(((BOOM))) HIPHOPGODS Tour and Public Enemy SMASH the USA !
Across the USA The HIPHOPGODS TourFest features a CLASSIC list of guest groups, MCs and DJs including X-Clan, Monie Love, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, Wise Intelligent, Son of Bazerk & No Self Control, Awesome Dre, Davy DMX andDJ Johnny Juice.
Chuck D makes it clear that this isn't about any one band or one tour but rather to re-establish hip hop as music of the people and let fans see it done "old school, which is not a derogatory term." It's also part of the HipHopGods.com, a community for old-school hip hop fans.
The site, compared to "classic rock radio" by DMC of Run-DMC, is just another way Chuck D said his band and his format is staying ahead of the curve. Public Enemy's two new albums "None of My Still Don't Appear on No Stamp," and "The Evil Empire of Everything," were first released online with little fanfare this summer. Chuck D said he knew the right people would find the music. "We were the first ones to get into the digital. Everyone is communicating that way now," he said. "We were just waiting for everyone else to catch up."
Now they'll pave the way to a hip-hop revue that many doubters thought couldn't be done. Not only did the show in Washington, D.C. show the style of the show was solid but fan reaction took hip hop right back to the street. "If you look around, there really hasn't been a hip hop tour. That is a misnomer," said Chuck D talking about one-off shows and corporate-heavy tours. "That's really heavy and unrealistic. It takes away from what is best about performance art. The music and DJ, the graffiti, that is the teamwork that makes it as entertaining as Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. The Hip Hop Gods tour will bring the light. We are making a statement - we control this."
For more information, go to the HipHopGods site.
Hip Hop Gods Tour Dates:
November 28 Washington, DC 930 Club
November 29 New York, NY Irving Plaza
November 30 Philadelphia, PA Licouras Center
December 1 Burlington, VT Higher Ground
December 2 Boston, MA Royale
December 4 Indianapolis, IN Vogue Theatre
December 5 Chicago, IL House of Blues
December 6 Minneapolis, MN First Avenue
December 7 Lincoln, NE Bourbon Theatre
December 8 Denver, CO Ogden Theater
December 9 Jackson Hole, WY Pink Garter Theatre
December 10 Aspen, CO Belly Up
December 12 San Diego, CA House Of Blues
December 13 Los Angeles, CA Nokia
WASHINGTON DC HIPHOPGODS CLASSIC TourFest PREVIEW
>MINNEAPOLIS PREVIEW PART 1
MINNEAPOLIS PREVIEW PART 2
Public Enemy's Chuck D: Yeah, I voted in the 2012 election
By Reed Fischer Thu., Dec. 6 2012 at 10:00 AMWrite Comment
Photo by David Wong
L-R Atiba Motta, David Reeves, Flavor Flav, S1W Pop Diesel, DJ Lord, Chuck D, S1W James Bomb, Professor Griff, Khari Wynn, S1W Mike Williams
Rap music is an omnipresent sound in the country's earbuds today because acts like Public Enemy refused to fold. With two albums released this year, Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp and The Evil Empire of Everything, this has been a vital time for the 25-year-old group and its merciless mouthpiece Chuck D.
Now, his task is raising up the community around him with the Hip Hop Gods tour featuring luminaries X-Clan, Monie Love, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, and more. The show is a continuous explosion of "classic hip-hop" that focuses on the performance art aspect above all.
Gimme Noise reached Chuck D in Indianapolis ("the other 'apolis" city, he says) ahead of tonight's First Avenue show to discuss Rhymesayers, PE's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination, and Brother Ali, who he calls "my dude."
A Dozen Pivotal Moments in the 30 Year Career of Public Enemy
Brother Ali guests on Public Enemy's new album
Public Enemy honor Brother Ali in new video
Gimme Noise: What's at the center of your friendship with Brother Ali?
The core is the bond is the humanity of hip-hop and just being humble. Slug introduced me to him when we were doing a panel in Minneapolis, and from that point on, we continued our relationship. We be wherever we can be to be in service to him, to help his scene and everything that he deserves.
What do you guys like to talk about?
We talk about life. Sure, we're artists, but the core of this, we're human beings. I'm an older brother who can actually give some advice, and a cat who can learn from a great artist like him about the way he sees the world and things like that. We're human beings first, and this is what we do. A lot of times when people look at athletes in sports, they have it understood. When it comes down to music, especially hip-hop, because people look at us as being some sort of abnormality [laughs].
What do you think about the structure Ali has worked within at Rhymesayers?
I've always enjoyed they way Rhymesayers has treated hip-hop. They treat it like it's a craft, not a hustle. They see the shoddiness of the industry and how it's treated the middle of the country. People talked about the tour market going down in hip-hop, and shows turning into radio behemoths that charge $135, it totally became something else. Building from the ground up is the only way to go.
Yeah, and in that touring model the Twin Cities often gets skipped over for hip-hop tours.
'Cause you do. Most places get skipped over. When you're talking about gigantic situations, they can only end up going to five or six cities anyway. New York, L.A., maybe the Bay, Chicago, possibly Atlanta. That's not touring. Those are just festivals. Rock the Bells is a festival. They can't support a $150 ticket in parts that have really been torn apart by the American recession. These artists are corporate situations. At the end of the day, you say "Is this hip-hop?" Rhymesayers takes those "other" markets. We're going to enter a couple of those markets on this tour.
The Hip Hop Gods tour is a prototype. This is the first time we've been to Lincoln, Nebraska, and Jackson, Wyoming. So we're making this a showcase to a city that never thought they'd see these artists ever.
You dropped two new albums this year (available via SpitDigital) so how can you balance getting that out to people with the old stuff some cities have never heard before when you perform?
Region and territory will dictate that. It's no different from the Rolling Stones. If I'm going to see them, I totally wanna hear "Satisfaction." I want to hear the body of work over two hours. Even if we get one hour, we're going to give people good representation, energy, and effort.
My favorite part of the Hip Hop Gods is everyone playing together and doing what they feel. The theme of Hip Hop Gods is not looking at artists just for what they did before, but these artists are cutting records now. They're touring the world now. We make sure we get out each one of their social networks. I made initial calls to these artists and they all agreed. If you look around, you can't find any other hip-hop tour that goes East to West, North to South. Usually, there's a big hole in the middle of the country
The U.S. still faces plenty of the problems it did when Public Enemy got started. Does this get frustrating at times?
In politics, 25 years is a short amount of time. In music, they're dog years. They're long and they're stretched out. Many people have not changed a bit. Pretty much, it's been a flat line. It doesn't get frustrating, because this is a job I have to do. Hip-hop is my military, and when you're in service, it's your job not to get frustrated.
Have you ever performed for the military?
Not specifically, but many military members have shown up at our concerts.
Did you vote, and were you hesitant to do so?
Yes, I voted. I have no hesitation. People have died and struggled, black people especially, for the right to air their views in this country. I have a lot of issues that this country needs to deal with, but I don't think me being invisible or having a protest that's disjointed necessarily helps that process.
How does it feel to reach the group's 25th anniversary?
I grew up as a sports fan, so I respect tenure. It does mean a lot. I feel good about my team. Whenever my team can get awarded, why wouldn't I feel good about that? I wouldn't necessarily go around and say "This is great for me." I feel good for people like Griff and Flavor and Terminator and DJ Lord and Hank Shocklee. It's great for our art form.
Tell me what this expression "classic hip-hop" means.
I was inspired by what they did with classic rock back in the '70s and '80s. To separate the Led Zeppelins and the Beatles from the Bostons and the Framptons of the time. Classic rock is a different thing, so that's why we call it classic hip-hop -- we don't call it old-school.
So it's about taking control of history. And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination could help a lot.
If it wasn't for Public Enemy's international travel, and our profile, would we be around 25 years just dependent on the United States to cover us? Hell no. I want to see this thing for my peers that we have for ourselves. Since we're nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if a light shines on us, we're going to shine it back at the genre. Whether we're elected in or not, we're a force to be reckoned with.
Guns 'N Roses didn't seem to think too much of it.
They're within a genre that's organized. We're within a genre where the infrastructure's been fractured and taken over by corporations. Any rock group exists within an organized genre. The cats in Guns 'N Roses can say, "Well this doesn't mean shit because there's so many other rock cats who it does mean shit to." In the case of Grandmaster Flash in 2007, Run DMC in 2009, and last year with the Beastie Boys, this doesn't just speak for the artists, it speaks for the genre. People say hip-hop is dead because there are so many areas that have been neglected, used, and abused that anything we can do to revitalize is important.
Gods of Hip Hop Tour: Public Enemy. With X-Clan, Monie Love, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, Wise Intelligent, Son of Bazerk & No Self Control, Awesome Dre, Davy DMX, and Johnny Juice. 18+, $25, 8 p.m. at First Avenue. Click here.
Chuck D also hopes to make a special appearance at Brother Ali's Occupy Homes anniversary event, which begins at 5 p.m. Details here.
Getting ready to launch the "Hip Hop Gods Classic Tourfest Revue," I spoke with Public Enemy's Chuck D last week in advance of his band's appearance this Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at House of Blues in a thirty minute phone conversation that hit on Public Enemy's pair of new albums, the city of Chicago and the band's ability to embrace digital distribution and social media both in the studio and on tour...
Certainly, you've spoke and performed in Chicago many times. Anything stand out for you about the city?
So, Chicago... I mean, it's just an automatic home and backyard to me. Everywhere from the people in Chicago and the support of people back in the day like [DJ] Pinkhouse, the radio stations and the people that actually represent Chi-Town on the west and south side (George Daniels)... I can't get enough of saying how important Chicago has been to us.
I've heard you're a fan of Chess Records and I know you're a fan of Chicago blues. I feel like that honesty and raw emotion is always something I've identified in Public Enemy's music.
Yeah, it's one of my biggest complaints when somebody asks me "What do you think about music over the last fifteen years?" And I'd say the biggest thing... I don't really come at the artists but one thing I do notice to be missing is conviction. Do you really mean what you say or spit? That's one thing. The honesty in music and performance art is something that I've always wanted to ring true.
But Chicago artists were always great at that as well. What you saw is what you get. There was really no faking or pretending when it came down to that. And I'm even talking about rap artists especially.
It has been twenty-five years since the release of the first Public Enemy single. This year, Public Enemy released two new albums (Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stampand The Evil Empire of Everything). That's a pretty radical undertaking that utilized modern technology in a way a lot of artists aren't capable of yet. Can you tell me a bit about the concept behind the two albums and the thought process involved when it comes to releasing a pair of albums in an era where the album has supposedly been so devalued?
We were one of the first to step into the digital realm. And we felt that this was our area. This digital realm happens to be really the best thing that the artist of tenure has going for them. So we started SPITdigital in 2011 as an urban aggregator, one of the first urban aggregators selling to digital stores. But at the same time, between our release in 2007 (How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul???) and right now in 2012, the only thing we had to wait for was people to catch up, to realize digital is the first thing. That conversation had to not only be with the fans of music, but also retail had to finally get it. Like, "Look, we're going to have to really realize that this is the kit and caboodle and we've got to follow the tail of this." And that started to change in 2010 with the advent of smart phones. Smart phones is what really made it official that digital was the music priority as far as delivery. When we built SPITdigital in 2011, understand that I came along and I assisted The Orchard in 2004 and also I assisted TuneCore in 2007 and we built our own in 2011.
But the smart phones, the pads, the Androids came along and that has once again changed the whole realm of digital distribution so therefore it was right to release two albums to make a statement in 2012. I mean, releasing one album is like "Big deal!" So we showed people, look, it's not so much about the album, it's about the platform. And it's not about [Public Enemy], it's about how many people can actually take advantage of this: New artists but we also haveHip Hop Gods, which I was inspired by classic rock in the mid-seventies (When people felt that there had to be a difference between the Chuck Berrys, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones from the Bostons and the people that were coming in the mid-seventies). So I felt that hip hop and rap music over a thirty-five year period has the ability to departmentalize itself as far as exposure areas and people paying notice that this is a different aspect of the art form than what's branded by corporations today.
When [The Rolling Stones] come through, they present an event that you have to kind of succumb to. And that's what Public Enemy wants to do. We're going to present an event.
I like both albums but The Evil Empire of Everything specifically, I feel, is a very fully realized album that covers a lot of musical ground (lyrically as always but musically too). There's soul on everything. You've got Tom Morello and Henry Rollins on "Riotstarted!" Ziggy Marley is there on "Don't Give Up the Fight." What's it like for you when it comes to putting together a new album and choosing these guest spots? Because they're chosen well...
Well, knowing that we had two areas of opportunity... Maybe if this was twenty years ago this would have been an extended A-side or long B-side or something like that. But since the album format has redefined itself, we knew we had two albums to work for. So it wasn't like "Oh this was leftover from that album." They both got designed simultaneously as being one aggressive thing that we thought we'd do in a Bomb Squad type of way with producers that had a sensibility of what they thought and what they knew we came from. And then also, The Evil Empire of Everything was more philosophical, more experimental, and coming out of left field where it was more like "OK, what do you think? Go for it."
So this is why we said as our statement that these are twins but they're not identical. They're fraternal. But they'll talk to each other and all you have to do is try to do your best to understand.
...when you individualize the genre, you take the awe out of audience, the A-W-E out of audience.
Well the albums sort of bookended the summer but The Evil Empire of Everythingcame out not long before the 2012 election. I can't imagine that release date was a coincidence...
I really wanted the album to come out around September 11th but we had to space it towards some other things. That's really one advantage of digital is that you can space things precisely and not get them caught up with up other structures like warehouse, manufacturing and all the other things that really effect physical. As a matter of fact, the waste of physical retail is what really kind of took their ship down. Because they wasted so much in that business. And our thing with SPITdigital is the final realization that digital is the dominant delivery of choice. Wasn't to say that it will be the only way. We also released the CD in November and our vinyl releases will be December and January.
Those things are no coincidence. They're very planned out and it's to our own time. It's not based on "Hurry up and rush and get it over so the next product can come through!" We believe that artists should dictate their time. Because when you make a song and you make a piece of art, it's out there and it's out there for the test of time. So you might as well at least plan to knock out your time that it's going to go out there to the world and don't go by anybody else's clock. I think that's been the biggest issue for a lot of artists even when they become independent, that they go to somebody else's clock or somebody else's accounting success methods. I just think that's bull. No. Write your own map. Have your own plan.
Ya know, you look around, there's not too many boosters lasted twenty-five years. Period. Much less groups of black music. Much less rap groups! They've succeeded in individualizing the art form and the genre and that I think has been the biggest problem with rap music and hip hop. Because when you individualize the genre, you take the awe out of audience, the A-W-E out of audience. The performance art in it is what made people say "Wow! What the?! I can't do that!" Because everything moves in synchronicity: The DJ and the emcee in sync. And then you have the addition of the dance and the graffiti artistic aspect. And they all work in sync which makes somebody say "Well this is a total experience." The same type of sync that when you check out The Beatles or the Rolling Stones or any band, you say "Well, damn. The guitar, the bass, the drummer and the lead singer are all in sync coming at me. I might be able to get one of these elements but I can't get them all."
And once they took that out, the corporate structure came about and said "Well it's the emcee that counts because they make the records." They reduced it to the reflection of what an accountant and a lawyer want to see instead of the thing that made people just say "This is mind boggling!" This is why a lyricist alone is not mind boggling because a lot of times the other elements are left out of the equation.
So Public Enemy as a group... and yeah, there's records that are being made but there are so many elements to the records (and more elements to the stage performance) that the recordings are just a facsimile of what the group is about. When the Rolling Stones come into town, people can say whatever they want: "Oh, they're old." "I like 'Satisfaction' or 'Miss You.'" Whatever. When they come through, they present an event that you have to kind of succumb to. And that's what it's about. You present an event. And that's what Public Enemy wants to do. We're going to present an event.
And we're also restoring our peers on the "Hip Hop Gods" tour. People that we can say, "Look. Let's do this" and just have an event that goes the course of three or four hours of art and is integrated with the systems of now (instead of waiting for the Viacoms, Clear Channels and major structures that will never come!). Take advantage of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook with your music and get that person who loved that record twenty-five years ago to be like "Wow! I like that record you did last month. I'd like to stay locked in and in tune with you... And by the way I bought your single for ninety-nine cents from iTunes and SPITdigital." Why not?
The "Hip Hop Gods" tour is a great package tour and you've managed to keep the ticket price pretty low so just about anyone can afford to get in the door and check it out. It's only $30 here in Chicago. What goals do you have for this tour?
There is such a thing as touring in the United States for a hip hop tour but it has to be scaled to reality. You look around and you say "Where's the last hip hop tour?" Nobody seems to know. You say "OK, maybe it went in the hands of Jay-Z and Kanye when they went around and did Watch the Throne and they had all these big corporations around them and tickets were $130." OK... Or while it's not a tour, there's a bunch of one-offs where radio stations bring all the rappers in that they play on the radio stations for major companies and they once again are able to have tickets for $150 for something that appeals to the people that they broadcast it in front of. That's not a tour either.
So what we want to do is almost go in the future and still go back. Going into the future, we're saying that with the social networking, classic artists are determined by their name and their abilities and also their legacy and the music they've made past, present and future. And also going back, meaning that's what they did on the "Motown Revue" or "Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars" or the shows at the Regal. Everybody get together, play together, travel together. They even did that on "Fresh Fest" one and two, when Run-DMC, Whodini and the Fat Boys travelled on two buses. This was before people got bigger and say "Hey, I'm gonna have a bus alone." And once things get to those heights, the ends don't justify the means. And that's what happened to, not just rap music and hip hop, but the touring market is down because the touring market seems impressed by its gross receipts and not the awe that they left the audience in. And what I mean is, this tour hopes to replace the A-W-E into the hip hop and rap audience and we're doing it from the bottom up.
Well it's not just rap where that A-W-E aspect is lacking. It's touring in general. I think you take the average fan out of the equation when you start charging a sum of money that is astronomical to a kid or to somebody who just doesn't make that much.
No question. My thing is like this: It's going to be beyond somebody coming in and seeing somebody that they followed when they were fifteen and seeing them again at thirty-five and saying "Wow, they did that song." That's not old school. Classic is where they came along in classic rock in the middle of the seventies and it was the separated, the differentiated, the standard. This is the standard. And that's what we plan on doing with "Hip Hop Gods."
And we plan on "Hip Hop Gods" having a brand touring at least four or five times a year in different configurations. And I'm just starting this one out. Not only am I doing like what Ozzy Osbourne did to Ozzfest but I'm hosting it. I'm putting my signature on it. There's a right way to do it and there's a wrong way to do things. Too long, it's been the wrong way because it's been about what somebody can get other than the fans. The fans gotta be able to go home and say "Yeah, I saw X-Clan do 'Heed the Word of the Brother' but at the same time I got to socially network. I went and bought their new song for ninety-nine cents. I'm in lock with Brother J. I'm tweetin' him back and forth. I loved it!"
The biggest fallacy that they have about artists is that artists lose it. And that's why I handpicked an amount of artists that would travel on one bus, two buses, whatever. We'll take it around, we'll headline it but I want people to know that the artists don't lose it. Especially when B.B. King goes around at eighty-eight years old and is tearing the house down. Buddy Guy in Chicago. So why would a rap artist be any different?
One of the travesties, I think, that's been done to rap music and hip hop from a classical standpoint is that they called it "Old School" and they would get a whole bunch of artists and throw them on a small stage and have them do old songs with shoddy systems and just kind of throw them at people and people would go down memory lane. Nah. That's not what we do. No. That's not what we do. Yeah, you'll hear catalog. You'll hear some new stuff. You'll hear some new approaches and you'll learn some new information. This is what makes it relevant. You have to be relevant beyond negligent.
*** This interview conducted by Jim Ryan
>CHECK OUT AND READ ARTICLE HERE
A Cultural Manifesto: Chuck D of Public Enemy
Posted by Kyle Long on Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 2:35 PM
click to enlarge
"Hello, this is Chuck D," the booming, resonant voice on the other line answered.
He hardly needed to identify himself. As the driving force behind the incendiary Public Enemy, Chuck's trademark vocals have become a hip-hop institution and a significant force in American popular culture. I spoke with the MC via phone a few days ahead of Public Enemy's appearance at the Vogue to discuss how the group has used music as a powerful tool in the struggle for social justice.
NUVO: Years ago, you had a famous quote labeling hip-hop as the "black CNN." Do you still feel hip-hop fills that role?
Chuck D: Hip-hop is now a worldwide cult religion, I've been saying that since the turn of the century. It's woven into society. The listeners aren't just the youth anymore - we have a range of listeners from age zero to fifty. That's a big range of people who say they identify with hip-hop and respect it as a culture.
NUVO: Do you feel hip-hop is still an important voice of rebellion?
Chuck D: Yes, of course. You got to write songs about something and hip-hop goes right to the point on topics that are relevant. The level of exposure is different now though, because radio and television are so coroporatized. That's a topic I want to open up even further.
NUVO: Is that what your Occupy the Airwaves project is about?
Chuck D: Yes, I believe that local artists should be heard on their local airwaves. Instead the stations spend all their time playing music from artists who are not from that area. I believe 40 percent of the airwaves should support local artists and local activities ... so they can make a living in their own community.
NUVO: Do you think artists have a responsibility to address social justice issues?
Chuck D: I think the media has a responsibility to show the positive side of what artists are bringing to the table, instead of just trying to capitalize on making profits.
But I think if an artist doesn't want to say anything about anything, they should at least have the accountability to appoint someone who does. They don't have to deliver the message themselves, they can point their audience to people who do. That's what I did on my records. I always thought Minister Louis Farrakhan did a lot of great things for black people, so I always pointed my audience to him. I pointed to many other figures, some historical, that I believed had great aspects of leadership. So that's the artist's responsibility, to point to something beyond themselves that's beneficial to their audience.
NUVO: Looking back at your career as an artist, can you see places where your work influenced social change in the United States?
Chuck D: I can see that I participated in things that brought change. I believe you can participate in growth, or you can participate in demise. I try to leave decay alone.
NUVO: In 1991 you recorded "By the Time I Get to Arizona" about Arizona governor Evan Mecham's refusal to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday. Recently this song has taken on a different meaning to a new generation of activists fighting Arizona's implementation of racist anti-immigrant laws. What are your thoughts on the struggle of undocumented people?
Chuck D: I actually wrote about that on our new album The Evil Empire of Everything. We did a song called "Icebreaker," which addresses I.C.E., the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Quotes lyrics) "I know a silent nation in dislocation / Frustration from legislation led to a demographic in isolation / Another participation in decapitation / Anti-immigration against brown skin ..."
NUVO: In 1989 Public Enemy came under scrutiny for comments made regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Professor Griff left the group over the ensuing controversy. What are your thoughts on the current situation?
Chuck D: This struggle has been going on so long it's ridiculous for rappers not to talk about it. Because U.S. politicians have avoided having a precise conversation about it and the media has always steered clear of being balanced in their conversations of this issue. So, there needs to be dialogue.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features classic tracks from Public Enemy.
JACKSON HOLE WYOMING
>READ JACKSON PREVIEW PIECE HERE
PUBLIC ENEMY NOT A G-THANG
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
By Jake Nichols
Jackson Hole, Wyo.-Public Enemy came to drop bombs.
The seminal hip-hop group's 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show was like a keg of dynamite - a volatile blend of inner-city aggression, pulsating drums, and a thrumming wall of sampled loops. Exactly a year later, PE lit the fuse. Like Bum Rush, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was like nothing the world had ever heard.
Sure, Def Jam label mates the Beastie Boys and platinum record, Grammy nominees Run DMC had already paved the way, rapping over break beats, but no one had yet come along with Chuck D's radical restiveness and rhyme. The Beastie Boys were clowns that wouldn't be taken seriously until later in their career and Run DMC fell into the self-bluster mold that continues to trap so many rappers.
Public Enemy was the voice of a sociopolitical movement. While number one hits like Club Nouveau's "Lean on Me" (March, 1987) and Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" (March, 1988) appeased America's safe mainstream tastes, a storm was brewing. PE seeded a change then that still regards its progress in fits and starts, and succeeded, in the early years, in labeling the group terrorists and an enemy of the government. Public Enemy number one.
Black angst, a rolling stone
Carlton Douglas Ridenhour grew up in Roosevelt, N.Y. - the same neighborhood that gave the world Sandra Dee, Eddie Murphy and Howard Stern. The most influential years of Ridenhour's life, his first decade on this planet, were tumultuous times. Vietnam, the Black Panthers, Summer of Love, and assassinations dominated the headlines. In addition to John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., were also gunned down. The man who would be known as Chuck D learned early the world needed a message.
Chuck D has raged all his life against the machine. His immediate target was the new wave of music coming out of his radio. Just as early hip hop earned fans by pushing back against disco in the '70s, PE attacked the music industry on their way to dismantling the system.
"A lot of the music of the '80s I detested. That includes a lot of the black music and the rock. It just became corporate and artificial. It became sex-driven," Chuck D said by phone on his way from DC to NYC after the inaugural show of the Hip Hop Gods Tour 2012 at the 9:30 Club. "I still had a hard time getting away from the way music was in the '60s and '70s. When it came down to making rap music we incorporated a lot of those aesthetics and ingredients."
PE's early sound was devoid of melody on purpose. These tracks weren't radio-friendly sing-alongs. Chuck D's perturbing lyrics boomed from his ample baritone above sandpaper grooves borrowed from so many influential b-boy tracks the resulting provocation gave hope to the oppressed and terrified the oppressors.
"Racism is still an issue in America. Sometimes black and white is a TV set, and they get mad when it's ‘browned out,'" said the lyricist who has travelled to 85 countries in his 25 years of touring. "The world has so much to offer, places where it's irrelevant how you look or the color of your skin. America still has some ways to go to catch up with that. But in America, a lot of institution and policy is still embedded in that. Even with a black president those institutions and policies are slow to change."
Chuck D probably didn't know his music would kindle a generation to disbelieve the hype and then fight the power. In the late-eighties, D was closing in on 30. By today's rap standards, he was a producer's age. He should have been instructing 19-year-old stars on how not to blow their paper on bling and blondes. But Chuck D was just seasoned enough to know music had to have more to say than today's ball-grabbing braggadocio.
"Today's rappers gotta say something," Chuck D said. He listens to everything. He likes Canadian stars k-os and K'naan for their intelligent design. Brother Ali also has his respect as an artist with something worthwhile to say. And Chuck D recognizes skill. "What Busta Rhymes did on Chris Brown's record was stunning. Not easy," D told a journalist last year about Busta's ferocious triple-time guest rant on "Look at Me Now."
Genre genesis: The ‘G' spot
Early hip-hop leeched out of its Bronx bassinet in the late '70s. Most point to DJ Kool Herc's "break" parties at Sedgwick and Cedar during the height of gang violence in NYC as the birth of hip hop. At his parties, Herc's boilerplate style gave feature to the "breaks" or looped drum-heavy segments of music by James Brown and others, where talked or rapped vocalisms were encouraged.
Herc's unique sound was picked up by artists like Grandmaster Flash, who added "scratching" and "cutting" to the break while MCs did their thing. Enter Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks" and Doug E. Fresh/Slick Rick on "The Show" and "La-Di-Da-Di" and a sound was launched that Wal-Mart had no genre tab for and wasn't exactly in a hurry to find one.
Public Enemy upped the ante with headier lyrics and a clamorous wall of sampling noise that was the specialty of producer/arranger Hank Shocklee. Chuck formed PE out of Spectrum City, a fledgling mobile DJ operation on Long Island. Hype man Flavor Flav was an old chum from around the way. Both D and Flav were from the same 'hood but didn't meet until they attended Adelphi University. Both had brilliant minds.
The Hard Rhymer grew up with educated parents and a father, Lorenzo Ridenhour, who was active in his life. Flav, born William Drayton, was a self-taught musical prodigy, mastering 15 instruments before his teen years when he began a string of run-ins with the law.
While delivering furniture for his father, Chuck D and Flav kicked out a two-song demo that would eventually influence the Beastie Boys' and Run DMC's sound and would convince newcomer producer Rick Rubin that he had to have them on his new label Def Jam.
The debut record delighted critics but scared off radio programmers. The follow-up Nation of Millions benefited from Spike Lee's use of "Fight the Power" on his Do the Right Thing soundtrack. By 1991's Fear of a Black Planet, PE had cemented themselves as one of hip hop's most prolific influences.
"Times have changed, especially over the last few years," Chuck D said. "Before, you needed more hands on the board and more minds on the music. But now you have people that are a virtual board anyway so they can transfer information over digital files that gets across and you really couldn't do that before."
Public Enemy still employs turntablist Terminator X or DJ Lord and Minister of Information Professor Griff despite occasional in-band flare-ups. Still, everywhere they are scheduled to play, fans want to know if Flav will make the show.
"Why wouldn't he be there? I don't know where that came from," Chuck D said when asked about his jovial sidekick. "That's what Public Enemy is. I don't think I'm gonna do Public Enemy without Flav. I had to do it before like that once when I had no other choice because he was inside the justice system and wasn't able to leave. That was about 10 years ago. But out of 5,000 shows maybe he's missed 20. I wouldn't be out there without him, and I wouldn't bill it as Public Enemy without him."
Rap and roll
Hip hop artists soon had to endure major speed bumps along the way to initial accomplishments. Violence marred the industry in its raw youth and copyright issues threw a wrench into PE's "sound" and threatened to derail the entire genre.
Shootings erupted into full scale war in the late '90s with the killings of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. When Minister Louis Farrakhan organized a rap summit in 1997 to restore order it was Chuck D, sitting right next to Queen Latifah, who helped calm the waters.
"I think a lot of [the violence] is the media's fault," Chuck D said. "And I think that's been a travesty. I think when media continue to just talk about the bad aspects ... you are bound to have side effects. It's too bad that that affects the art form."
In the lawless days of the golden age of rap, artists also sampled from recordings freely with impunity. Before long, the financial success of hip hop brought the major labels, the attorneys and the lawsuits. One listen to PE's first two albums as compared to 1991's Fear of a Black Planet and the shift is immediately apparent. Sampling was getting too costly to do it the way PE liked to.
"Public Enemy's music was affected more than anybody's because we were taking thousands of sounds," Chuck D told Stay Free! magazine in 2002. PE lifted hooks from no less than 24 different recordings for "Night of the Living Baseheads" - from David Bowie's "Fame" to Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" to Rufus Thomas' "Do the Funky Penguin," which was also featured heavily in "Don't Believe the Hype."
"The[se] sounds were all collaged together to make a sonic wall," Chuck D continued. "Public Enemy was affected because it is too expensive to defend against a claim. So we had to change our whole style."
The change meant artists like PE couldn't afford to sample from multiple recordings. Dr. Dre spearheaded the revolution by latching onto one hook - Leon Haywood's "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You" on "The Chronic" - and riding it throughout a song. Things got tight for a while, until Chuck D did something about it.
"Now it??s more open than it used to be," Chuck D said. "People have the leeway to make their mixed tapes and sell it. It really was a closed system years ago. There was only a few companies that had the means to get things out there. They had the connections and were tied-in with incredible teams of lawyers and accountants."
Chuck D is now a huge proponent of an open music industry and encourages artists to get inspired by those who came before. "History shouldn't be a mystery especially when it's documented so well. There's a treasure trove of ideas and musical influences in recorded music," Chuck D said.
Chuck D is proud of his own music distribution database SpitDigital.com. Began in 2004 and perfected by 2007, the online software allows fellow music artists to get on the tip of the acts that paid their dues long before. Chuck D explained, "Now if anybody wants to go look up Doug E. Fresh [a major influence of Chuck's] they can go right to his music, his information, and his social network. This is making the world of music different than maybe 10 years ago. Better."
Chuck D still regrets suing Notorious B.I.G. over his use of Chuck's countdown in "Shut 'Em Down" for "Ten Crack Commandments." He settled out of court. Since then, Chuck D has been fine with others using PE stuff, including Evolution Control Committee's 1993 mix of PE over a Herb Alpert track, which many regard as the birth of mashups.
Straight into Jackson Hole
These days, the preacher/teacher cusses less: "There is still cursing but I am selective on what songs I want to do it on and what songs I won't." And keeps reinventing PE's sound: "Public Enemy never done the same thing twice. We are always experimenting with sounds."
Memorizing lyrics is probably the biggest challenge left for the legendary hotstepper. We asked him how he remembers all the words to a song like "Welcome to the Terrordome," which has 666 by our count.
"I try to make sure I remember the first few lyrics," Chuck D admitted. "That's a very difficult thing, by the way. Memorizing the lyrics is probably the hardest thing for me. Writing them, I have no problem. Performing, I have no problem. But memorizing for the performance has always been an issue."
If Chuck D forgets any words to songs he wrote - some more than two decades ago - it will be understandable. He won't, however, commit the classic rock star faux pas of forgetting which city he's in.
"I've been through Wyoming a few times - to Cheyenne and Laramie - but not on the Jackson tip," Chuck D said. "So this is a really going to be an experience for many people. I'm glad we're coming through Jackson. I know a lot of people go there. This one's looking to be special."
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