emergent regional capital in Southern rap lineage is evident acts like Megan Thee Stallion and Tobe Nwigwe. Draped in diasporic apparel and perched on a horse in the Texas countryside, Nwigwe is representative of the city’s rich ethnic demographic, and fusion of two Black sub-cultures into one told through the oral traditions of hip hop.

Nwigwe is currently dressed in all black, but it wouldn’t be without purpose. In small but noticeable text, his shirt says, “Mental Health is Crucial.” The fit speaks highly of intentions as an advocate for black youth. Nwigwe’s love for his community extends beyond the reaches of rap into the worlds of non-profit advocacy and mentorship. He’s the co-founder of TeamGINI, “Gini Bu Nkpa Gi?,” an Igbo saying meaning, “What’s Your Purpose?”

“I understand what people where I come from need,” he explains. “I feel that. I understand the void, so I do my best to play a role in being a part of the solution.”

His spiritual beliefs were highlighted in The Rap Map: Meet 5 Talented Artists From Houston featured on DJBooth. An ideology rooted in community-based upliftment drew motivational speaker Eric Thomas to sign Nwigwe for ETA Records, and establish a partnership focused on the implementation of solutions-focused rap for youth in neighborhoods across the United States, impacted by the terrors of community disinvestment, and high rates of violence.

Nwigwe recalled the outpouring of love experienced at one of his recent hometown shows. “I had the biggest crowd ever on my court at home," he proudly boasted in a Houston drawl. "I had over 3,000 people at a show with no openers, none of that. The mayor came out and gave me a dap, so it’s just a lot of love at home. There's like nothing better than being received well in your hometown, where you grew up and got all your influence from. It’s, wherever I go I wear Alief, I wear SWAT, I wear Houston on me like a badge of honor.”

His authenticity is felt throughout his setlist, a musical arrangement with a live band, background vocals from Beaumont-raised LHITNEY, and surprise guest performance from NELL, a frequent collaborator and producer on his music projects.

Nwigwe's purpose for the weekend was complete–he brought Houston to Los Angeles. “Make purpose popular,” Nwigwe’s mantra for his musicality sounds like a tagline from your local conscious rapper, but the intention in how the Houston rapper uses music as a space for community messaging is rooted in genuine Houston hospitality.

Stream Nwigwe’s latest release, “Searching” below.

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Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul And Hits: 15 Of Mary J. Blige's Best Songs

Since bursting onto the scene in 1992 asking us What’s the 411?, Mary J. Blige has kept her foot on our necks and provided the soundtrack for most of our lives. Although she’s faced her fair share of heartaches, heartbreaks, and hardships, Mary never let her personal life or the pressures of the music industry keep her from becoming a master of her craft. Who knew the little girl from Yonkers would go on to be not just music but entertainment royalty? She has secured numerous endorsement deals with M.A.C., Pepsi, Target and more while also conquering both the small and big screen, even being nominated for two Academy Awards for her role in the critically-acclaimed film, Mudbound. After countless nominations over the years for categories like Best R&B Artist and Best song, an unprecedented number of Billboard and Grammy Awards, over 75 million records sold worldwide and so much more, she shows no signs of stopping.

This Sunday (June 23), she will add to her repertoire when she’s honored at the 19th annual BET Awards ceremony with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her exceptional body of work across genres and industries. And the undisputed ESSENCE Festival favorite will also hit New Orleans to commemorate the festival’s 25th anniversary while also celebrating 25 years of her iconic 1994 album, My Life.

To honor the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul and her indelible catalogue of hits, let’s take a look at 15 of our favorite MJB songs through the years.

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