Public Enemy Interview with CHUCK D.
Radio sponsored music festivals are often chaotic, disorganized places filled to the brim with creative types, business folk, and overly drunken patrons, and this year’s installment of Syracuse’s K-Rockathon was no exception. Arriving at noon to work, I pulled into the parking lot, greeted by a $15 parking charge and an endless barrage of people wobbling in front of my car, only to find out that my creds were, at that point, nonexistent. Four and a half hours later, everything finally worked out and I got into the venue. But you don’t want to read about my boo-hoo Sunday Sob Story, so let’s get to it.
Questionable NPR intern reviews regarding their output aside, Public Enemy continues to be a defining source for message driven, intellectual Hip Hop. They’re a thinking man’s group that manages to cross over into the realm of Pop consciousness, still fighting the powers that be to promote often-neglected cultural experiences. 13 records and 25 years into their recording career, the veterans recently released their first in a two album cycle, “Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp,” with the second installment, “The Evil Empire of Everything,” coming out on September 11th.
At this point, allow me to say if you don’t know who Public Enemy and crew are or what they’re about, you really need to look into it. Their contributions to our cultural atmosphere deserves more the just recognition and respect… They deserve our praise. Prior to their afternoon performance, I had the privilege of speaking with Chuck D. to discuss Public Enemy’s legacy, new album(s), the music industry changeover, and the state of Hip Hop. Yeaaaaaaa Boiiiiiiiii!
G- What’s up everybody. This is Greg Allis here with Live High Five and I am currently speaking with a Hip Hop legend, Chuck D. from Public Enemy, at K-Rockathon on July 29th, 2012. They’re going to be performing shortly, and it’s an honor to speak with him. It’s been a crazy day, so mind my shortness of breath.
C- How’s it been crazy for you, Greg?
G- I’ve been here since noon (time of interview: 4:30pm) and I just got through the gate because there was a snafu with credentials.
C- Oh I see.
G- But that happens… It’s the music business.
C- They tried to stop me at the gate as well, and I said ‘Well…’ I was following the van, so I got in.
G- Yea that’d put a damper on the show a little bit if they didn’t let you inside (laughing). So, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today. We’re here in Syracuse and you haven’t been here in quite some time…
C- Well, not playing and performing, but I’ve been here quite a few times speaking at Syracuse University on a couple of frozen occasions.
G- Yea, it seems you’re in very high demand for your speaking performances… How has everything been going with that?
C- Good, you know. I mean, I have to space it out to where it has its own time so it doesn’t get in the way of anything.
G- Is there a certain focus during your conversations or do you kind of…
C- Rap, race, reality, and technology. But you know, rap, race, reality, and technology all have different aspects every year. I root my conversations there, but every year brings on a different complexion to those 4 things.
G- And that kind of leads into some of my questions here today… You guys have recently celebrated 25 years in the music game, so congrats on that, and you’ve seen the ups and downs of the music industry with file sharing, record sales in decline…
C- I’ve seen the ups!
G- The ups? You don’t hear that too often when dealing with tech these days… That’s good!
C- All ups! The only down is when somebody decides to stop doing music. That’s a terrible thing.
G- So, what has the positive effect been on Public Enemy at this point?
C- It allows us to make music when we want, videos when we want, and get it straight out to the fans without intermediaries.
G- And you’ve found that you’re digital presence is well run and everything is well organized at this time?
C- I would love it to be more organized, but that would take an infrastructure that surrounds us with more than what we do. We can always do better, but I would say that the infrastructure of Rap and Hip Hop has been lacking. We try to add to it some. I have a great respect for rock and classic rock and how they really kind of hold it together, and we can do the same thing in Rap and Hip Hop music, but it takes a lot of people doing the little work. You’ve gotta acknowledge the people doing the little detailed jobs, and not a lot of that goes around in Hip Hop and Rap music.
G- Now, regarding the state of Hip Hop at this point, obviously materialism is predominant in the Rap game…
C- Well, it’s better than when cats were talking about murdering each other. But then, you can get caught up in materialism so much that the only way you can get it is rob somebody for it or do anything, by any means necessary, to get it, so we could balance it out more.
G- Public Enemy has always come from a revolutionary standpoint, and that is evidenced in much of your music and ideology. What was the impetus behind your attitude when forming the group, and was there a specific trigger that set PE in motion?
C- Yea I wanted to see Rap music respected. I wanted to see Rap music at least join the ranks of Rock for being something that was very captivating, invigorating, and exciting, just like I thought the best of Rock bands had to offer for their fans. You know, I grew up in the 70’s, so I’ve seen Rock bands really enjoy a give-and-take.
Chuck engages in an external conversation with a PE member for a few moments; I’m just wondering how the hell I got an interview. He turns back quickly.
C- My brother.
G- Right on. So, PE is either currently working on or has recently released…
C- The first of 2 albums. “Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp” released on July, Friday the 13th, and the next one is called “The Evil Empire Of Everything” and that’s is gonna be released on September 11th. Both of them are examples of us setting up the first urban music aggregator called Spit Digital Distribution, so that’s really where we’re making our statement with our distribution model.
G- Wow… Excellent! So, can you go a little more in depth about Spit Digital since that is directly related to the music biz?
C- Well, I helped The Orchard and TuneCore, in their beginnings, usher in a new paradigm for distributing music files over the Internet. That was 2004 and 2007, respectively, and we thought it’s 2012 and it’s time that we start our own thing to get into iTunes, Spotify, and everything.
G- Public Enemy still revolutionizing the game after all this time! Good stuff!
C- Yea, I mean, you gotta do the thing. If you don’t do the thing, the thing does you.
G- For our readers, what about PE’s career makes you feel most accomplished as a musician?
C- That you have respect from your peers, and that we have people from around the world that say ‘Thank You.’ A group doesn’t necessarily have to have people say thank you for anything, but people thank us, so I respect that and I honor that, and I’m appreciative.
G- Well, Live High Five thanks you very much! Out of your thousands upon thousands of shows, is their a particularly memorable show or experience in your career that stands out? I spoke with 311 and SA said the high point of his career was when they were playing one of their first dates in Europe, and there were 2 separate shows going on, and someone from your camp approached the group to open for Public Enemy instead of competing. How about for yourself?
C- Someone from our camp approached 311?
G- Yea. A promoter or something. It was 311 and Shootyz Groove, and they weren’t competing with you guys at the moment, and somebody from your camp put them on as an opener. That’s what he remembers most.
C- (giggles) That means I have to say something nice about 311. I always enjoyed their head banging music! We shared time on Mercury with my solo project and when they were with Mercury (Capricorn) back then.
Ummm, I mean I have 25 years of great memories. I guess, most recently, we played in Mexico at the base of a pyramid.
G- That’s a good one!
C- It comes full circle… Good karma.
G- Well, hopefully 25 more years to come and we can trump that and get you playing the pyramids of Egypt!
C- One year at a time. That’s the thing about it… You do the first 25 and then it’s one year at a time. You appreciate it and you sip it slow.
G- Right on. Now, especially in the Hip Hop game, it a constant hustle and it’s probably the most difficult genre to really break through in the music industry.
C- If you look at it that way.
G- Well, I don’t think I could make it in Hip Hop… I’m just a drummer.
C- Like I said, the missing element is a lot of the small detailed work. I mean, that hurts Hip Hop when people don’t focus on the small details.
G- And going into that, with all your expertise and for all of the up and coming musicians out there across the country, across the world, what advice might you be able to give someone who is trying to make it in this game?
C- Our motto… We try to encourage artists to have their own labels. When they have their own labels, we tell them to go one by one. There is no such thing as a failure, and what you know is what you save and what you save is what you make, especially in this DIY age. You have to really pay attention to your base… 1 person at a time.
G- Awesome, man! Thank you so much for speaking with us today, Chuck, and have a great performance tonight!!!
C- Yes sir, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and tweet me at @mrchuckd