Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" was a theme song not only for last summer's film "Do the Right Thing," but in a more subtle way for the racially tinged disturbances that marred the annual black Greekfest in Virginia Beach over the Labor Day weekend: 158 people were arrested, 100 stores were looted and 1,200 police officers and National Guard troops were deployed. While city officials and a biracial committee have been working hard to make this year's expanded (and renamed) Laborfest run smoothly and peacefully, Public Enemy has weighed in with a new $60,000 video for "Brothers Gonna Work It Out," which suggests it was actually the police and local residents who fueled the violence. While not naming Virginia Beach -- an opening title reads "Incident at Beach State" -- the Lionel Martin-directed video incorporates some disturbing news footage of uniformed powers-that-be using what some critics called excessive force.

In the video, Chuck D and Flavor Flav, headed for the beach in their Bronco, are pulled over by a redneck state patrolman who looks at Chuck's license and asks, "Ain't you got no last name, boy?" before warning, "You all know what happened about this time last year. ..." At that point, the song kicks in with Chuck and Flav declaiming the lyrics over "newsreal" footage provided by "PETV": stores putting up "CLOSED" signs when black students approach; yuppies hearing rap and saying "I hate that music"; cancellation of a step show; general harassment of peaceful young blacks by white police; a heavy-handed police sweep; and, after young black reporters bring photos confirming the blatant racism to a "City Council" office, a shot of the evidence being thrown into a trash can. For a finale, the state trooper looks at Chuck and says coldly, "I know who you are," and then reaches for his gun. The video ends with that frozen frame -- except for the MTV version. MTV demanded that a disclaimer be tacked on, reading: "The preceding video is based on an actual incident. Sister Souljah portrays a reporter from Public Enemy Television PETV. This is their depiction of this actual event."

All this would seem a little at odds with the message of the song. After all, the chorus insists "the brothers in the street are willin' to work it out ... we are willin', now we are ready if you are ready. ..." On the other hand, the video represents an alternative view of last summer's events, one not likely to make the Virginia Beach Chamber of Commerce happy. Chuck D recently pointed out that because of rap's popularity -- particularly on video shows on television -- all sorts of new information on black culture is being spread, not only to young black fans, but to rap's huge white constituency as well.

"And now they're getting their information straight from the source," he said. "You talk about young America -- 25 and under -- and as time goes on, there is that common thread of understanding. White kids look at the situation and go, 'Oh, that's the black community. This is contrary to the myths I've been hearing in school or from my parents or the establishment, or whatever. I see {black life} and it's all right. I see that these are the problems that are going on. Maybe I'll see what I can do that's in my best interests, so that I don't fall into the same traps that my parents or whoever fell into.' "

(Ironically, "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" was originally composed for the film "Lean on Me" and was supposed to run under the high-school-as-hell opening scene. Warner Bros. paid for the song but opted for Guns N'Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" instead. That song may end up with a rap edge, though: Axl Rose and Ice-T, both of whom record for Geffen, are supposedly working on an update.)

Public Enemy has been on tour since July and was scheduled to play a second Capital Centre date Sept. 2, the same day a Ku Klux Klan march is planned on Capitol Hill. Political theater will have to wait, though, because that show has been postponed. In Oklahoma City, the Fraternal Order of Police tried to hinder an Aug. 18 concert. Charging that the group's music was violent and supportive of gangs and police-killing, the FOP refused to provide off-duty security for the concert at the Myriad Convention Center. It turned out that the FOP had PE (referred to in a memo as "Public Enemy No. 1") confused with N.W.A.

Actually, excepting the prison breakout scenario of "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," PE has never promoted violence (toward police or anyone else) or hyped pro-gang rhetoric (which seems to be mostly a West Coast phenomenon). In concert PE speaks out against illiteracy, conformity and complacency, encouraging fans not to act violently, and to stay away from drugs. On this tour -- the bill includes Kid 'N Play, Heavy D & the Boyz and Digital Underground -- PE has been inviting audience members to hold hands at the end of the show as a sign of unity and brotherhood among all peoples. Ironically, rap concerts are among the most integrated pop events today. All this -- and threats of a lawsuit over content-based discrimination violating First Amendment and Equal Protection rights -- hasn't changed the FOP's official position, but individual officers will be providing security at the concert.

Fired Up Over the Flag

Chuck D makes a cameo appearance on a forthcoming recording that may well prove incendiary, figuratively and literally. "Burn Baby Burn," by the Harlem-based musician-activist John Mars, recording as 2 Black, 2 Strong and the MMG (Militant Manhattan Gangsters), takes its cues from the current battles over free speech and the recent Supreme Court decision upholding a citizen's right to burn the flag. "You gave me freedom of speech in the First Amendment/ so why the {expletive} are you trying to scold me/ when I'm torching the flag I'm only doing what you told me I could. ... See I made up this new rule and I want you all to learn it/ strike a match to the American flag and burn it."

Other lines refer to "torching the symbol of oppression" and "forcing obedience having to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth." As for the Constitution, "that {expletive's} an illusion." The cut features a guest intro from Gregory L. "Joey" Johnson, whose flag-burning conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court. Johnson recites his mantra: "We live in a sick and dying empire that is desperately clutching at its symbols."

The EP contains various versions of "Burn Baby Burn," including "Sinead's Dub," club and radio mixes and the unintentionally hilarious "Imperialist Inferno." A video is in the planning stages. Out in early September, the EP will be the first release under an agreement between the hip-hop/reggae Clappers label and the street-music co-op In-Effect Records.