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>> 261 Conclusion The Last Anthem: Resonance, Legacy, and Loss at the Close of the Century In 1989 Spike Lee released Do the Right Thing, a film that captures the lead-up to and effects of urban conflict in segregated Brooklyn. Infused within this visual catalogue was a soundtrack that punctuated the scenes of the film and carried its political power onto the radio and into the ears of millions across the country. Far and away, the most enduring single was track 1: Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” Beginning with an original speech by Chicago political activist Thomas Todd, the song launches into nearly five minutes of insistent demands (to “fight the power”), while taking advantage of numerous musical samples and resistance traditions. This song represents a particular moment in hiphop , urban communities, and U.S. state formation. The applicability of the song to Brooklyn and numerous other locations, conditions, and political mobilizations marks “Fight the Power” as an anthem, perhaps the last Black anthem of the twentieth century. The song’s growth from and response to collective Black struggle went beyond reporting to build discourse and debate; it was not simply narrative but was instructive , providing a pulsing cadence for Lee’s fictive Brooklyn and the realities of Black neighborhoods in combustible Los Angeles. As a sound saturated by visuals (and vice versa), the anthem marks and is marked by the scenes in which it is deployed. According to Nicole Fleetwood, it 262 > 263 a music “of the streets,” they also catered to increasingly diverse audiences , many of whom would be unrecognizable as hip-hop fans ten years earlier. The music’s wide reception in this moment was dually fed by both its format and usage. Multimedia exposure in films and commercials bolstered hip-hop and rap’s exposure, while also adding to its everyday political applicability and adoption. The youth cultures that developed under hip-hop used the sounds of these artists as a core element of their political speech and mobilizations, in the process rapidly decentering the social justice organizations that defined the movements of their parents’ generations. Beginning in the late 1960s, there was, according to political scientist Robert C. Smith, a “bewildering series of conventions, meetings, leadership summits, assemblies, congresses, institutes and so forth [that] replaced rallies, marches, and demonstrations and lawsuits as the principal routine activity of the black leadership establishment.” These less conspicuous evidences of Black mobilization occurred without icons, like those that Smith laments in his book’s title, We Have No Leaders.4 In the absence of elected national representation or movement icons, Black men and women employed popular culture as their platform and method of democratic engagement . The rapid decline of the Black counterpublics described by political scientist Michael Dawson in the 1970s due to dramatic shifts in the nation’s political economy led to the concentration of Black political speech within cultural production, an intensely situated and collective effort.5 Following in that tradition, the visuals stemming from Do the Right Thing as well as the music video for “Fight the Power” mark two narratives of anthemic community mobilization in the post–Civil Rights moment that strategically move afield of their predecessors while negotiating ties to a powerful past. Through the anthem, Do the Right Thing models the still impactful ends to be gained from the decentralized organization that defines the political cultures of the post–Civil Rights period. “Fight the Power” regularly “sample[s] a look back” by referencing historiographies of struggle among the African descended. Black movement slogans of the past, including “I’m black and I’m proud,” signal a previous era that is collapsed in time and space through the reinvention of sonic materials and imagery. Like Smiley in Do the Right Thing, who hawks his Black nostalgia wares around the neighborhood, the video 264 > 265 clock set by an overseer, coordinated communities despite the isolationist practices of the plantation, and creatively redesigned materials as instrumentation, the engineers of hip-hop similarly absconded with time (from school and work), reappropriated urban public space, and repurposed machinery. These traditions are carried over into “Fight the Power,” which announces its relationship to the Black anthems of the past through its proximity to the long-held standard: James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the organizational anthem of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The two anthems are uneasily intertwined within the aural and visual representations of Lee...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814770955
Related ISBN
9780814770412
MARC Record
OCLC
861200076
Pages
368
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-30
Language
English
Open Access
No
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