For the album, Public Enemy's Bomb Squad production team sought to expand on the dense, sample-layered sound of the group's 1988 record It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Having fulfilled their initial creative ambitions with that album, Public Enemy aspired to create what lead rapper Chuck D called "a deep, complex album". Their songwriting was partly inspired by the controversy surrounding member Professor Griff and his dismissal from the group in 1989.
Fear of a Black Planet features elaborate sound collages that incorporate varying rhythms, numerous samples, media sound bites, and eccentric loops, reflecting the songs' confrontational tone. Recorded 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 explores themes of organization and empowerment within the black community, social issues affecting African Americans, and race relations at the time. The record's criticism of institutional racism, white supremacy, and the power elite was partly inspired by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing's views on color.