Spike Lee set the scene for Public Enemy’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.”I was writing a movie. I had a character, Radio Raheem. He was playing a boombox, he was always playing the same thing.” He said that he needed an anthem for his film, he needed an anthem to express what black people were feeling. ”At this time, New York City was racially polarized, under Mayor Koch.” A burst of guitar feedback came from the stage and Lee joked, “That’s Koch.”
The song that Public Enemy frontman Chuck D gave to Lee was “Fight The Power,” and the film, of course, was Do The Right Thing.
He was then joined by Harry Belafonte, who called Public Enemy “radical, revolutionary change agents. They urged the world to fight the power. they never hestitated to use their own power to speak the truth and take on the forces of oppression that try to separate us. They are among the most influential artists in the world.” He quoted their song “Don’t Believe The Hype,” during his speech, and said “I’m proud to call them my friends, and I’m glad to welcome these fearless and revolutionary artists into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.”
“Pay attention, it’s the cheapest price you could pay,” Chuck D said, as he gave Hank Shocklee of the Bomb Squad the mic to say a few thank yous. Then Professor Griff took the mic to thank the fans and families. He said he was asked by an interviewer what he would do differently, “And I said ‘not a damn thing.’ He then quoted Steve Biko, “Revolution is not an event, its a process.”
Flavor Flav went next, thanking Chuck D for writing the records with his brains. “It started the state of Arizona having a hoilday for Dr. MLK’s birthday,” he said, referring to Public Enemy’s song “By The Time I Get To Arizona,” which was written in response to the state’s decision in 1991 to stop recognizing the holiday. The state later reinstated the holiday two years after the song was released. “I don’t think there’s another rap group that ever put a national holiday on the map.”
Flav noted that his vocal style was radically different from other MCs in hip-hop at the time and thanked Chuck D for insisting that he be a part of the group. Easily distracted, Flav shouted out from the podium to Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, who were sitting together in the audience. Flav also noted that Chuck wanted him to hurry up. He apologized for the length of his speech, but ended his portion on a wise note: “There’s only one race, and that’s the human race.”
Chuck D wasn’t interested in giving some long drawn out speech, instead he wanted to get to the point. “In the last 27 years, I’ve seen longer speeches,” he commented. “Give me 150 seconds and I’ll give you a performance.”
He noted that the evening featured two black octangerians speaking about the roots of music and their importance. ”This award is not just ours,” Chuck D said in regard to their diverse musical influence, which included Louis Farrakan and Anthrax, both of whom were named dropped in “Bring The Noise.” He also shouted out KRS-One, Eric B & Rakim, Ice Cube, Ice-T, along with rock acts like KISS, Deep Purple and Chic.
“Let us not forget,” he told the crowd. “We all come from the damn blues! We know, and we’ve always known and we pay respect.”
From there, Public Enemy hit the stage with their live backing band, their current DJ, DJ Lord, as well as former DJ, Terminator X for “Bring The Noise.” Chuck gave Flav the spotlight on “911 Is A Joke,” before DJ Lord dropped a beat from fellow inductee, Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” and Terminator X dropped a bit from Quincy Jones, another one of the night’s inductees. Lord then replied with Donna Summer’s“Love To Love You Baby,” and Jones returned with some Albert King, both of whom were honored at the event.
From there, they roared through “Fight The Power,” as everyone in the audience, from Oprah Winfrey to Rick Rubin to Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, got out of their seats to dance to one of the most revolutionary protest songs ever.
Catch more from the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony when it airs Saturday May 18 at 9 pm ET/PT on HBO.
Watch our recent Radio.com Inside Out episode on 2013’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction class, below.