On the song “Louder Than a Bomb” from the groundbreaking 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, Public Enemy front man Chuck D rhymes, “…I give you what you lack/Come right and exact/Our status is the saddest/So I care where you at, black…” Those rhymes were almost like a mission statement for Chuck D and PE, and they are just as relevant today as they were twenty eight years ago.
In 2001 a company called the Young Chicago Authors started a non-profit named after the PE album cut, Louder Than a Bomb. Kevin Coval, the Louder Than a Bomb founder established the organization to give young people in Chicago a creative outlet. Today Louder Than a Bomb plays host to the world’s largest youth poetry festival.
Recently Louder Than a Bomb celebrated its 16th anniversary and honored Chuck D for nearly thirty years of masterful work with words. Chuck has dedicated over half of his life to giving us “what we lack” and “caring where we’re at” so it’s only right that a little something be given back to him.
Prior to the Louder Than a Bomb festivities at the Metro in Chicago I had the extreme pleasure of speaking to one of the greatest emcees of all-time, a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, and one of my personal musical heroes, Mr. Chuck D.
TRHH: Let’s start off with Gene Simmons.
Chuck D: [Laughs] You fuckin’ with me, man.
TRHH: Gene Simmons said he’s waiting for rap to die…
Chuck D: He’s waiting for Fetty Wap to die? [Laughs] Nah, let me stop.
TRHH: [Laughs] He said he’s waiting for rap to die in the next ten years.
Chuck D: Everything dies.
TRHH: Do you really believe that rap music will die? Classical music still exists.
Chuck D: First of all, rap has never been a music.
TRHH: What has it been?
Chuck D: It’s been a vocal application on top of music, so music is always here. This is why rap has never disappeared anyway. Hip-Hop is a culture, rap music is rap on top of music. It started from cats rapping over records. It’s rap vocal application. Rap is in the middle of talking and singing so to say that rap is going to disappear is the stupidest thing. It’s as stupid as saying, “I wonder when these singing records are going to stop.” To scare him somebody should take one of KISS’ records and rhyme over it.
TRHH: Somebody should.
Chuck D: If they can actually find something good enough [laughs]. I respected KISS when I was a teenager. I wasn’t 2 years old when it came out. I went to an all-white high school. Some kids liked it. I liked the kids that liked Led Zeppelin and that type of stuff. Their music reminds me of cheap beer.
Chuck D: Cheap beer. It has its purpose. I went to college in ’78 so what was happening at that time was Disco and KISS. I think Gene Simmons is looking at rap music as something like what Disco did. Disco when it first started out was very hot. It was a black music, they just changed up on the patterns. My brother introduced me to Disco at that time. You know what I played on the radio show? T-Connection “Do What You Wanna Do.” That was Disco, but all that stuff from The O’Jay’s, “I Love Music” and Earl Young changing the drum pattern – the beat. Then once it got to the point where it was understood and people liked that thing then you started seeing Giorgio Moroder from Germany, computers, Miko synthesizers, it just got corny, man. I think people look at rap music sometimes like anybody can do it or anybody can say anything over anything and it’s going to catch on with money behind it. I think that’s what Gene Simmons sees. He doesn’t understand what Black Milk is doing. He wouldn’t understand guys like Torae. Those are craftsmen. You gotta look at those guys like Yusef Lateef and jazz cats. Looking at a dude like Premier is like Art Blakey. This is the thing to print, Gene Simmons wouldn’t know how to compare DJ Premier to Art Blakey. Hip-Hop cats that are skillful are like the most eloquent of jazz cats. If you ain’t into that world it’s all cheap beer.
TRHH: The last time we spoke you told me the next Public Enemy album would be short, and I was shocked at how short it really was.
Chuck D: Twenty nine minutes.
TRHH: Also what stood out was the sound was different.
Chuck D: The sound is always going to be different. Every time I try to do a record it’s going to be different. I’m never, ever going to be the same. I’m never going to do the same thing twice, and even when you say you’re not going to do the same thing twice you end up sounding here and there like the same thing twice because you are who you are. We’ve had massive successes and intentionally went away from the massive successes that we did the first time around just to be difficult. Outkast was like that, De La Soul was like that. Some people are like, “Well I got something so Im’ma ride with it.” Kanye in a certain way is starting to believe that, that’s the way he’s going to be and like it or not he don’t care. People say, “Bring back the classic Kanye,” but the classic Kanye was like 20 something years old. You can always go and get it. It’s out there. College Dropout ain’t goin’ nowhere.
TRHH: I think with Hip-Hop fans it’s like a special moment in time. If you were in college when College Dropout came out it means something special to you.
Chuck D: They want everything like that. They wanna look like they did in the mirror too [laughs]. It’s understandable but the thing that’s different about music and art is they can go and get the same thing. You want to go back to 1988? Then get on the internet and get everything from that time. You’ll get it exactly how it was.
TRHH: I’ve spoken with Daddy-O and Easy Mo Bee and both of them told me how you motivated them to release their respective projects. What’s it like working guys who are veterans and guys new to the game and helping to bring the best out of them with SPITdigital?
Chuck D: My goal is to make sure that people can get the most out of themselves and explore these areas as artists and craft persons well beyond what society determines for them, “Oh it’s over for you because you’re a certain age,” says who? I want this area to be more fruitful for them but nobody controls this area. I told Daddy-O and Easy Mo Bee to just get in the area of creating and releasing knowing that if it’s one copy that you move to a zillion, the system is set up to give you what you give out fairly. The only thing that I can deliver is a fair system. My latest comments have been trying to get people to understand that SoundCloud started out great but ended up being bought by the monsters. People are finding out that their music is being jacked on SoundCloud. They’re gonna scrape down half your shit and cry to the sample clearers.
TRHH: Eric B was recently on The Combat Jack Show…
Chuck D: Eric B is like a union leader, man.
TRHH: Yeah, he said he had a hand in helping you with business stuff at Def Jam. How exactly did Eric help you and is that sort of camaraderie missing today? I remember seeing Sir Mix-A-Lot on TV years ago and he said that he was doing an interview using all this rapper slang and he said, “Chuck D told me you speak well. What are you doing? You don’t have to do that.” I feel like pulling each others coats and helping each other out is absent in Hip-Hop now.
Chuck D: We were taught by our father who passed away in February. My dad was very clear in saying, “You stand up for who you are. Nobody is better than you. That doesn’t mean nobody is worse than you but you stand up for who you are, and you want people to have better than what you have for yourself. There is enough to go around for everybody. I don’t care what you do but when you go out into the world you go with your head up and chest out.” That was the same thing going into business. I was an older brother to a lot of cats. You can’t gobble everything up. You don’t wanna gobble, you’ll become sick. I would pull Eric over with some things and Eric would say, “Yo man, I got this deal through 4th & Broadway so you better look at your contract.” Eric B was like a union leader, man. The Eric B’s, Hammer’s and Ice-T’s, guys like that would always set people free. They would always be giving of themselves. We had a brotherhood, we traveled together, and we played shows with each other. The stage is where all the niceties would end, but that’s no different from back in the day when Jordan would run into… with the exception of Isiah [laughs]….
TRHH: [Laughs] Oakley, Barkley…
Chuck D: Right, we boys but Im’ma bust your ass on the court. I remember this very clearly, me and Kane are close like brothers, but the thing I remember one time is Kane mopped us up so bad. I mean he just tore us to pieces [laughs]. I was laughing and I was hot but what happens is you get them back the next day. That’s your motivation – honing your talent into a skill. That’s what you want in anything is competition, but it’s growth as a crafts-person. Those times were special, man because it was rap against the world. So when Gene Simmons say something about rap music you would expect that he’d have a lot of eloquent responses as opposed to saying, “Leave him the fuck alone.” No, because he needs to be addressed. What’s your music about? Compare your music to Led Zeppelin.
TRHH: [Laughs] There is no comparison.
Chuck D: I mean, he would. He’d tell you KISS is the biggest band of all-time.
TRHH: The cheesiest band of all-time.
Chuck D: But he’s relying on people who don’t know that. KISS will tell you that they filled stadiums and they’re to be respected for what they did, but you know what, you gotta fight for this too. Who do you think the KISS of Hip-Hop would be?
TRHH: That’s tough, man.
Chuck D: I’m not belittling anybody either and I’m not belittling KISS. Just a spectacle, KISS is spectacle. Who was a spectacle?
TRHH: Hammer comes to mind but I don’t wanna do that to him.
Chuck D: Yeah, yeah you don’t wanna do that to Hammer, right?
TRHH: I have respect for him. He tore down a lot of stages.
Chuck D: KISS tore down stages too. You can’t really point to a music that didn’t. Didn’t they do “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Nite?”
TRHH: Yeah, he said something about Flash and Run-DMC being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame too. He has no respect whatsoever. I take that shit personally.
Chuck D: I know, I take it personally too. If he came around and flipped all of a sudden tomorrow and said he loved rap music would you buy it? I wouldn’t buy it. I’d buy that as much as Howard Stern saying it. We really don’t give a fuck about what anybody says. Fuck you dude, it’s gonna go down. That’s what it’s about.
TRHH: What are you feelings on the support that Donald Trump is receiving as he heads toward being the Republican candidate for President?
Chuck D: Welcome to the United States of America. A place that has forgotten that we were a couple of percentage points away from Sarah Palin being the Vice President with a 70-year old President where anything could happen.
TRHH: What’s next up for Chuck D and Public Enemy?
Chuck D: I got three service areas; SPITdigital, trying to tell artists to have their labels and do their thing, RapStation, a 12 station channel that we really enjoy, servicing thousands of artists, and Public Enemy doing some special things. I’m just trying to be of service. That’s what I’m trying to be on the way out. If I can’t make you go home to your family and say, “I like what I’m doing and I’m paid for doing it,” that’s why it’s important to be eloquent in all foundations of this because it’s not about an artist making a living, it’s about all the service areas. “What are you doing, Sherron?” “I’m a journalist. I write about music, culture, and other things in society.” “Wow, so what else do you do?” “That’s how I make my living.” “Wow, how can I do that?” and you’d be like, “Not overnight!” It don’t happen that way [laughs].
Purchase: Public Enemy – Man Plans God Laughs