Photo courtesy of Carl Ryder
In Part 1 of The Real Hip-Hop’s discussion with Public Enemy’s front-man, Chuck D, he blessed us with stories of the late Jam Master Jay, gave us a glimpse into the making of Ice Cube’s first solo album, and provided background on the latest offering from Mistachuck, The Black in Man.
In part 2 the rhyme animal goes in depth about the 30th anniversary of Def Jam, his public tiff with New York radio station, Hot 97, his opinion on the recent racial unrest in America, and offers some insight into the next Public Enemy album.
TRHH: Do you believe that the recent incidents of unarmed black men being murdered by police will rekindle some kind of consciousness in young black people or Hip-Hop?
Chuck D: If education is not available 24 hours out of a day for a young black boy or girl and ushered in by older people, how do we expect them to actually turn the coin to actually say, ‘I’m conscious of the fact’? We know they’re frustrated. The United States of America made it seem like if you’re a young black person unless you’re famous you don’t mean shit. You ain’t got no money? You don’t mean shit. As a matter of fact you’re going to look at people that look like they got money all the time even if they don’t and this is what you gotta look like in order for you to mean shit. Police brutality has been happening all this time because it’s the end result of the captured – the captured demographic, captured culture, and captured people does not ever bode well for people who have never had the control to teach themselves, manage themselves, enforce themselves, educate themselves, and make a living for themselves. It’s going to be more catastrophe than one.
These things pop up even more so because of social media. You can get angry but you’ve got to process anger. How do you process the anger and who are you speaking to and who are you speaking for? Black folks are only 12% of the United States of America. In order to get things to change you need to convince a whole lot of white folks in America because it’s a big body and block of them. People keep talking about race riots, ain’t gonna be no race riot. It’s going to be racial tension in places where black people live if it don’t get better. We only live in so many spots in the United States where most of the American programs are going to be like, “Who gives a fuck? They don’t live near us.” You want to look for black folks in America you can find us. You know where to find us. That’s what happens when you don’t have the demographic numbers to be a legitimate threat at times. I mean a threat just knowing that you can do your own thing and you have your own thing rolling without always help from the government, although I don’t have anything against the government assisting the forwardness of our demographic of people. Other people seem to be actually moving because they have help from the outside. Black folks are cut off from the diaspora of black people around the world who are going through similar struggles because of the color of their skin or the detachment of where we are from.
You’re going to have these cycles perpetuating and people are going to make money off of our demise like they are now. You lock somebody up, you getting money [laughs]. Lock black folks up, shit, you’re getting money. If getting money is the name of the game who is getting money while we getting got? The prison industrial complex is the biggest cache industry for the past X amount of years in this millennium. You would think that it would get better but as time goes on we’re more into this programmed slavery that is evident. So what do we do about it? On The Black in Man I talk about the prison industrial complex on a song ‘P.I.C. I Hate Every Inch of You’ which actually was a record that Johnny Cash wrote about Folsom Prison. It’s talking about the prison ground. It’s another Johnny Cash reference. He used it on The Man in Black, and I’m The Black in Man.
TRHH: A lot of people, myself included, took offense last year to Peter Rosenberg saying, “Nobody made Chuck D president of Hip-Hop”…
Chuck D: Well nobody did. He was absolutely right. It’s a job that I wouldn’t have fuckin’ took anyway.
TRHH: [Laughs] You were criticizing Summer Jam, but his words didn’t seem to bother you at all. Can you explain your feelings behind the whole thing?
Chuck D: Well number one the thing that got me twisted was when they tried to defend that nothing was wrong with a stadium full of white folks hearing and also mouthing off the word “nigger” 500 times. My whole thing is Hot 97 was sloppy and it’s not censorship but damn man, control the goddamn performance. While everything has gotta be a nigga-fest you gotta have white folks in the stadium. And then you say, “This is the way it is now,” well who told you that? Who gave you permission to actually say this could go and you throw everybody black under the bus just because a few people with some jobs said so? That was my point of view.
When they had the audacity to try to defend it I had to go beyond just calling it sloppy. I just said it was sloppy. They got more offended that I called it sloppy as opposed to saying it was fucked up! I just said it was sloppy. They came out of left field trying to defend it saying it wasn’t sloppy. I’m like, dude I’ve been part of 5000 shows and concerts. You’re trying to tell me that this shit isn’t sloppy? It was sloppy when I was part of it. The first thing that the host said that year was, “Yo, you gotta peep these niggas. These was the niggas that started the revolution. Give it up for these niggas PE!” This was the host. Don’t try to tell me what you did and what you didn’t do. That’s some bullshit. It was wack when I was there. It was bound to get sloppier with nobody there to hold y’all in check.
TRHH: I was working Lollapalooza a couple of years ago and I heard a white kid recite a Kanye lyric, “Shout out to Derrick Rose, you know that nigga nice.” A white dude said that right in front of me. I ain’t going to jail for nobody, but it made me wonder, what happened that this is okay in their minds? Is Hip-Hop partially responsible for throwing that word out there to make it seem okay?
Chuck D: A grown man and a grown woman is partially responsible for pretending that it’s okay. That’s what it is. It ain’t got nothing to do with Hip-Hop. If you’re grown and a kid throws a battle at your crib you ain’t gonna be like, “Oh, that’s just what they do.” Fuck outta here! What you throwing a bottle at my house for? Ain’t nobody taught you better? What, are you going to be scared of the kids ‘cause they might have a gun? So as grown folks you’re just not going to say anything? How are you going to have a stadium full of white people up there and y’all spittin’ “nigga” like it’s water? Who taught you that? Nobody addressed those questions. Nobody came up with an answer. I would have even accepted somebody saying, “Man, I came up with that ‘cause I’m that nigga, yeah!” Yeah, okay, so we know how to deal with you accordingly. But nobody said anything ‘cause they know that something is wrong in that picture.
People try to legitimize the word “nigger” and I’m like, what educational process allowed you to think you could come up with that and get away with it? They’re like, “What do you mean? Fuck that.” Most people try to answer with some quasi-sounding education bullshit. Who told you that? Once you’re sloppy with something it has a tendency to get sloppier and even disappear. When it happens to get itself back on track what you have is somebody putting it on track that ain’t got nothing to do with you. Oh yeah, a lawyer is going to make sure that Hip-Hop is running right [laughs]. Some accountant is going to come in and give it infrastructure. Man, please. It’s like somebody coming in your house and cleaning it every day but you ain’t sanction them to clean it. You just sloppy as a motherfucker and going to take what is clean and find out at the end of the day that you don’t own it or shit.
The whole thing with Peter Rosenberg, I never looked at him as being the problem. He was never the problem. The things that he was saying were totally irrelevant. Dude, you aren’t even making sense to your friends and supporters [laughs]. I’m just saying give me some answers, man, and cats couldn’t come up with answers to support it.
TRHH: I met Rosenberg at Rock the Bells a few years ago and I find him to be disrespectful in general. He is dismissive of anything that was before he discovered Hip-Hop. If it’s not A Tribe Called Quest or Nas it’s old, angry, or whatever. It’s funny coming from a Jewish guy to me but he acts like he’s a champion for the culture.
Chuck D: Well, it’s understood. Everybody has that right. When it comes down to it, it might be one of those things where if it’s dismissive based on his convenience to have something to say or to have a hold on something that could be unfair to those that are before his time who are trying to get a leg up in the industry in which he has a job. But the more that you get deeper into it you’re humbled by the vast opportunity for everybody to make this thing grow even further. You’ve got to be humbled by the size of Hip-Hop. It’s a worldwide thing. Why would I go to Sao Paulo and do a free concert in the city in front of 50,000 people who basically speak Portuguese? Why would I get hired to go to Brazil and do that? It’s because of Hip-Hop. Does it mean they’re more or less than any Hip-Hop fan? No. The more that you’re humbled to the existence of what this music is, what it’s done, and where it continues to reach the more you’ll realize that your opinion should be building and not wanting to take it down.
TRHH: I think I heard him do an interview with Kool G Rap and G Rap was saying that he was inspired by Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee and this guy sort of laughed. G Rap was saying how nice those dudes were and Rosenberg and his crew kind of thought it was funny. Not just Rosenberg, but a lot of people have little respect for the pioneers of Hip-Hop. The Rolling Stones are celebrated. The Beatles are celebrated. Certain genres of music respect their forefathers, but in Hip-Hop the people that laid the groundwork for you are laughed at.
Chuck D: For me to give you an analogy that runs into slavery it goes beyond the article that you’re trying to cover. It can’t be conveyed in two or three sentences. Even if I say it’s connected to slavery people don’t have the vast detailed concern to over-stand the answer and say, “I see that, I see that.” Or they don’t have the over-standing aspect of giving a fuck to know that that’s the reason [laughs]. So you gotta have to give it in broad strokes and go somewhere else that say, in order for Rosenberg to really be accepted by somebody in Hip-Hop he has to feel that he’s in a position that he knows more than who he’s talking to. And to fill the position to know a little more than who he’s talking to he’s relying on two instances. He’s relying on the appearance of people who might actually look the part but don’t know as much so he can actually seem superior to their inferiority in the knowledge of the genre. Or he could just feel like the history that starts with him is where it really started to take off and everything else is something, because nobody is concerned about that because he doesn’t encourage the concern in his position of power. If you don’t encourage people to be concerned about shit that you don’t know about that keeps you in a power position. It’s too deep to put into a few sentences.
It’s one of those things that I know more than you, so how come you don’t know your shit? I do know my shit, I know more than you! So what put you there? “Oh, the shit that you know doesn’t count,” that type of thing back and forth. Rosenberg didn’t invent that. He’s just part of that character role that’s been there for a long time be it Blues or Jazz. Eventually they rely upon the ignorance of black folks to not give a fuck about our history so they might feel that they’re lending a service to black folks like, “Hey, this is your history and I think you should know this and the fact that I’m telling you this gives me credence of being here.” [Laughs] A person has to rely on the ignorance of somebody who A, has never had their history presented to them on a regular basis through unusual circles and B, not being able to give a fuck about it since they haven’t been presented with it. It’s hard to put in two sentences, Sherron. Once you go down the road of racial reasons in 2015 it’ll make the most ignorant person of history come out and say, “What the fuck you talking about, you got Obama!” [Laughs] We’re not talking about that! What are you talking about?
Cultural history is important. I get blown to the side when somebody black especially wants to not pay attention to the white guys that follow black history like they don’t exist. The Rolling Stones named themselves after Muddy Waters’ record. But they don’t know nothing about Muddy Waters. They don’t even know Muddy Waters was the title of Redman’s album and they call themselves Hip-Hop! Where do I start with you? You gotta go bit by bit. You can’t teach history overnight. The closest time when history seemed to drown people overnight was when Hip-Hop decided to dip into history and you had this thirst out there. This thirst was out there having people go into history books and challenging teachers. KRS-One was dropping more history in verses than anyone has ever heard in their life regarding black people or people of color. People got interested and it was like, “Oh man, they infiltrated the mainstream with this. We gotta figure out a way to turn this shit down a little bit.” I’m not saying it was a concentrated effort but they, and what I mean by the ubiquitous “they” is the people at the cash registers of the culture, felt that they could make more money off of ignorance than they could off of areas that they defined as a threat. All along it was that fear that “If these black conscious artists get more and more educated what’s to stop them from following my white man company self to my home in Connecticut? It’s not like it’s some thug shit. They’re smart and they’re talking that thug shit. This is a problem!” A lot of the west coast gangsta stuff was really convenient because it took the heat off a lot of peoples backs too.
TRHH: That was the time that I stopped listening to Hip-Hop a little bit. It kind of turned me off. I was listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the alternative stuff that was coming out. I just didn’t believe it.
Chuck D: I know. The main thing was the belief of it. You had to believe Ice-T because Ice-T would tell stories. He would cap an end to a story that would really make you question whether you should go that route or not. N.W.A. came in with, “If you wanna take that road, we’ll watch you take that road.” Whether you believed that Dre and them were gangsters was irrelevant. Ice Cube would write a story and he was so clever that it would make it alluring. When Cube left that fold as a writer then the logic went out of it. Then you have a lot of people that copied off of that shit. I believed aspects of The Geto Boys because they were those dudes for real from the 5th Ward. Other cats would come out and you’d be like, “Damn, I don’t really believe if you’re this dude at all.” Some cats would come out and you believed them but they weren’t good [laughs].
Gangsta Rap was so supported at a particular time and now everybody wasn’t good and those that happened to be good wasn’t that cat for real so they were just faking it. But it was still supported. Even the conscious music era had a lot of cats that weren’t really true to the core honest and believed it. One thing you got at that time was rap music’s honesty in the late 80s and early 90s. Kurt Cobain and his crew were totally giving it from what they thought was real. Pearl Jam, those dudes man, shit! Layne Staley, them motherfuckers believed every bit of what they were saying to the point that it haunted them. 2Pac believed every little chord of whatever he said and did. It was a thin line with that like, “Yo, man do you really believe that shit?” Some cats were like, “Hell yeah I believe that shit!” and some cats wouldn’t tell you. That was a big change. By the end of the 90s the honesty of Hip-Hop was vague. It was kind of here and kind of there.
TRHH: Sort of along the lines of what we talked about earlier was your song ‘Anti Nigger Machine’. It’s another one of my favorite PE songs. Why was that song so short?
Chuck D: Because it had to fit the scheme of the album. We wanted to deliver 60 minutes straight like a radio show. On a radio show dead air will kill you, so we never believed in dead air. Everything longer doesn’t mean it’s better. If ‘Anti-Nigger Machine’ was longer I don’t think it would have been better. It’s almost like what I believed for The Black in Man. It’s 37 minutes and the biggest complaint about it is, “Damn, I wish it could be longer.” A, it ain’t gonna be longer, B, that’s what we wanted you to say. In this day and time less is more. You should make the most out of less. I think that’s the way albums should be in the millennium.
TRHH: The 30th anniversary of Def Jam just passed. I know you had issues at some point with them in the past, but what’s the biggest lesson you learned career-wise from your time at Def Jam?
Chuck D: Number one, I was recruited to go to Def Jam. Rick Rubin reached out and asked if I could be down. That’s a different dynamic than anybody else has ever dealt with. I was never looking to be put on. The biggest thing I learned at Def Jam was you gotta build your area around yourself to fit into their machine. The minute that they stopped having people that did it for themselves to fit into their machine and they started wanting to do it for others it helped some, but it also curtailed others. I never really had issues with Def Jam, but with Universal. It was never for public record to put out there for people to talk about because it’s nobody’s business anyway. It’s my business. Somebody asked me if I had an issue with the releases that Def Jam had just done and I said Universal has done it with Def Jam and why would I disrespect my releases? Or disrespect them trying to put it in the marketplace? They’re like your artistic kids. I support that and I support the fact that they were able to make sure that each piece was out there and thorough.
We left nothing in the vault. There is no such thing as being unreleased but, there are things that were released on 12 inches that people will never find and they don’t have. We were thorough with that and they got thorough with that at Def Jam/Universal, even down to re-releasing a DVD which we won an award with years ago and it was cool. You don’t go anywhere dissing the things that you made yourself, even if they own it and got the masters. I’m not going to diss any of the things that I was a part of. The things that I’m a part of stand the test of time because I still rely on those things. I’m gung ho about it and I’m glad. They just better send me a box of my shit [laughs]. Whatever help they need from me, if I got the time I’ll help them out. One of the best things was having one of our true scholars, ?uestlove curate it – that’s important.
TRHH: When will we hear the next Public Enemy album?
Chuck D: I don’t know. I think we’re going to come out in different rotisserie parts. The key for me and the crew is to release records and songs in different configurations and different elements. Part of Public Enemy 2.0 is breaking Public Enemy down into parts. Jahi who is a guy I’ve known for 15 years, is a veteran emcee, and Public Enemy with DJ Lord, Davy DMX, Atiba Motta, and Khar Wynn the band leader make up the baNNed. The idea came from going to a George Clinton show and their supporting band was an act that came from their camp called The Children of Production which was a song that was on one of Parliament Funkadelic’s popular albums in the 70s. In The Children of Production were other band members and disciples from Parliament Funkadelic, even George’s daughter. They would do the songs that Parliament would not do in their set – or songs they never did or haven’t done in a long time. The shit blew me away. Children of Production is coming out doing songs like ‘Funky Woman’ which is on the 1970 album and ‘Funky Dollar Bill’ and shit like that.
That gave me the idea that when we go around and do a tour we need another component of Public Enemy that sets Public Enemy up, which is me, Flavor, and the rest of the crew, but using Public Enemy parts. After a year of discussion we started Public Enemy 2.0 when Jahi comes out and performs records that we don’t ever stand a chance of doing, and we also cut an album on him reinterpreting Public Enemy records but in his own vein. We just released ‘YO!’ which is off of People Get Ready by Jahi. Jahi is originally from Cleveland so we released ‘YO! to coincide with LeBron James coming back to Cleveland like Jahi came back to Cleveland where I met him in 1999. Now he’s out in the Bay and he’s an “emcee”. He understands where Public Enemy is coming from. He can handle any crowd. He can take a crowd from shit to sugar and we’re glad to have him along as part of the PE machine. PE2.0 means Project Experience Millennium. The next PE record will probably be 2015 but before then you’re going to see a lot of the parts of PE also release pertinent songs – some of them with my involvement, most of them not. The PE album will definitely be short.
TRHH: The last time we spoke you were headed to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I loved your speech. I was very proud of that speech…
Chuck D: You caught the edited version.
Chuck D: Yeah, man. Flavor was up there 15 minutes, man!
Chuck D: I had to go to the bathroom and pee and I couldn’t find a spot. He kept talking and I was like, “What the fuck?” It was crazy, man. They took the knife to that whole thing. One thing they didn’t take the knife to which they could not which was also the biggest honor was having Harry Belafonte usher us in. That was bigger than anything else in the world. And Spike Lee! Spike came out. I’ll tell you a line that was really funny right — Spike is Spike, man [laughs]. We’re in the place and they’re naming the inductees, it took 18 years for Rush to get in. Their people were out in force! All of Canada came down, man! The reception for Rush was crazy and Spike said, “Yo, we’re on the road! We’re on the road at Boston Garden!” [Laughs] And Rush put it down in their performance, too. It was really good to get acknowledged. Harry Belafonte and Spike Lee – that was special.
Purchase: Chuck D – The Black in Man