mINtSOUTH were recently offered the chance to have a chat with none other than Chuck D from Public Enemy. Mike Spall, one of our longest contributors, was brave enough to make the phone-call to the legendary rapper….here’s how it went:
“So, I was asked to interview Chuck D in anticipation of the monster Public Enemy headline show at the Brighton Dome on the 29th October. ‘Hell Yeah’ I said! Then the reality sunk in….
This is not some newcomer to the world of music, this is Chuck D! I mean, this guy is very famous indeed. He’s toured with U2, written soundtracks for Spike Lee, he’s met Barack Obama, has collaborated with everyone from Henry Rollins to Meatloaf, Ice Cube and Anthrax. He’s in a little known band called Public Enemy (John Connor wore their T-Shirt once!) with his mate Flavor Flav, who is arguably even more famous!
Yep, the reality sunk in and I got very nervous!
It didn’t start so well. On the dot, I phone up, Chuck answers. He’s on a call to another journalist, ‘can I phone back in ten minutes’? Damn, I was psyched up for this..
I phone again in ten minutes.. No answer.
Then the phone rings! CHUCK D phones my house!!
It starts badly, I am clearly reading questions from a sheet. Chuck is very polite but he must wonder what a douche bag he has ended up with! We have ten minutes, I am concerned we won’t even manage five..
Well, nearly twenty minutes later and we’re both on first name terms and I have thrown the questions out the window! It went well. Readers, I present to you, Mr Chuck D…”
Chuck D – Well, we were the first (hip hop artists) to really take it across the world. We set off to view the world and not be stuck in the United States and that was really helpful. We’ve had the opportunity to spread hip-hop around the world and plant the seeds.
mINtSOUTH – Many of your peers have made huge amounts of money and no longer seem interested in making music at all any more, let alone delivering messages about politics and civil rights. What is it that still drives you to talk about these things?
Chuck D – Uh, politics and civil rights!!
mINtSOUTH – Fair comment!
Chuck D – Yeah, the right to be civil is always a struggle around the world. I’m not a big fan of governments, I’m a fan of culture. Culture brings human beings together better than anything else
mINtSOUTH – I think you’re absolutely right
Chuck D – When it comes down to politics and industry and business and structures you can’t have that dominate our humanity. Well, we do and that gives me something to talk about!
mINtSOUTH – Yeah, I sometimes wonder myself if the world would be a better place if we took down all the borders.
Chuck D – It is unfortunate that it is a world full of borders but to take down the borders and still be a world that acknowledges our differences as human beings, that’s the struggle. We have to work at it.
mINtSOUTH – In the 90’s especially, politically charged music was all over the airwaves and on MTV but it seems harder than ever to get that kind of music out there. It seems that whilst there is more public access to music than ever via the internet especially, this has also led to it being pushed underground and away from the mainstream. Do you ever worry that as a consequence politically activated music is often only preaching to the converted?
Chuck D – Well, it has been easy in the last ten years or so for a whole new generation to be pulled by the choice… but something has to be there when people run into a wall. There’s always gonna be a scene for artists that go beyond. I mean you gotta write about something and in order to have a ten year career you can’t write a song about the same thing for ten years.
mINtSOUTH – Do you think things have changed much in the USA since Obama has been in office? I certainly get the impression he is more popular in Europe than he is in the USA…
Chuck D – Well, why do you need a President to be popular? Popular can mean anything. I think Obama has been trying to fight so many people off to be able to do the right thing; it’s a really odd situation. I think he’s a good man, the government needs an overhaul but even they’re coming in. It is like being a good driver with a bad car trying to fix the road at the same time! He’s a pawn in a chess game.
mINtSOUTH – He is just one man. I think it is interesting how his Presidency is a landmark victory for civil rights but it has also further highlighted how bigoted the world can still be. You only need to look on a YouTube comments board to see how pathetic we are as a race of people sometimes!
Chuck D – Yeah, it is an electronic fish tank!
mINtSOUTH – Public Enemy has a huge white audience. Why do you think it is that your music and the message appeals so much across racial barriers?
Chuck D – Human beings want the truth! They don’t want the same old lies proliferated by the same old people so when it comes down to it, especially when we first came out, there was very little that any people that liked hip hop or rap knew about Black American history.
mINtSOUTH – Coming back to your music, I don’t want to get too heavy, not in a ten minute phone call anyway! You have never been afraid to mix up musical genres, from the early mixing and scratching approach by the Bomb Squad, via digital beats, programming and in more recent years, live drums, bass and rockguitars. The two records this year seem to encompass everything you have been about over the last 25 years and yet still adding new flavours to the mix, particularly noticeable on the almost pop leanings of ‘WTF?’ and the traditional soul and r’n’b of ‘Everything’. How is it that you guys are able to still be so inventive when again, so many musicians in all genres would have run out of ideas by now?
Chuck D – Music is music and the more music we know about that’s been captured behind us, then the more great music we know is in front of us. So we can always explore great sights and great sounds of the great music that has been documented in the last hundred years. I’m not saying that’s an automatic thing that gets you over it but when we perform there’s a driving influence and energy from other music that excites us that we can appropriate into our own music. We really love music.
mINtSOUTH – That’s the key, being really open to other music does open you to creativity. I teach music in a school and you get some kids that are so into a punk band and all they write is punk music! Broaden your horizons, listen to everything!
Chuck D – Yeah I know, with me I think that one of the things that is wrong with society you know is it is not only music that’s important, for me it is also great paintings you know? I’ve always liked to read great stories from music journalism covering other artists and reading historians and reading their books. I’ve created (song) titles. I’ve created themes off of it. Created avenues and lyrics from other artists.
mINtSOUTH – That leads me on to my next question. You’ve never been afraid to collaborate and often with artists some might raise an eyebrow at. The ground-breaking collaboration with Anthrax and going on tour with U2 springs to mind. Is it all about getting the message to as many people as possible or is there more to it than that?
Chuck D – Well, different music and cultures can bring us together as human beings and that’s very important and music is music. And yeah Mike, it reaches a lot of people but that doesn’t mean you should change your stance. Be who you are and deliver it and as long as you think you’re of the attitude of right and good then you shouldn’t feel bad about it. I mean as long as you’re not spreading a message of hate. That’s a different thing. I mean, there are things that you should hate; you should hate racism, you should hate sexism, you should hate, you know homophobia. You should hate a lot of these things but the one thing that liberates us is that we can have a musical connection with somebody despite having a different background. But that’s just me and the guys. I’ve always enjoyed exploring outside the box.
mINtSOUTH – Can we expect any surprises from the live show when you return to the UK at the end of October?
Chuck D – Yeah! We think the latest shows will top anything we’ve ever done. That’s the goal.
mINtSOUTH – I think that’s the goal with any gig.
Chuck D – Yeah, the goal with any gig is how much we challenge ourselves and making sure that anyone who hasn’t see us before leaves shaking their head going ‘what the fuck was that’, leaving them awestruck! But with no explosions or fireworks and all that bullshit!! You know when the explosion or some kind of pyrotechnic is moving you more than the music then you gotta go and work on your shit!! Collaborations are beautiful but I think they’re lazy right now where people just collaborate with each other for marketing reasons instead of really trying to do something different.
mINtSOUTH – Definitely right there. I’ve always thought that when some artist does a charity event and I think ‘Are you doing it because you believe in the charity or because it just makes you look good’. It makes me cringe sometimes!
Chuck D – Yeah, ‘by the way, I have an album out right now!’ I can understand a little bit of that though because we dedicate a lot of our time to the road so when we do things it can be part of when we on tour with a new album.
mINtSOUTH – 25 years since your first recorded output; any chance of a reunion with Terminator X in the future?
Chuck D – Ah, we’ve always wanted it but he’s been retired for the last 15 years or whatever and he’s done, not really wanting to go back anyway. DJ Lord has been the DJ with us over 13 years now. The chapter two of Public Enemy has been as interesting and as ground-breaking as the first chapter.
mINtSOUTH – I would argue more so! I’ve been more into the last ten, fifteen years of your music than the earlier stuff. Musically it has certainly been more interesting.
Chuck D – Well, there’s been more fighting with the corporations, the status quo. The way people have been delivering music. I mean, the whole thing with the internet is a story in itself. Our first years were ground-breaking in how we turned the rules upside down and then the next five years after that were about fighting and not becoming what the system wanted us to become. Then the next ten years was leaving that system (laughs!) and then fighting the wave of people that accepted that system that corrupted the infrastructure! And the final five years has seen some crazy shit! The Paralympics thing was really a smack in the face to the corporations and the dominance of Radio and TV. It’s like, the BBC etc. wanted our record to die. They were like ‘how the hell can a record come from nowhere without going through the channels they’re supposed to go through for a chart record’ and that happened because Tom at Channel 4 decides ‘okay, I’m gonna use it as a beat for the Paralympics’. This happened twice in our career. Once with Spike Lee for Do the Right Thing and next with Tom at Channel 4 and trust me it comes so unconventionally and they just hope it goes away! They don’t want their system to be toppled.
Yeah, the last ten years has been very interesting, just as interesting as the first!
mINtSOUTH – I think that is always the way isn’t it. The Radio or the powers that be don’t give the listener enough credit. They always say ‘they won’t want to listen to this’ yet a big record so often comes along when a DJ is prepared to say, ‘no, I’m going to play this’. And the fact is, people want it, they DO want something different. They don’t want to be shovelled the same old shit!
mINtSOUTH is a non-profit making new music webzine, what new music has been grabbing your attention lately?
Chuck D – Well, I have a radio show on Rapstation.com. I’m always playing new music every week that really throttled me. So you should check it out Mike, it’s a wonderful radio show and the sum of many parts. Yeah, check out last week’s show. I opened it up with a track from S Caliber’s new mixtape and then played Solomon Burke singing Try a Little Tenderness live from 2003. It’s a rap and hip hop show but we follow through things like that. I like groups and that’s what I admire about classic hip hop, a lot of good groups.
mINtSOUTH – Chuck, it has been an absolute pleasure. I won’t keep you any longer. Don’t shoot me down for this last one, but my friend was keen to know if you have any other good jokes apart from 911?
Chuck D – Ha Ha! Well, 911 is not a joke for you guys there!
mINtSOUTH – Ha yeah, sometimes it can be!
Chuck D – One of my happiest moments of Public Enemy was when Flav came out with his own hit record with 911. I really thought then that we were a group to be reckoned with; when your second vocalist can actually make a hit.
I’m sorry, I gotta end this call, I appreciate you man.
mINtSOUTH – That’s cool. You’ve given me a lot more time than intended. Been an absolute pleasure and I can’t wait to see you guys on the 29th.
Chuck D – Thank you Sir.
And then he was gone. I was concerned this huge figure, the frontman of the formidable Public Enemy would eat me alive but as it turned out, he leaves the forceful approach to the music. Chuck D was polite and every question was thought about. I felt like he actually gave a shit even though I suspect he has answered these same kinds of questions a billion times over. If you thought Public Enemy stopped making music when the Radio stopped playing them then re-acquaint yourself with the greatest hip hop band of them all.
Public Enemy play a one-off headlining show at The Brighton Dome on the 29th October. The 1st October saw the digital release of the excellent The Evil Empire of Everything (available here) which is the second PE album released this year following the equally impressive Most of My Heroes Don’t Appear On No Stamp.
Tickets for Public Enemy’s gig at The Brighton Dome are still available from here: