“They don’t know shit about music, they don’t know shit about moving the crowd, and right now they don’t know shit about moving units, cuz ain’t nobody movin’ none,” says Chuck D.
Apparently, that’s just the way the story goes. But, with a storyteller like Carlton Ridenhour, rest assured that he’ll “Say It Like It Really Is.” Now, whether that brother Chuck D. swears he’s nice or knows he’s nice, he definitely told us why he was mad.
“The lawyers, the accountants, business people; they have lawyer and accountant mentality,” says Chuck from across the secluded booth of a swanky hotel restaurant. “They done fucked the game up for musicians.”
The rapper could also have been mad due to the ride from his home state’s capital to its Western border, Niagara Falls. Mistachuck, along with Professor Griff, the S1W, and Flava Flav, had just rapped a video shoot for the lead track off of their upcoming collector’s edition box set, due out this October. Chances are, though, that Public Enemy’s front man was just mad at all that’s wrong with the industry.
“One thing I never understood – the world has so many backdrops to offer. There’s just so much waste by major labels; they waste so much money. They come up with these grandiose ideas that seem to not work.”
They decided to make the Falls work as their music video set on this third leg of their Fear of a Black Plan Tour; one that would signify the 20th anniversary of the classic album, Fear of a Black Planet. After 23 years of touring and shows, Chuck has made some observations.
“From 1987 to 1990, you put $10,000 into something, you get a million dollars. Today,” he continues, “you put a million dollars into something, you get $10,000. It’s reciprocated,” explains the almost prophetic eMCee. But, he says that this upside down model was only accentuating the obvious. “If the tree is leaning at 45 degrees, y’know? It’s not a prediction; it’s what you call ‘inevitability.’”
What was truly inevitable was the group’s growth, from tackling local injustices in NYC to becoming international icons. Though, their success initially outgrew their label’s ability to keep up.
“The record company couldn’t move at a speed to connect with our audience as quick as we could,” says Chuck. “The big thing was breaking down those walls and those barriers around the world, and then being able to capitalize on it. We didn’t capitalize on it until we had PublicEnemy.com.”
This plunge into the online world wasn’t due to him being a nerd. “That was out of necessity,” he says. “It wasn’t like all of a sudden I said, ‘Oh, wow! This is something that’s new!’ or ‘I’m a geek’ or something.” He continues: “I got tired of making a video, and spending my money, and then it would be scrutinized before it would even get out the building.”
While he confesses to having carte blanche at his debut recording home of Def Jam, Chuck D. says he wasn’t digging the idea of logo-blurring and other hurdle-jumping just to get MTV burn.
“Shit, you gotta do so much bend your knees, and back-bending, and [Uncle] Tom-in’ so you can get played on the damn television? So, I said, y’know, let’s look for fresher terrain.”
The information superhighway has seemingly stayed fresh ever since, as Chuck shows no regrets. “Getting involved in PublicEnemy.com in 1998 was the most gratifying move of our entire career.”
The group also holds a great amount of gratitude towards their fans. Before Chuck D. sat down in the restaurant to take this interview, he was approached in the hotel lobby for pictures and autographs by Asian tourists, hotel staff, and elders from a church group that was hosting a convention at Chuck’s home-for-the-night. Un-phased, he smiled, shook hands, posed, and tagged pics, posters, and napkins (one fan had four P.E. placards that Chuck kept signing until there were no more).
After celebrating reaching the half-century mark, you’d think the brother would be ready to slow down. But, you know what they say about the hype.
“We crossed the 50 yard line,” he says of himself and his comrade, Professor Griff, who shared the “accomplishment” simultaneously on August 1 this year. “We’re braggin’ about it!” he says, stating that the business doesn’t understand how important it is for a Black man to make that mark. “It’s a pleasure, an honor to get there with God’s blessings.” The two enjoyed the occasion at Chuck’s Atlanta home with family and friends providing a roast of the guests of honor. “It was special.”
What’s special is seeing these dudes of 50+ rock like it’s still 1989. Their show is fresh and energetic, just as it’s always been. But, when being told that their latest track was dope, Chuck responded with a mantra he holds. “I have the attitude that Bill Russell did when playing with the Celtics: it doesn’t have to be dope, all it has to do is be performed well,” he laughs. “Then you can make it dope.”
Either way, they performed well, and made it dope for the shoulder to shoulder, screaming crowd in Buffalo’s Town Ballroom. They were ready, they were hyped, they were amped. Starting the set was two S1W stepping in the name of P.E., then Chuck and Griff rushed the stage with a medley of their joints. “Let’s Go!” Flava Man joined the stage shortly after.
Once they banged a couple tunes, Flav addressed the rowdy, awestruck onlookers. Dressed in all red, clock-swingin’ from his neck, he declared: “It’s an honor to be on stage in Buffalo!” The group goes on to reminisce about their first time in Buffalo with the Beastie Boys, when Rick James hollered at them after the show.
Banging classic cuts mixed with many lesser-known post-Def Jam era tunes kept the show’s vibe interesting. Being a true hip-hop group, they had to let the turntables get loose. DJ Lord, P.E.’s replacement for Terminator X since he left the music scene in 1999, has proved himself an ideal member of the group, blending with the style and flow of the members – Chuck dubbed him “the Dwayne Wade of the turntables.”
Another element of the P.E. performance came about courtesy of some well known okayplayers. “The Roots was the inspiration to add the musician standpoint to Public Enemy back as early as 1999 when we toured together in Tokyo.”
So, you can actually hear the drummer get wicked, literally. And when they gave him some, the drummer did get it in, though it was on what appeared to be a Fisher Price My First Drum Kit. The banned, as the accompanying trio (bass, guitar, and drums) is named, unfortunately sounded less of a touring band, and more of a wedding band at best. But, they didn’t take away from the overall experience, thankfully.
Mid-show, Flav points out that both Griff and Chuck have missed cues, and have to do 10 pushups as a result. The 50-year-olds drop, Chuck first, and pay their dues; Griff on one arm, fist down, while counting into the microphone. Wicked, man.
After a Flava Flav stage dive, a rousing rendition of “Fight the Power” got my fist pumping in ways no Jersey Shore cast member could understand. But, Chuck won’t be fighting from within anytime soon. “I don’t get into all that political talk, cuz really, people will think I’m crazy,” he says. Why’s that? “I don’t believe in the concept of any government. I think government, y’know, real to the core, they separate and they divide human beings. And that’s why I’m a culturalist, cuz cultures bring human beings together. Governments are diametrically opposed to that, no matter what they are.”
When the Diddy-based “Vote or Die” campaign – which Professor Griff has been quoted as saying is “utterly stupid, ridiculous, and idiotic” – was brought up, Chuck responded: “I can’t get into that discussion, because [in] some countries, you can’t vote. The whole concept of government in countries to me – I left that alone a long time ago. If I decide to be a politician, which I’m pretty much never gonna do, I can get into some kinda theory back and forth.” He continues, “Other than that, I just tell people to treat people the way you want to be treated, and try to be able to manage your surroundings.”
Okay, so there will be no “Chuck D. for President” bumper stickers printed. But, what about other hip-hoppers and their political agendas; care to sound off there? “I don’t wanna hear nothing about Sean Penn,” says Chuck in reference to Wyclef Jean’s bid for President of Haiti, which has since been denied by the electoral commission. “[I’m] trying to figure out how he’s gonna say, ‘I haven’t seen Wyclef.’ Maybe you might have not seen Wyclef,” Chuck vents. “Maybe it’s not your place to see Wyclef! Wyclef probably ain’t gonna be out there diggin’ ditches.” He continues, “Somebody’s gotta bring a higher energy there, and then from there, y’know, make a platform to do other things.”
Some of the other things Chuck has been doing is keeping involved with positive projects, such as Let Freedom Sing: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement. The box set of blues, soul music, and gospel spirituals includes an introduction to the liner notes penned by Mistachuck. But, he also takes time out to check out the boob tube.
“Entourage is my favorite show,” says Chuck. “I’m a Jeremy Piven fan. He reminds me of Lyor Cohen back in the day,” he laughs.
Aside from that, he’s also moving forward in the world of independent distribution. “We built a digital distribution company called SpitDigital,” boasts the MC. The plans are for it to play as a liason to the iTunes and Amazons, to help distribute new, independent artists. “It’s for anybody in the urban and rap field that wants to really seriously get distributed and aggregated to the digital realm.” There will also be a version of the site to cater to books being digitally distributed as well. “Those are my pride and joy right now.”
Another project Chuck is working on is HipHopGods.com. “Okayplayer was the inspiration to build Hip Hop Gods,” he says. “If Dana Dane comes out with something, or if Wise Intelligent comes out with something, y’know, you can’t necessarily put them together with Young Jeezy,” he laughs. “It just doesn’t mix.” He elaborates with a reference to the 18-holes. “It’s like the senior circuit in golf; Tiger Woods doing his thing, but, y’know, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer still doin’ they thing.”
What about the feMCees, Chuck? “What we do with Hip Hop Gods, which is one category, one micro-niche demographic portal, we plan to do the same thing with women in Hip Hop called She Movement.”
While Hip Hop Gods is for the classic artists, Chuck has his own label as well for newer heads on the scene. “SLAMjamz is more for our stable of artists that happen to do their thing, that are close to us.”
As for the dudes who are currently taking the reigns for substantial music of late, Chuck has his eyes on such artists as NYOil, Immortal Technique, and dead prez. “They all continue to do their thing,” he says. “They bring energy, y’know, to the demographic. They just can’t be in it for frivolous reasons only! They gotta make records that mean something to somebody.
“And big salute out to okayplayer for starting okayafrica! I believe the present and the future is how you niche these categories and these audiences. So, an artist comes out and they can have an area to go where they can get respected instead of being thrown into this big pot of musical gumbo, where you can get lost.”
Well, the storyteller Chuckie D. told us why he’s mad, and what goes on, continuing to say it like it really is, just like that, you know what I’m sayin’??
For more from jaythreeoh, visit http://slowFlowOnline.com.
*The main photo and the last photo on this page were shot by Scott Stewart.