Published Sep 26, 2011Chuck D is a renaissance man of sorts, he has had and continues to have a prolific career, not only with Public Enemy, but he has also been very active on the lecture circuit and established his own record label, SLAMjamz, which is in its 15th year of operation. Chuck maintains a torrid schedule and is as vocal as ever, touring and utilizing social media to broadcast his thoughts and opinions out to the world. I had a chance to talk with the Chuck via telephone while he was at home in Long Island, a day before he left for England to begin Public Enemy's 78th tour.
Have you had a chance to follow your New York Mets while you have been busy with touring?
No, not really… I'm a little detached from athletes because the athletes are usually detached from people.
Well, it's probably a good thing, they aren't doing so well these days…
Well. even if they were doing well, what difference would it make? You know the United States is in a very realistic recession and for black folks and people of colour it's a depression. When the rest of the United States flies into some sort of financial and spiritual depression, then black folks get into desperation and I'm trying to avoid that. Culture could provide the tools for some sort of literacy at the radiation that seems to be pouring out at all angles just to make human beings into merely consumers. I like to provide the tools and protection, so to speak.
You have just released a press release about your new track "Notice — Know This," that is a response to Kanye and Jay-Z's track "Otis." Can you reiterate why you released your track in response to theirs?
I think Kanye West and Jay-Z, if you guys are the kings and if you guys are the best, and I think they are best in my book ― ever, from a mainstream opinion ― with great power comes responsibility. That's all I'm saying. Being a fan and also being a person with a little bit of athletic competition in me, I would say... Well look, I'm a fan, its going to be a slight salute and a punch in the chest like, c'mon we can do better ― don't rhyme about the same thing that a 13-year-old is gonna' rhyme about. I just did a 1:35 of what I thought they could do ten times better and still change the world. You know, you can watch the throne but whose going to catch the thrown? Once you go into the realm of the elite, you are usually thrown back, so who's going to catch the thrown?
The way you approach these topics is sort of like a father figure, in a sense.
I've been a father for a long time, I'm 51, I can't pretend I'm 22, even when I was 30 I never pretended I was 25.
I remember when Jay-Z came out and signed the deal with Live Nation and he said he was the Rolling Stones of hip-hop and you were quick to come out and say, "No, we are the Rolling Stones of hip-hop..."
We are the Rolling Stones of hip-hop.
… and you were quick to point out that he was like the Rod Stewart or something, you are quick to come out and respond to these types of things. Is there a reason for it?
Yeah, so they don't get infiltrated into the masses as truth. Where Jay-Z goes, is there a magnitude with it, yes, there is a magnitude with it, but when you are making a comparison you gotta find that one person to peg yourself to, you are a soloist that comes out with songs that an audience can gravitate to, like Kanye West is the Elton John of hip-hop, he's a big spectacle, Jay-Z is bigger than a Rod Stewart…who is he like (thinking)…Eminem is Elvis, cause the U.S. press will continue to make him Elvis…Jay-Z might be like James Brown, he is a one guy dynamo, or maybe Marvin Gaye, or maybe Marvin Gaye is Tupac. You gotta' talk about that one person that can step up in there and carry that magnitude. James Brown would probably be reserved for a guy like Doug E. Fresh. I don't know, it's gotta be that one person that can step up in there and do it all themselves…
Maybe like a Frank Sinatra?
Maybe that's Puffy [laughs]. Maybe it's P. Diddy that's Sinatra.
I'm going to read you a line from Jay-Z's book Decoded and I would like to you respond to it: "So many people can see that every great rapper is not just a documentarian, but a trickster ― that every great rapper has a little bit of Chuck and a little bit of Flav in them…"
As a black man there are a lot of people in the existence of one body, so he is right about that, I'm glad he used us a reference.
In Bob Dylan's book Chronicles, Volume One he says the following: "It's nice to be known as a legend and people will pay to see one, but for most people, once is enough. You have to deliver the goods, not waste your time and everybody else's." Once again, I would like you to respond to it.
Pretty much, gotta get it movin' especially if you are playing with a large bill, usually if you are gonna close it down and be last, people are tired, not that they anticipated you being the big bang at the end but its like ok… make this count.
I talked to Bun B last week, Bun B is now lecturing at Rice University…
Yeah he is a teacher at Rice University. He invited me down, but I couldn't find holes in my schedule… We (Chuck and co.) are creating a curriculum inside the Uniondale high school system, which is going to be the prototype that is hopefully copied around the world. John Rosado ― who heads up my SLAMjamz label ― he is the guy that is actually gonna go there and build this course, engineering a lot of logic on what this [music] business is about and we are going have people come in and give lectures, pretty much what you see with the situations of Bun B and 9th Wonder at the university level but at a high school level, because I feel that getting in on the ground floor at the high school level is very important.
Being an actor seemed to be the next step for rappers such as LL Cool J or Ice Cube, it seems like on a more conscious level being a professor seems to be the thing to do aside from music or after music. Do you think that is something you may have started?
I think I was involved with that ― myself and KRS-One. I was introduced to the lecture circuit by Sistah Souljah back in 1989 with her "Get Busy" tour where she incorporated myself and Doug E. Fresh and then I got involved myself in 1991.
You have a project with Meatloaf going on right now, what's that all about?
[Laughs] Meatloaf got a project goin' on and invited me to be on it, so that's where that came from.
What was he like to work with or have you worked with him yet?
Well it's one of those studio things where we communicated, talked with each other and you know people ask you, "Are you in the studio together?" I shake my head ― this is 2011, your studio is in your phone, if need be, if you're really smart. When we started out in 1986 we all had to be in one studio, everything was analog and you had to slide everything up a board but everything since then has been digital ― you can record in Siberia and be in the same session with someone in East L.A.
Albums are not reflective of today's market place, albums are from a period that was spawned either out of the jazz era in the '50s or in mainstream music of the late '60s, where there was longer radio play, FM was coming in and then they went from albums down to cassettes to CDs. Ever since, the internet has exploded, we've been in a singles market for the last 13 years. I'm not saying albums are obsolete, I'm just telling you that there is a large demographic market place, that don't listen to albums the way that older people listen to albums, like here's an album, here's my artist and we are going to sit and vibe to it for like eight or ten tracks.
There's so much past present and future music out there and now you have people that might not be in the mainstream or in the major labels as professionals or in that realm, that are also in the listening market place. I'm not going to be the first person that tells you albums are obsolete but I will tell you that aspect of the album is different than it was in 1999. That's why I did "The Notice" ― the Otis thing, something struck me and I made a cut in the matter of a night, did a video in the same night and put it out on the web and made the statement. The expediency of the whole process, the way of the walk should be in hip-hop ― that you see a situation, you comment on it, you put it up and you deliver ― BOOM ― it could be up there quicker than Twitter. So anything that actually comes with this big wind up is that of another era, it's like you are giving me commentary that is not really fresh, it's something that you recorded last year and at the same time we are supposed to take it as something new.
I think back to when I was ten years old listening to It Takes a Nation of Millions and PE is in London basically on the heels of many riots, now you see it all again, you see the riots that have happened in France over again, you are 51 now, do you get discouraged when you see history repeating itself constantly?
Do I get discouraged? These are people that have not been able to comprehend any answers that have been out there so they have there own way of comprehending. This is a serious issue and somebody has to give them some answers. I was in Chile and there was 80,000 people concentrated on protesting against the government for education reform. Now, they were a little bit more focused. I think what happened in the area of London is people just stomped out into the streets. I also think that a lot of people were sold the American Dream ― not even the American Dream, the bling American Dream ― that ain't ever gonna even happen to Londoners. They are looking at videos, they are looking at big houses and big cars, in Hackney? Really? I mean they are on a small island and to move into the outskirts of London may be beyond their means and they may not even have the money that it takes to live outside in those areas. Obviously people will be a little frustrated to have all this wealth shoved in front of their faces in the same way as it always ever was since back with the Sex Pistols damned the Queen.
What's the future of Public Enemy?
The future of Public Enemy is to be able to continue to touch the world. That's the thing that saved Public Enemy, the thing that made PE different from any other hip-hop or rap group is we were able to go around the world and not be solely dependent on the United States and its rules, its laws, its everything. To be able to go to other places and relate to struggles elsewhere. I think that's one of the biggest things to hamper hip-hop and rap music ― that it has been retained. Even though it's been accepted, a lot of artists have been spoiled into retaining themselves and have not figured out how to go abroad and relate to different countries. We've been to 77 countries, so you kind of have to know where you're going and know what those people are about before you go, that's our requirement.