Chuck D. is the leader of Public Enemy, one of the contemporary music’s most influential acts, and creator of two of hip hop’s most powerful albums: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back from 1988, and Fear of a Black Planet from 1990.
Born in 1960 in Long Island, New York, Chuck D. attended Adelphi University where he contributed poster artwork to the growing hip hop scene, and where he hosted a hip hop radio show on WBAU.
Forming Public Enemy with collaborators Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, DJ Terminator X, and the martial artists the Security of the First World, Chuck D. led a bold new aesthetic into hip hop, combining the look and messages of the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam.
The group enjoyed enormous success and weathered enormous controversy, creating classic anthems such as 1989’s “Fight the Power” and 2004’s “Son of a Bush.” Chuck D. became a pioneer of digital music distribution, launching SlamJamz and HipHopGods to help artists free themselves from corporate control, bad contracts, and terrible pay.
Just as Public Enemy has toured widely and performed thousands of concerts, Chuck D. lectures widely at universities around the world. He was also a guest on my CJSR FM Edmonton radio show The Terrordome in 1999 and in 2005. The last time Public Enemy came to the Big E was 2010, and that’s when I caught up with Chuck D, at the Edmonton Event Centre, which was the exact place I’d met to interview him in 1999. He discussed:
- Female music producers in hip hop
- His reactions to the frantic cliché “hip hop is dead”
- His thoughts on the arrest of African-American one-percenter Henry Louis “Skip” Gates who was also the head of African American studies at Harvard, and the degrading content of Gates’s series The Wonders of the African World
- His perspective on reparations for the descendants of the prisoners of the centuries-long, continent-wide American rape gulag
- His reactions to the HBO series The Wire and to the comments of one Wire writer who claimed that middle-class African-Americans face no racist barriers to their quality of life or advancement
- His thoughts on the education of African children and teens and US President Barack Obama
- The differences between Canadians and Americans
- His comments about his wife and daughters and thoughts on the problems facing teens
- The personal and political reasons why Public Enemy let Arrested Development create the anthem for Spike Lee’s 1992 feature Malcolm X, instead of doing it themselves
- Whether PE will eventually make a Malcolm X tribute song, and why Malcolm X would not have existed without Montreal
- One of Chuck D.’s favourites writers and favourite books, and
- His thoughts on the then-recent death of Gang Starr’s legendary MC Guru
Note that you’ll hear a strange jump in the ambient noise after the first set of questions. That’s because we conducted the interview at two different times: in the afternoon before the concert, and then an hour before Chuck D. was to hit the stage.
We began by discussing how his then-new music portals She Movement and Hip Hop Gods innovated upon the work he began with SlamJamz.
To hear the ONE HOUR LONG patrons-only extended edition of my conversation with Chuck D. of Public Enemy, click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.
By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes a further interview with Chuck D. and with the legendary Public Enemy S1W Pop Diesel.
Chuck D discusses:
- Whether Public Enemy’s pan-Africanism includes working with continental African musicians
- How US President Barack Obama functioned as a weapon of mass distraction
- The challenges and rewards of Paris’s unprecedented artistic collaboration with Public Enemy on the 2006 album Rebirth of a Nation
- Professor Griff’s phenomenal production work on PE singles “Son of a Bush” and “Revolution”
- Chuck D.’s perspective on his leadership in digital distribution and his rationale for the “micro-niching” of SheMovement.com and HipHopGods.rapstation.com, and
- His thoughts on his friend Bono editing the “Africa” issue of The Globe & Mail and racism in Canada
S1W Pop Diesel discusses:
- The history of the S1Ws and their origins with the Fruit of Islam, the security force of the Nation of Islam, and the organization called Unity Force, and the leadership of the S1Ws under Professor Griff
- His own martial arts relationship with Griff
- Pop Diesel’s non-PE career in his company First World Security, and how their force provides safety in dangerous areas of Baltimore and other areas without its staff being armed
- His thoughts on whether the Baltimore-set TV series The Wire is excellent, or exploitative
- His most profound experiences during his more than two-decade career with Public Enemy
- His cultural experience of learning and mastering martial arts before the era of UFC, and
- His own strategy for a healthy mind and body