Public Enemy released a bookend album set titled "Most Of My Heroes STILL Don't Appear on No Stamp" and "The Evil Empire Of Everything" this summer. This is the group's first release in five years and reflects their continued leadership within the hip hop community as they embrace new technology and digital music production techniques. I was able to have a long conversation with Public Enemy's founder and leader Chuck D, and we discussed some of the challenges and changes within the music industry at large. Chuck D was very open about his feelings on several issues facing new artists as well as the ability to create quality projects with input from various locations at the same time via remote applications.
Below are some highlights of our nearly hour-long conversation.
A key point for Chuck D is that artists are no longer bound by the traditional one release every 18 months which had been the industry standard prior to this new age. According to Chuck, Public Enemy's dive into the digital music creation arena should come as no surprise to the music industry. Public Enemy was one of the first groups release their music on MP3, begin a blog and working with interactive recording by inviting fans so submit remixes to one of their earlier albums "Revolverlution."
What are some of the most notable changes in the new age of music creation?
Chuck D told me that one of the biggest changes is the decline of the long play album in exchange for singles. He told me he feels as though the change from album format to singles began with the first download via the internet. Some of the major players in the changeover have been ringtones and mixtapes which can create a viral buzz for the artist and bring new music to the masses on a giant scale. "This is a chance to make a powerful artistic statement that reflects on the release method as much as the music within," Chuck observed. "No charts, no counts, no pressure, just create, bomb and step back." declares Chuck in the press release surrounding the new Public Enemy projects.
How are the new projects being received?
Chuck indicated he was very happy with response to these new projects. Both the media and fans of Public Enemy are welcoming the new era of creativity from the group.
Although the two albums are different musically, Chuck indicated they were created in "...the same space and time," and are similar to fraternal twins. They are not identical yet encompass the creative ideas of the "parents" he explained. Embracing the new digital music era on another level, Chuck D and his partner Gary G-Wiz created a digital only distribution imprint, SPITdigital. Both of Public Enemy's newest projects will be pushed via this label Chuck indicated. He also said the mission of the company is to provide resources, guidance and training to independent artists in order to give them tools to understand and navigate through the new music industry. The label will also provide digital distribution for select independent artists.
What is the impact of digital music creation on the industry?
In our conversation Chuck delved into the impact of digital music on the industry at-large. According to him, artist are no longer confined to a physical recording studio because the advancements in technology allow them to record industry level sounds from a laptop or iPod. As an example he indicated that Public Enemy's latest projets were recorded via virtual studios spanning 8 different states in the U.S. via the efforts of about 14 production lab technicians. Chuck indicated to me that "today's artists is a studio" and advances in software technology also make them mobile. Online collaboration tools are also key to projects being pieced together from different geographical locations. Sharing solutions such as Dropbox and Sendspace enable rapid transmission of the working tracks to various artists at the same time. This also results in a safe storage area for the digitized sections of a project.
Chuck says he fields the question "Are you in the studio?" constantly. With the new digital recording technology, he feels that this question is outdated. While a studio base is a must to keep an organic feel, recording artists are no longer dependent on the brick and mortar locations. What is the state of the union of Hip Hop? Chuck said he feels the hip hop community is live and kicking. He compared the negative reception being received by the new hip hop sub-culture called "skinny jeans rap" as similar to that of Ike Turner's funk music when he first began touring. "It's all art and who is to say that the new developments in hip hop are not staying true. "Hip hop is a living breathing entity and has not stopped growing or changing according to the mind set of each successive generation" he continued. Lastly, we talked about the new resurgence of battle rap which he called "cute." Chuck told me that battle rap is good training ground for artists looking to move forward into the mainstream. The battle leagues prepare new artists to handle the pressure of agressive crowds and also helps them think on their feet, he feels. In closing, Chuck D iterated that "Artists must strive not to deceive their fans or the media, they have to be very clear where they are coming from and what they are saying." I agreed with him about some of the false conclusions fostered by the new music community. The world does not revolve around strip clubs and blowing thousands of dollars on "bling" or proselytizing the message that women are to be objectified. Public Enemy, with their newest projects although bringing a new sound and production concept, stay true to their conscious message of knowing self and staying true to humanity.
Public Enemy continues touring worldwide and year-round, marking the 25th anniversary of their first single this year! For more information on "Most Of My Heroes STILL Don't Appear On No Stamp" and to hear the first single, "I Shall Not Be Moved," go to the official Public Enemy websiteand the project is also available on iTunes.