The Rap Song That Changed Prince’s Views on Hip-Hop
Though hip-hop began seeping into American pop culture in the mid-'80s, it wouldn’t be until years later that Prince embraced the genre.
The music icon was initially dismissive of hip-hop, specifically its sample-heavy ways. Prince even recorded "Dead On It," a diss track that made fun of “silly,” “tone deaf” rappers.
One song, however, caught the musician’s attention: Public Enemy’s 1989 hit, “Fight the Power.”
“I put it on there at Paisley [Park], and [Prince] seemed visibly angry at the track,” she remembered. “It was because he was so uneasy, I think, with Chuck D and the cadence of Chuck’s voice being in that lower, sort of demanding frequency, kind of freaked him out.”
While other people in the room began dancing to the song, Prince remained motionless while he listened. “[Prince] knew it changed, right there [with ‘Fight the Power’],” Melvoin asserted. “He knew.”
Sensing a change in the musical landscape, Prince looked to incorporate hip-hop influences into his own work. Rapper Tony M. Mosely was brought in to contribute to the Diamonds and Pearls and Love Symbol Album LPs. “I sat down with Prince and talked about rap," the MC noted during a 1991 conversation with SKY magazine. "He said he didn’t like it until guys like Chuck D and KRS-One came on the scene. Then it started to make sense to him.”
On the other side of things, Public Enemy were card-carrying Prince fans. The hip-hop group utilized a sample from “Let’s Go Crazy” in their 1990 track “Brothers Gonna Work it Out.”
It wouldn't be until the late '90s, however, that Prince returned the favor. The legendary musician first covered “Fight the Power” during a late-night performance at his Paisley Park Studios in July of 1999. He recorded a version soon afterward, premiering the track during a party that August.
Though Prince never released his cover of “Fight the Power,” he did enlist Public Enemy’s Chuck D for a vocal cameo on "Undisputed," a track recorded for the 1999 album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. The purple one would later record songs with Common and Eve, while also performing alongside rappers like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, further proving his eventual embrace of hip-hop.