A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring. I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up. I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever. Enjoy!
Today we talk about “Final Count of the Collision Between Us and the Damned” by Public Enemy off their brilliant 1990 album “Fear of a Black Planet”.
I grew up in a very white, semi-rural Eastern Pennsylvania town. I don’t really remember any people of color in my life prior to middle school at the earliest. Even there I struggle to think when I first would have known or had friends that weren’t white. I know by the time high school rolled around there was a wider variety of faces in the school, but even still they were a small minority.
I grew up in that strange world of having your family teach you “people are people and everyone deserves respect” but also being told “don’t ever date them”. Racist jokes were a part of my childhood. I learned many of them from family and then used these to get attention among my peers. I mean, I used humor in general, at least I like to think, but looking back I certainly feel like “black jokes” made up an uncomfortably large portion of my repertoire.
But of course I also grew up heavily influenced by black actors and artists – Bill Cosby (between Picture Pages, Fat Albert and the Cosby Show, the Coz raised me), Michael Jackson, and Eddie Murphy were huge parts of my childhood. So as I got to high school a lot of these different ideologies began to clash in my mind. Hip hop is one of those forces that helped me clarify these thoughts in my mind.
In the summer of 1989, the year before my 10th grade of school, the move “Do The Right Thing” came out along with Public Enemy’s single “Fight The Power”. Both the movie and the song would have an impact upon me, sending me down the road to reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and getting heavily into hip hop over the coming years.
I picked up “Fear of a Black Planet” the following year when it came out based on the power of “Fight The Power”. For me this is the definitive Public Enemy album and probably on most days I would tell you this is my most favorite hip hop album. It’s powerful – loud, full of that crazy Bomb Squad production with some of Chuck D’s best lyrics. You also get some classic Flavor Flav tracks here with “911 is a Joke” and “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man”. Talking about AIDS, the effects of commercial radio, anti-black bias in Hollywood, among focusing on other aspects of the black experience in America, the album was an eye opener for 16 year old me. And the song “Fear of a Black Planet” spoke of mixed race relationships in a way that made it so obvious how ridiculous objections to such relationships were.
As for today’s song, at first glance “Final Count of the Collision Between Us and The Damned” is a an inconsequential 49 second filler track. But as they say, the “B Side Wins Again” — the B side of this record goes pretty hard for the whole side, with “Reggie Jax” being the only other song on the B side that really slows down at all. So, “Final Count…” acts as the calm before the storm – the storm being the hit single “Fight The Power” that caps off the album. The quiet, drumbeat based track is a perfect setup to the opening of “Fight The Power”, a sample of civil rights activist Thomas Todd, then BAM, “Fight the Power” busts in.
It’s sometimes hard to imagine how your life would be different had you not been exposed to certain cultural elements when you did. I’d like to think that even had “Fear of a Black Planet” not come into my life, that other experiences would’ve influenced me in the same ways to expand my mindset and become more open to other people’s experiences and cultures, but I’m really glad that I had Public Enemy as that catalyst to change.