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PUBLIC ENEMY'S CHUCK D, September 1994

News, reviews, photos and discography

By now, the history of Public Enemy could be considered common knowledge amongst some. Many people are aware of the fact that lead rapper Chuck D was a graphic arts student as well as a college radio DJ at Adelphi University when he met his partner in rhyme, Flavor Flav. Terminator X and The Bomb Squad created the furious mixture of noise that became the groundwork for Chuck D and Flavor Flav to build upon. Some people have followed the albums, from Yo! Bum Rush the Show in 1987 to the newest album, Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age, which is barely a month old. Even more people are aware of the impact that P.E.'s second album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, had on the rap world. And thanks to the national media, which has always been quick to point to the negatives in hip-hop, the entire world has been informed of all the obstacles in Public Enemy's path, ranging from Professor Griff's anti-Semetic remarks to Flavor Flav's recent run-ins with the law. Through it all, Public Enemy has persevered.

The main reason that Public Enemy has been able to remain in the rap game for so long is their commitment to what they believe in, as is heard throughout Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age. "Give It Up", the group's first release off of this album, at first glance, may seem to be slamming the blunts, the 40 ounces, and the harder-than-thou attitude that has been dominating rap as of late and maybe even certain rappers in particular. Not so.

"I'm not namin' no names," says Chuck D, " I'm just sayin' there's an exploitation and a victimization of a lot of groups. The record companies are steering and exploiting them just for the sake of making a buck. People that have been hip-hop fans for a long time give you the average, 'Yo man, I don't know what's goin' on with hip-hop, I don't feel the same no more. It ain't happenin' no more.' And I tell people hip-hop is great. It's just that they're gettin' old. They can't blame it on the artists, so I blame it on the record companies' exploitation. I just think it needs to be more balanced out there. More experimentation, new ideas, and more thinking, instead of this stuff that's been rehashed and done over again and spewed out the same old way.

"There are certain things that are trendy and fashionable. But you're talkin' about a whole genre of music. You gotta have things that are on the highlight, and also you gotta have things that maintain. Alright, let's say if g-funk gets most of the press then it's cool, that's what it's supposed to do, but that doesn't mean that everything else ain't good. See you got to understand, it's all good. It's all good, I love it all. Whether it's g-funk, whether it's New York, reggae, whether it's low tempo or whatever. I just tend to like to do things differently. I don't like to do things that fit in a mold or are trendy. Never."

Because of these beliefs, Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age received some poor early reviews from Rolling Stone and The Source, but these were unfair reviews. They attacked mostly the message and not so much the music. But to Chuck D these were just two reviews out of many. "I don't know why people were giving those two places so much props. I didn't give them all their props, I wasn't that upset, I just said, 'Okay that's their opinion.' I feel different. I feel the album's right, and I feel that they're wrong. It's as simple as that. At the end of the day I'll get 300 reviews. When I make something, I make it for a reason, and it takes a long time to make it. It just takes a minute to review. I do somethin' totally different than anybody else. What are they judging against? You have to just wait and see how it works. If I can't perform it, there's a problem. If I don't really believe in what I do say on the album, then I think that's a problem."

Chuck D also thinks that knowing what you are saying and why you are saying it is just as important as believing in what you say on an album. Public Enemy has often been criticized for being too political and pro-Black and even at times misconceived as racist. "You have to know the reasons why you say things. Like I said on my album, right versus wrong, good versus evil, God versus the devil, choose what side you on. When Elijah Muhammed called the collective race and quality of white people 'devils', he was talkin' about judging on the track record of the white race and its treatment of the rest of the world. You've gotta know the meaning of why you say things, rather than just spew 'em out. A redneck is a redneck. A cracker is a cracker. A white person is a white person. If the term fits, wear it. Like on my album, I'm talkin' about how black people have been programmed to the level of 'niggatrons'. We want to bring them up out of that."

According to Chuck D, the record companies need to give rappers more control on both the business and artistic levels. "They say rap music makes up half of the records sold, but there are very few rap millionaires. We have to have more lawyers and accountants. As far as the art itself, I think the future of rap has to be able to give more balance. Snoop Dogg, believe it or not, is not totally gangsta. The problem is when people try to come much harder than Snoop Dogg. And then people try to come much harder than MC Eiht. You can't go nowhere with that. There's no such thing as a black gangsta. A gangsta is somebody who commits a crime and gets away with it, and then blames it on somebody else. Black people definitely can't do that."

For rap to remain creative, Chuck D feels that experimentation is necessary. "You have to always be able to explore other moves. Hip-hop takes, rap music takes, while other Black music makes. Those other forms of music have terms: jazz, blues, soul, rock and roll, gospel, reggae, funk. The beauty of rap music is that rap is vocal over musical which takes and borrows from any music and blends it into its own particular style. Hip-hop is the culture and the creativity that's involved in all of the above. When you get those terms straight and you are able to elaborate and able to understand what's going on and what you can do with it. Like I say, hip-hop and rap just need more balance and I just feel that there is the ability to experiment more with it and also be able to humble yourself within the realm of Black music. There will always be a location for vocals. People have to understand that it is a vocal application and it's not going nowhere. Looking for rap to disappear is like saying well when will they stop making singing records. That's why it's not going anywhere. The music has already been defined. Right now we're going through g-funk. G-funk is music you've heard before. The vocal application makes the difference. Public Enemy has done the same thing.

"The future of rap, I think, is emphasis on career. Now what makes a career? Four dimensions, I have yet to know the fifth dimension. Four dimensions make a career, this used to be mandatory, but now it is pretty much two dimensional. There are four dimensions. Number one: song-of course you've got to make your song strong, but if you have 50 groups, of course not everybody is going to have the bomb, but you have to have a strong song. Number two: strong video-that's another dimension that people are dependent on in rap music. Number three: your effort-you have to have a concept of what you are about, that's very important. Number four: performance, and that is something that has begun to give way. Back in the day when you had groups like Run DMC, song was strong, video was strong, knew what they was about, and when you saw them perform it was a total package. Those four dimensions are the same school that Public Enemy came up out of. Groups that didn't follow through on the four dimensions had a hard time surviving. Now you got groups out today with record labels giving them one shot to either make it or break it. They don't have enough time to develop. So they might have a good song, video might be good, but you might know nothing of what the group is about, and at the same time, performance is something that you have to acquire. So if groups continue to be two dimensional, what will happen is that the whole art will become vocal and we will continue to see one group come in, and as that group leaves another group comes in.

"If you have no basics, you're definitely going to lose. That's what's lacking in a lot of the rap today. The lack of artist development, the lack of basics that build a career. But the record companies don't need careers anymore. All they need is hype, drama, push it through. They get the profit and at the end of the day, they're on to the next group. If they have a group with a career such as Public Enemy or Run DMC, then they have to answer to that situation and it becomes more of a profit sharing situation."

It was groups like P.E. and Run DMC that created a sound that would be imitated and sampled by many. It was classic albums like P.E.'s Yo! Bum Rush the Show, It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Run DMC's Tougher Than Leather that many upcoming MCs turned to for inspiration. "People are still copying. You feel almost like De La Soul felt. They had the off-beat quirky type of thing and then like 9 million groups come and borrow it. And then you've got groups like A Tribe Called Quest that built a career off of it," says Chuck D. "Jordan makes a move to the hoop, then all of a sudden Pippen tries it, then all of a sudden Shawn Kemp tries it against you. That's just the way we have to keep developing more and more different moves, different looks, different tastes, different types of music, different styles, and you shouldn't be afraid to experiment and take it wherever the chips lay. Then prove it in performance. Performance is the bottom line that makes somebody say, 'Aw man, so that's what it is.' I think song and video can prove only so much, and then you still have to be about what you believe in. That's one thing I will always try and do. I believe in doing this. I don't believe in doing that. I'll make a strong song. I'll make a strong video. And when you see me come in town to perform it, I'll perform the f--- out of it. Those are the four dimensions.

"When I first came to hip-hop, I came up into there after Run DMC. I still think Run DMC is the greatest group of all time in rap because they explored the possibilities. They weren't afraid to trek and go into different areas to make rap bigger than what it was. I was already grown so it had to be some kind of major league thing, not some minor league, underground, street corner type of thing. I was already grown. It's got to be real, got to be major league. I saw Run DMC inside an arena and I said this is real. Ain't gonna thrill me with some park bench sh--. If you're grown, is a bike gonna fascinate you? You're gonna get in the car. My whole perspective of rap music is that I always wanted to be an ambassador to the music, to make my music just as worthwhile as any other genre. I played with Anthrax and just to show everybody that rap is for real. This ain't no put in a tape and spit out a bunch of poetry. Put us up next to a band and we're going to spew out just as much energy in a different way."

-- The W and Mason Storm, The 411

Discography


1987
Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show
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1988
Public Enemy
It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
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1990
Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet
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1991
Public Enemy
Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black
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1992
Public Enemy
Greatest Misses
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1994
Public Enemy
Muse Sick -N- Hour Mess Age
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1996
Chuck D
The Autobiography of Mista Chuck
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1998
Public Enemy
He Got Game
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1999
Public Enemy
There's A Poison Goin' On
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