Fear of a Black Planet

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Fear of a Black Planet is the third studio album by American hip hop group Public Enemy, released on April 10, 1990, by Def Jam Recordings and Columbia Records. It was produced by the group’s production team The Bomb Squad, who sought to expand on the dense, sample-layered sound of Public Enemy’s previous album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988). Having fulfilled their initial creative ambitions with that album, Public Enemy pursued a different direction and aspired to create what lead MC Chuck D specified as “a deep, complex album”. Their songwriting was partly inspired by the controversy with member Professor Griff and his dismissal from the group in 1989.

The album features elaborate sound collages that incorporate varying rhythms, numerous samples, media sound bites, and eccentric music loops, and reflect the content’s confrontational tone. Conceived during the golden age of hip hop, its assemblage of reconfigured and recontextualized aural sources preceded the sample clearance system that later emerged in the music industry. Fear of a Black Planet contains themes concerning organization and empowerment within the African-American community, while presenting criticism of social issues affecting African Americans at the time of the album’s conception. Its criticism of institutional racism and White supremacy were inspired by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing’s views on color.

In its first week, the album sold one million copies in the United States, where it charted at number 10 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums. It was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Fear of a Black Planet was praised by music critics for its sonic quality, societal themes, and insightful lyrics, and was named one of the best albums in 1990. It has since been recognized as one of hip hop’s greatest and most important albums, as well as musically and culturally significant. In 2003, it was ranked number 300 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and in 2005, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry.

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