Chuck D Says Public Enemy Doesn’t ‘Kiss A–,’ Talks New LP
When Chuck D talks, people listen. The outspoken leader of the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy is not much for holding his tongue on any subject. With more than 30 years in the hip-hop game, the fearless Mista Chuck has seen and done it all. Now one of rap’s most respected voices sits down with the BoomBox to discuss the upcoming Public Enemy album, the revolutionary days of his socially conscious, controversial crew, his thoughts on today’s hip-hop scene and what makes Jay-Z a great MC.
So let’s talk about the status of Public Enemy. There has been a lot of talk of the group releasing an album partially funded by the fans. Is this unique project still happening?
Yes, there will be a new Public Enemy album. We are going to drop ‘Most of Our Heroes Don’t Appear on a Stamp’ late next year. We have never been in the music business to make friends. We’ve never been the type to kiss ass. We’ve always strived not to repeat ourselves album to album.
What do you believe is the main difference in the hip-hop scenes between say the late ’80s/early ’90s when Public Enemy was dropping groundbreaking, controversial albums like ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ and ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ and today’s Internet-driven hip-hop scene?
I like the fact that the technology has leveled the playing field for artists. It’s given us the ability to release music without being under a record label. Unfortunately, another difference is today making music is merely about product and profit. The few artists who are signed with the record companies left are not encouraged to take real distinct different roads.
Artists are not being pushed to stand out amongst the crowd, right?
Right. There’s no patience for the business plan and there’s no patience for an artist plan. So it boils down to artists being forced to be more similar than different. Back when you had, say, an Eric B. & Rakim, Queen Latifah, Boogie Down Productions, N.W.A. and De La Soul, we all were encouraged to be different. Because if you didn’t have your own sound your ass was left behind [laughs].
Do you sit back and marvel at how diverse hip-hop was in those days?
It was an interesting time. You have to understand, in 1987, Public Enemy was doing the Def Jam tour and we shared a bus with Stetsasonic, who has to go down as one of the most underrated rap groups of all time. The next year they came out with a great album called ‘In Full Gear.’ Now out of that bus ride with Stetsasonic you had Daddy-O, Delite, Wise, Frukwan, and Prince Paul. You had the guys behind ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ coming out of that bus ride. And then you had De La Soul’s ’3 Feet High and Rising,’ which was produced by Prince Paul. There was a lot of talent on that bus. But I’m always looking ahead.
Do you think in general music artists today are taking full advantage of the ability to record a song and have it delivered to their fans on the Internet the same day?
I don’t think that’s the issue. The biggest problem area is if an artist sees something that is significant, the tendency now is to stray away from it. I think right now if you have an Alabama rapper and they can’t rap about tornadoes because they don’t think it will sell records, then that’s a problem. If you can’t make a bunch of songs about what happened in Japan then you know you have a bunch of artists that’s just in it to be loved and accepted. And like I said before, Public Enemy has never been in it to be loved. We came into hip-hop to make a statement. You take it or leave it. That’s contrary to, “I’m only in this business to get money.” So yeah, you can make a living from this, but what I’m saying is nobody will have power over my words.
It goes back to when I said rappers are afraid to call bulls— with the way Donald Trump was going at Obama with all that birth certificate stuff. It’s like a dude driving a car, right? You see your friend’s mom and she’s on the corner walking. And you are going in the right direction, but you are like, “Damn, I know that’s her. But I’m going to just go on by because I don’t know where she’s going.” And somebody will tell you, “Come on! That’s some bulls—.’ This dude’s mom is walking in the same direction. We recognize bulls— when it happens. You have to call it out.
What’s your take on someone like a Jay-Z, who has been able to successfully walk the fine line of being a highly commercial artist and, for the most part, critically respected?
The mainstream and the powers that be look at Jay-Z in the vein of how much money he’s made instead of what he has brought to the table lyrically. They don’t know what he rhymes about. The average cat doesn’t even know what Jay-Z is about other than, “Oh, he has a lot of money and he raps.” You have to understand why Jay-Z is a great MC. He’s like LL Cool J. People sleep on LL. He was very dominant; has that [witty wordplay]. It’s like someone being a big fan of Michael Jordan but they can’t tell you what year he came in or what team he played for after the Bulls. They can’t tell you any of that s—. Fans today are so brand-oriented. Sometimes the branding has branded their brains so much that they can’t get away from the facts and talent.
Public Enemy has been together for more than 25 years. There’s talk that you will be the next hip-hop act to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Is this something you think about?
Well, I’m a fan of music. I’m a musicologist. It’s like sports. I don’t play in the NBA, but if I were to play I would love to be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. I’ve always fought for rap music getting its respect. When Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Run-D.M.C. got [into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame], the genie was let out of the bottle. But it’s strange that people are talking about Public Enemy going in when Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys are not being mentioned in the same light. It would be really weird to go in before those guys.
Greatness. It must be nice.
I try not to think about it too much. I’m just a regular cat. I drive through all parts of America and fly through all parts of the world. I’m planes, trains and automobiles [laughs]. Right now I’m on my way to go speak at Stanford University. I’m not on that star s—.
Watch Public Enemy’s ‘By the Time I Get to Arizona’