9.9.2000 Inside Mista Chuck's
Hard Rock Confrontation Camp
Stone website) by Adam Falik
Chuck D and friends brings a new noise to Confrontation
video available in:
There's something happening here. Not something big and
scary, but something direct, precise and very cool. Public
Enemy frontman Chuck
D, along with ever-controversial co-conspirator Professor
Griff and newcomer Kyle Ice Jason, have formed a new band. A rock band. Or
maybe not just a rock band. Fusing rap sensibilities with screaming metallic
Camp treads on Chuck's familiar turf. Their debut album, Objects in the
Mirror are Closer Than They Appear (Artemis), reaches fist-first into
politics, social injustice and music industry corruption, demanding the listener
to stand at attention. Want lyrics about easy women, bling bling and shallow
slacker apathy? Look elsewhere. Confrontation Camp's forte is better exemplified
in harrowing fare like "Jasper," in which the brutal murder of a black
man in Texas finds Jason soulfully wailing, "Mama, what the hell's going
on?" Mista Chuck and company may not have all the answers, but as revealed
in both song and interview, they're not about to flinch from asking the
questions that matter.
What does the name "Confrontation Camp"
mean to you?
Kyle: I think the name is self-explanatory as far as
being confrontational. We address issues, we confront the issues. We're not
running and hiding from any one particular thing.
Chuck: How many people make mistakes and call us
Concentration Camp. It's almost like cats expect and want it to be called
Concentration Camp, trying to get an edge and say, "Oh you guys have a
history of being anti-Semitic." Even if it was Concentration Camp, we
would be in it so how can it be totally derogatory? But no, it's Confrontation
Camp and we're confronting the situation. But everyday somebody fucks up and
calls it Concentration Camp.
Kyle, how was it working front-row center with two
rap giants on a serious rock & roll album?
Kyle: It's definitely a chance for me to be heard. I
have been behind the scenes for a while. First of all, understand that Chuck and
Griff are my dear friends. We all grew up in the same town together. I've known
them since we were children. While they were doing the rap and hip-hop thing I
always had live bands. I've performed all over the place and I kicked ass time
and time again. The way this business is it's very heard to get in and be seen
and be heard. I'm looking at this as something that's going to bring me to the
forefront and help me shine along with all of us, being a force to be reckoned
What was the process like of taking rap
sensibilities such as sampling and rap lyricism and bringing them to rock &
Griff: I think with Kyle's experimentation with the
live band and rock thing, and Public Enemy's [experience], and then what I did
on my solo projects. It would not have come out like this if it wasn't for Chuck
and Kyle and myself blending all of that experience together, that know how, and
with the situation we've created of having our own studio, doing cuts when we
want to do them. We created that kind of vibe from one another -- we respect one
another's musical and writing ability and just go ahead and do it. I think
there's a time, a space and a place for everything and I think now is that time
since all of us have got together to present that sort of fusion. It's so
important that when we fuse the rap and the rock thing we try to get a delicate
balance. A lot of people are listening for the rap, then the rock-heads are
listening for the rock. That's why we need the delicate balance between the two.
That's why the objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
With a reputation of serious rap behind you, do you
expect resistance from the music industry for trying to deliver a rock album?
Kyle: When you listen to a K-rock or any form of rock
format, you can hear Method
Man because he's down with Fred Durst who's Limp
Bizkit who is also rapping, but they have a rock band. So in essence they're
not doing anything that much different than what we're doing. But you won't hear
or Method Man by themselves on a rock format and I think it's ridiculous. But,
whereas black radio will give Eminem
credit because the kid can rap, bottom line, he can rap. So they respect his
rapping ability and since he's doing rap it's in an urban format they'll play
him. But they'll also play him on rock radio. We just want the explanation. It's
cool if they want to do that, but if we deliver a record that's clearly a rock
record, there's no question it should be played.
Chuck: You've got three station groups that own all the
stations. They're the ones that draw up the lines even within their own
corporations. The genres are coming down, but that's not being reflected in the
airplay. Artists are breaking the genres down, but the corporations that house
the artists, be it though record companies or radio stations, MTV or BET
outlets, they're not breaking down, or they're not breaking it down good enough.
I wanna pull the pin in the grenade.
How do you do that?
Kyle: By taking everything we do straight to the
people. If we take it to the people, sooner or later somebody's gonna have to
bend. If you look at a group like PE, they never got a huge amount of airplay on
the radio, never got a huge amount of even video support, but they took it to
the people so they sold a lot of records and they'll sell a lot of concert
tickets. That's what it's all about with Confrontation Camp as well, because if
you got the people behind you, somebody got to break, somebody got to bend. The
responsibility lies on the artist to go out there and give better shows, give
better interviews. Everyone wants to take hip-hop culture and put a stamp of
ignorance on it and say it's cool. No, like Chuck says, we're grown men
and being a grown man, you've got to be responsible and if you're responsible
you take a certain load off ignorance and say, "Ok, it's time to be
intelligent, speak to someone like you know what you're talking about, address
topics, issues." We feel that we're gonna be a huge influence in breaking
down those barriers. Huge.
Chuck, talk a little about the lyrics.
Chuck: I'm along side two of the cleverest, great lyric
writers I've ever worked with . . . it's that combination that makes you step up
to the challenge, that you're being inspired and influenced by cats that want to
push the envelope. People are afraid to hit issues and try to make them hip and
fly audibly. I think what rap vocals bring to the table is that you can say so
much more. You can't just say a lot of shit to fill up the verse. You gotta
actually have something that the music and the vocals reflect that make you say
at the end of the song, "Ok, I got something out of this." For a song
to just talk about this suburban kid, he's really twenty-nine but he's sounding
like he's sixteen, talking about how fucked-up it is that he didn't get his
allowance on Thursday night -- how many times do we have to hear that? You see a
whole lot of people saying, "Well they gotta get through a high level of
SoundScan and it's only teenagers buying shit," so you'll see a twenty-five
year old person stooping down to teen angst. But it's angry with no reason. If
you're going to be angry, point to something that might make me angry as well.
The whole thing on the Kurt Cobainism, he talked about how society and life had
the down sides for him growing up and he wanted to speak out against it, but I
think that whole technique that he had down has just been driven into the ground
with utter nonsense. You've got a million groups out there saying thirty-five
things. I don't know if it's me getting old or whatever, but I haven't read too
many interviews of bands I liked where I can say, "Yo, this is worth an
interview." It's almost like, they might as well have magazines with just
pictures of the motherfuckers.
So you don't see much substance out there these
Griff: Like rap videos now. You might as well have all
the women, and then have the rappers come on at the end of the song and just
wave or something.
Chuck: I like a pretty girl, but c'mon! If the video
has no women in it does that mean no one's gonna look at the video? A lot of
these cats at the record company just want to get the profit and then end up
cutting [the artist] off. That's the thing that hurts the most because it's not
building the genre, it's making a profit for the company because they only have
to deal with [the artist] once. Now to me, talent-wise, in rap and in rock, I
think there's more talent than ever before. More talent, but less skill, less
direction, and more people subservient to the contract they sign. The problem is
that people are forced to keep their wings to their sides to keep their contract
to make that hit for that company. And that's making talented cats say the same
thing that the next guy is saying.
Griff: That's what so important about the one song a
month. The corporate heads ain't got shit to say, it's outta site and we're
gonna throw it up there [on www.confrontationcamp.com], one song a month.
We're gonna deal with issues that took place last week. Like this election. We
got this song comin' up called "Son of a Bush." Not a goddamn thing
the Republicans can say about it. What're they gonna do, shut down the site?
We're going directly to the hearts and mind of the people on the Internet and
saying, "This is what we think."
So you're putting up songs that aren't on the album?
Kyle: All new songs. It's about current events. Again,
when you're working with in a structure of record company politics, we can write
it now and say put it out, put it out, and they're not able to put it out. We
gotta sit and wait and they'll put it out next year, but no one gives a damn
next year. We've got studios and we're able to cut immediately.
Chuck: If you make something that's topical, it better
come out on time during that time frame. It's convenient for an artist to be
frivolous because if they do do something topical, they're still gonna be faced
with the molded bread theory of: I did it, the bread was fresh, it was out the
oven hot, I handed it to the company, it went to the lawyers, da da da, middle
people, it finally came out to the public two years later with brown-black mold
on it. That's what the public is getting. That's why there's this enthusiasm on
MP3 and Internet and technology. It's fresh, it's new, it's almost what the mix
tapes want to do.
You all seem pretty excited about this.
Chuck: [Kyle's] gonna be the Muhammad Ali of rock
music. And me and Griff can co-sign that shit. I don't need to run my mouth in
interviews too often because all we gotta do is wind-up Kyle. It's gonna be
pretty abrasive from this point on forward. It's gonna be Confrontation.
5.10.2000 Chuck D Comes to
by Dean Engmann
Chuck D came to my
hometown on April 14th for the Hip-Hop Generation: Hip-Hop As a Movement conference and
I had the chance see him speak at three separate sessions. One of his
sessions was a State of the Hip Hop Nation in 2000 vibe session that lasted an
hour and a half. During this session, Chuck spoke about various topics,
including Napster and the future of music, and the current state of hip-hop
first session and
we talked about hooking up after his last session. When
the last session was over, I
found Chuck signing autographs and speaking to some people that had come to talk
to him. I got to the front of the line, expecting to just tell Chuck I'd
meet him in an hour or two, but he told me to come on over and sit down.
After the line cleared away, we headed over to a room where Chuck was going to
do an interview or two. In that room, I briefly met Davey D, but I didn't
want to talk too much and interrupt the interview that was going on, so
unfortunately I didn't get to speak with him about anything. Chuck was
busy for the next hour or so being interviewed and meeting with different
I met Chuck D at his hotel and we hung out for about 2 hours. This
was the first time I've ever met him in person.
meeting him at the Public Enemy concert in Milwaukee back in October of
just want to let everyone know how genuine Chuck is. In my opinion, he's
the definition of "keepin' it real". Even though he was probably
tired, and he still wanted to talk to Afrika Bambaataa yet, he hung out with me.
The whole day was an experience I'll never forget. Thank you Chuck.
Here are the questions I asked him:
the US economy doing as good as it is, many people seem to forget that there are
people who are still in need of help. They
assume that everything is good for everyone.
What can we do to get more people aware and involved in the struggle that
many people are still experiencing?
A: First of all you've got to let them be aware of these things that are going
on, not just in this country but in this world. People think that this is
the land of milk and honey and everything's going great by watching this
television and think like everybody's got such a fantastic time. I think
what's not put in front of their faces is the reality of a lot of people who
don't have it so well. When you actually can illuminate all of the people
and all of the issues in front of people it can actually make them say
"Hey, maybe I need to treat what I get a little bit more carefully instead
of thinking that this is a stream that's always gonna flow my
People today treat machines with better care than they do human beings.
You'll see a person walk by a homeless person, but if a Mercedes Benz was to get
crashed by a wrecking ball they're like "Woah". They're looking
at a human life that's damn near in the gutter and they're stepping over it
laughing saying "Why don't you do better?" I think we're
entering a time where man is being replaced by machines and machines are being
replaced by man - and that's a wrong thing because of the value of human life is
being dwindled down into something that's a non-issue and it shouldn't be like
that. There should be concern based on exposure of these areas where the
masses of the people need help.
Q: People who have web access
probably like the fact that There's a Poison Goin On is available online for cheaper than you
could go to the store and buy it. But
what about the people who aren’t privileged enough to own or have access to a
computer? I often see Poison in the
small record shops for $18, when the rest of their CDs are $14, and I laugh.
How do you feel the idea of distributing Poison online is going?
A: Well, I would like to encourage people to pick up the future of whatever
music I might do for free, as much as possible. I think there's a way that
people could go to the internet and get Poison for free. They would have
to unlock some of their mental tools and get it for free. I'd encourage
them to do that. I think that's the thing that's going to change the
paradigm of the music business - the fact that you have options and you have
options to support whomever you want to support with the music that you might
want. As far as the digital divide of people not having computers, by the
middle to the end of this decade, they will - whether it's on their celly, or
whether it's on their wristwatch. Access to the internet will be real
quick, and there'll be a lot of musical exposure - they'll have their celly or
wristwatch and have headphones that'll plug into their wristwatch. They'll
type in their website - www.whatever.com and it might cost little or
nothing and people will get into their car and the satellite connection to the
internet - people will press send on a website and hear internet radio. I
think that's three years away. The downside of that is that when more
computers are accessible - computers are accessible in the hood for $150 - then
the problem is the reason that makes this accessible is that they'll make them
in jails - which is the next control - and the present control - of slavery in
this country. People are working in jails for as little as $2 a
week. The economy is thrust upon these corporations going in there coming
out with fantastic output with little investment. They built a facility in
the middle of bum-f..k and they're just carting a lot of people in there to
work. And the psychology on the other side is that the mentality of a
brother who might get locked up or anybody who gets locked up - they're happy to
work, to get like $3 a week, just to get them out of the confinement of looking
at four walls. So it's a moral disgrace when it comes down to that.
But access to computers will become so much easier because then you'll have the
fourth and fifth technology companies that just bite and then go off on their
own thing and create so much for the consumer that drives the price down.
You'll see "Made in Malaysia" or somewhere or "Made in
Folsom." But the new sweatshops - the new plantations - are the
Q: What is the deal with the
new book? When can we expect it?
A: Well the new book - I'm actually finishing up the intro and the epilogue and
it could be coming out by the end of this year or the middle of this year.
There's so much stuff that's happened since January - it makes me look at
everything that I've written and typed and I'm like "Woah". I
think what I'm gonna do is just do a series of books and publish them - like
"Lyrics of a Rap Revolutionary". I want to publish that book and
it's just lyrics and that would be a whole separate book that could be acquirable.
And as far as Countdown to Armageddon, it's there (he points to his computer) -
it's right over there on that laptop, but I've gotta tie a lot of things
Q: Do you take offense to
people that can’t get their shit correct?
For example, recently on an interview, the girl said that Poison was
available at Rapstation.com, and you corrected her, and then again at the end of
the show, she said you’d HAVE TO go online to get the CD, and to get it from
A: No, because she was racing and I look at it - even in the last Terrordome
where I called VJ Singh BJ Singh and I was corrected, I forgot who corrected me,
was it Tyshawn or Mike? (I said I think it was Tyshawn) Yeah - that
corrected me, and I was like - Okay, it's VJ and he is admitting that he's
African American, and I'm like 'my bad' - but I didn't say that he would call
himself non-black, but I said maybe the golfing circuit would consider him
non-black. You'll see me cleaning it up, so maybe I'm not one of those guys
who gets his shit correct...but I'm quick to say "Hey - my bad - I
f..ked up." Hey - I don't know everything and I don't claim to.
You say your songs aren't written for kids, yet your songs have done more for me
personally – especially when I was a kid – than any other group.
What rap music would you say, is for kids then?
Why shouldn’t kids listen to your positive music?
A: Well, I think some records I do can be for kids. I don't believe that a
lot of the songs that I do are just for kids unless they have those navigational
skills to understand exactly what I'm saying. Wyclef does a good job
sometimes - Lauyrn, Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes to a certain degree. Often
times I might do things a little too hardcore and direct, but people might
misconstrue is like "Okay, he's coming so hardcore and direct - DMX is
saying the same thing" Umm...(laughter)...okay. But I'll come
hardcore and direct and say make it available to a kid after 12 years old or 14
Q: Do you still feel like it
takes longer than you would like to get albums out, even though of your Internet
presence? If so, what do you
contribute that to and do you think it will take less time in the future?
A: No. The reason I haven't done it is because I've been preoccupied with
everything else. I've been doing some writing, but I have 5 studios and I
think it's really easy if I just did nothing but recording, but then I don't
believe in the album concept anymore. I think I said that on the Enemy
Board and I really truly don't believe in the album concept. I believe in
like 5 or 7 cuts, I believe in people being able to acquire it for free and I
believe that we're at a time where so much music is coming out that people want
to be able to digest a lot of different things without knowing that they're getting
swamped. No, when I feel I wanna make a cut - I can just feel a cut - go
and make it, and let people check it out. If the radio stations gotta tell
people "Yo - go and check this out cuz we got paid x amount to play
what Chuck put down"...that's just whack and corny. I thought I
did a job with Autobiography of Mistachuck that had some elements on there that
radio could have picked up on but I wasn't paying them a dime. Now if I would've
gotten Mercury to pay them, they would have been playing it 4 to 5 times a day
until the money ran out. To me that's corny.
What are some of your favorite books? Or
books that you would recommend for all people to read?
A: I think Keide Obi Awadu: The Road to Power is a good book right now and on
the flipside of that "Taking back My Name" by Ike Turner.
Because you read in Ike Turner's autobiography sort of it's like he's saying
that I'm not just a wife or woman beater that you all think I just beat up on
Tina out of the clear blue sky. No, I had a drug problem and you find out
that Ike Turner, although I knew this from being a big fan of rock and roll or
whatever, that he's one of the originators of rock and roll. But then
people typecast him like "oh yeah - he threw Tina Turner down a flight of
steps and had fights with her" regardless of what his contributions to
music are, he shouldn't have done that and they don't count. Okay.
So you're just gonna wipe him from history based on he did something crazy -
which he went to jail for. He went to jail, so I mean, that's where he
should've went for beating a woman. But do you wipe his history and his
contributions away? That's a little crazy.
Q: The metaphors in your
music are unbelievable. I seem to
catch a new one every time I listen to one of your songs.
How long does it take you to write a song from first thought to final
word on paper, and do the metaphors come naturally or is it hard to come up with
A: It passes like taxicabs. Metaphors and lyrics and stuff like that - it
varies. It definitely varies. I keep notebooks and sometimes there's
times where I will have an incredible lyric, and I don't write it down, and I
just lose it, and it never comes back. I think the metaphors come out of
the areas of me saying "Okay, I can put this rhyme in here" but I kind
of like to do metaphors with not relying on the 'like' word. You know,
people using the 'like' word as a pivot. And then, I think one thing in
songs with rhyming, that people don't realize there's a burnout factor in the
overuse of certain areas that they might consider hooks and punches. Like
okay, you use like and then you find out this person is "LIKE dah dah dah
dah dah LIKE dah dah dah dah dah LIKE dah dah...." you know, it's like
damn, it's like "Umm...And...Umm...Umm...And Umm Umm" you know what
I'm saying? Having your rhymes dependent on 'like' rhymes or using
the word 'nigger' or just cursing throughout your rhymes just filling it with
more curses than actual rhymes, then you're not rhyming - you're just spewing
venom that don't go nowhere.
websites do you visit regularly?
A: Crazy website - the top 40 airchecks radio - Reel radio from the past.
Where you hear the old airchecks from guys way back in the 60's and the 50's
like Wolfman Jack. I like hearing that. Reel Top 40 Radio
Repository. Everyday I kind of check up on the Rapstation, Bring the
Noise, Public Enemy situation; from there I've been going to Napster quite a bit
- just snooping around, peeking around. I don't collect many mp3s because
there's not many records that I want, but that's opening up and that's changing.
Q: Has Public Enemy’s music and message always taken place in the future, or
is the world just too slow to catch on?
A: I would
always like to make records - I've always made records like - almost like - you
throw a rock all the way at the front of the lake, then let it go - okay I see
the rock. I would always like to make records that I would have to try to
keep up with - whether it's good or bad. Try to keep up with it. I
threw the rock and keep making the waves and oh, I caught up with it...people
caught up with it.
I read on a website that DMX’s It’s Dark & Hell is Hot is one of your
favorite CDs. (Before I could add the rest
of the question, Chuck knew exactly where I was going. The rest of the
question was 'If you
are so against the N word, how can you explain this.')
A: Not because of what he said in the lyrics, I liked the attitude that he was delivering.
I don't think there's too many guys that in the rhyme game that really yell it
out like the style of Run or maybe some of the stuff I did in the past.
He's got a lot of energy - he's got a lot of projection. I think that
style - is that style coming back? No, it works for him. I like Ja
Rule's voice. I think he's got something there - I don't think that Def
Jam, or Gotti, or whatever really know what they have. Hmm...
Public Enemy's Chuck D, keeping it real means keeping it virtual.
to Noise Website) By
recently caught up with Chuck D and talked about the rapper's new hip-hop site,
The Artist (Chuck D's still allowed to call him Prince) and the Web.
The most visible member of a group best known for political rap songs like
"Fight the Power" and "Don't Believe the Hype," he has been
extolling the virtues of the Net for several years now. But he's not just about
the talk. P.E.'s most recent album, There's a Poison Goin' On, was made
available at the indie Web label AtomicPop.com via MP3 in May of this year, a
month prior to the official CD release. And he recently launched a kind of rap
super-site, Rapstation.com, which he calls "the ESPN of rap music and
hip-hop." Rapstation features news, interviews with artists and downloads
of new music by underground and more mainstream rap acts.
Chuck D, along with The Artist and David Bowie, is a firm believer in the Web's
power to circumvent the usual music business channels by helping artists take
control of how much and what kind of music they release, when they release it
and how much they charge consumers.
Read on to find out how Chuck D envisions the future of music on the Web and
what that future might mean for artists, fans and the music business.
ATN: Tell us a little bit about the genesis of your website and what you were
trying to achieve by creating this sort of umbrella hip-hop destination.
Chuck D: Well, www.rapstation.com was something that would add to a genre
that's underserviced and be a vehicle for much of the underexposed aspects of
rap. There's videos out there that 85 percent of the marketplace does not see.
They catch it once on an underground show, they might never see it again.
There's songs that are never played on the radio. There's songs made for the
radio, but still can't get the radio play 'cause they can't defeat the red-tape
politics. And there's a lot of information about artists — not just from here
and in the U.S., but abroad — that deal within the art of rap that will never
get exposed to people that love the music and art form. So, we thought that the
Rapstation would be a perfect vehicle, that people could come into that portal
and get all the aspects of that genre. That's why we chose to microfocus on the
genre, because we think the future of music will probably be fragmented in 100
ATN: With rap having started with kids out in the streets playing their
music, does this feel like it's sort of a new version of that? People like
yourself starting a grass-roots movement, trying to organize people?
Chuck D: I think all music started on the corner, with kids playing in
the street. Right now, you have a three-fold process. You have the music that's
being exposed as far as people listening to it; so we could be reliving that
period where FM radio came in and started playing rock 'n' roll. We could also
be reliving that time where MTV first came along and showed music videos. And
we're also living that time where hip-hop first came aboard to be this music
from the street. Or when rock 'n' roll started from the blues artists and went
into the '50s and everybody started to explore these different new sounds. So,
the key with the Internet is that all these things are happening at once and
that's the beautiful aspect of it. As this particular cultural explosion is
happening, our whole [focus] was to deal with the genre I've dealt with for the
last 22 years.
ATN: When you look around now, what do you see as the state of hip-hop? Now
there's a proliferation of bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn taking hip-hop and
integrating it with metal, something you did almost a decade ago with Anthrax.
Chuck D: It's a
complex question. The state artistically is better than ever. The co-opting and
undermining of the art form by lawyers and accountants has twisted it and jaded
the public's perception and the artist's perception of what it should be,
instead of pushing the envelope. Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock are rappers rapping
over rock tracks. Rap music is rap over music that's already been here. You
might take a guy like Heavy D, who might choose to rap over a R&B track. You
take Kid Rock, who might choose to rap over a rock track. The traditional
structures might say: 'All right, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, they're the new rock
bands.' Cool. But let's say a black group does it over a rock track? Let's say
Run-DMC does another thing over a rock track. What are you gonna call them? A
rap group or a rock group?
There's a lot of racism still and stigmas going on in traditional areas that
want to determine groups and artists under the old template. In the new template
on the Internet, we're going into a whole new, different definition of terms and
that's what's really making it interesting. What is Rage Against the Machine?
What is [singer] Zack [de la Rocha]? Is Zack a rapper? He's rapping to me. In
the next two years you won't be able to put a finger on an artist and say 'This
is what he is,' and Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock are examples of how you really
can't put your finger on what they are. But I would say they're spawned out of
hip-hop and rap. And to me, it should be no difference between [Limp Bizkit
singer] Fred Durst and [hard-core MC] DMX; they rappers.
ATN: Do you think that those bands have the appropriate respect for and
understanding of the genre?
Chuck D: Yes. They have to. Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock can't front and say
they made it up. I don't think the traditional structures have the respect for
the genre as much as they do. That's why they throw those bullshit terms on
ATN: Do you think kids understand when they listen to a certain Limp Bizkit
track what they're really hearing?
Chuck D: I think kids are only programmed to know what they're told. The
power mediums like MTV and radio stations have a tight control over their minds.
They say they're reflecting on the kids. They're really dictating to them how
they should act and how they should think. Even when they say, 'Well, a white
kid wants to dress in a hip-hop way,' you gotta understand he's exposed to that
hip-hop group. So, the kid's going to go and say: 'I'm gonna be just like this
hip-hop group that I see on MTV.' So, they're being presented these images by
super-corporations and they're influencing how young America should act and
think. My whole thing is to build up on that and maybe give people more freedom
of choice and to say: 'All right, it's cool to think you wanna be like Jay-Z one
week. But, here, check out [underground rap crews] Dilated Peoples or Swollen
Members. Or check out this group here that's brand-new.' Giving them more of a
choice. 'Cause the trick of America is to say 'OK, you have freedom of choice,'
but giving you the choices at the same time. You gotta understand that young
peoples' heads, all the way back to "American Bandstand," have been
manipulated by big business. Very few things in modern times start from the
streets because the streets are definitely controlled. The minute something
sparks on the streets, it's taken, packaged and mass-merchandised as a mass
ATN: It seems like it
even happened to Public Enemy, back in the days of "Fight The Power."
There was that whole Afrocentric thing with people wearing the medallions and
the "X" hats that sprung up everywhere.
Chuck D: It became an aspect of pop culture. But we pushed the envelope
and forced the issue because it was against the grain. We forced the issue
because we thought it was necessary for black folks to know about themselves and
also for everybody to know about us. But this is also a pattern that I don't
think big business relished because they got it confused with nationalism and
racism. Therefore, if they could somehow adopt or endorse another situation that
happened to be even more counterproductive to what they was dealing with —
like gansta rap — it would take the heat off them, you know, gunplay. If the
gun is pointing at them, then all of a sudden you could endorse a situation
where they point the guns at each other ... You could make twice as much money
and the heat is off you. Now, it was a great deal for the businessmen that sat
around the conference table of the music industry. So, gangsta rap did not
affect nationalist rap. It probably affected them [the corporations] because it
kinda itemized them as a potential enemy, bottom line. People say: 'Well, it's
about the green at the end of the day.' If your daughter gets kidnapped because
it's an aspect of the music, is it about the green at the end of the day? Should
anything be said?
ATN: My experience with corporations has been that within certain limits they
don't even care whether it's this or that, as long as they're making money off
Chuck D: Well, if you kidnapped their kids, they would care. They do draw
a line when it's really personal.
ATN: What about something like [the controversial 1992 rap song] "Bush
Killa" from Paris?
It affected people who paid attention to that political circle of things and
people that felt they had something to lose in the fabric of America. Once
again, it probably went over a lot of peoples' heads. People felt: 'Yeah, yeah,
Bush Killa, true.' It came in the middle of a lot of heat. Ice-T did "Cop
Killer" as a Body Count song [from his hard rock off-shoot band], but the
point of view related to so many people. They said: 'We gotta come out and say
something about this 'cause this opinion is just too strong.'
here for older interviews
ATN: How has the Internet changed how you view the music business and your
place in it? It seemed to create a problem with Def Jam when you put some songs
from Bring the Noise 2000 online.
Chuck D: First of all, people put too much emphasis on Def Jam. My
adversaries were above Def Jam's heads — it was [parent company] Polygram's
legal and accountants' systems. They understood the total curve of the music
industry shifting. It was way over Def Jam's heads. It's distribution balance
from the traditional into the new realm. That's who my adversaries were. Let's
understand, the music business is run by business people, lawyers and
accountants. Whenever you can come in and change the whole complexion of that
particular game, that could be viewed as a threat to their existence. They're
the first ones that are going to lose their jobs. And I thought it was a hell of
a lot of fun.
ATN: How has that changed how you're going to go forward?
Chuck D: The business relies on its strength by making the artist and
public as naive as possible. Therefore, you have both sides of the spectrum
naive. Then they start patting themselves on their chests proclaiming their
importance: 'You need me. You need me to make your art, to get it to the public.
You, the public, need us to get it to you. And we determine the price that we're
gonna sell it to you for. And we determine the percentage that you artists are
gonna make.' Being an intermediary like that, with no explanation to either
side, allows them to be a business. On the Internet, the whole thing is not to
eradicate the middleman, but being able to level out the playing field, to make
a more educated artist and a more educated consumer. Super-corporations don't
want to educate a consumer. If they can get you buying the same thing 50 times,
they love it. They've gotten people that have vinyl collections to buy the same
thing in CD. That was a fantastic coup for the big record companies. They've
given artists 10 percent [royalty rates] and said: 'You know, we're really going
to make you a better deal. We're gonna give you 14 percent.' Whenever you have a
more educated consumer and an educated artist, the middle starts to get worried,
'cause they start wondering where they fit in. This is a sport. The music
business is like baseball; the grand old American way. We're making football up.
We play in the same field. We play on the same stand, same stadium, but the
difference is we're playing at the same time, tackling the center fielder, if
need be. This is where they start to worry. This is the American way. We say:
'Do you want to go our way?' This is the new thing and more people can play on
the football field than on the baseball field.
ATN: Do you buy the idea as MP3s being part of a cultural revolution?
Chuck D: MP3 is an example. There's quite a few forms of downloadable
formats and more to come. But MP3 is the buzzword. If you had a tape recorder
and wanted to tape FM radio, who you gonna tell? The FM radio station don't play
my record. It sets you up for more exposure to the marketplace. So what if they
got a copy! I think the whole future of how we look at albums is gonna be
different. Who says an album has to be 12 cuts? Well, a legal team and a major
corporation says it has to be 12 cuts. So why should a group deliver an album
for 12 cuts thick? They usually say: 'Well, if it's gonna go on retail, it's
gonna be a dollar a cut.' Can you make an album of four cuts and sell it for $5?
The difference is that now we might have a situation where the artist determines
how much they wanna sell their album for. I'm pretty sure the artist won't be
upset if they can sell 10 million for a dollar.
ATN: David Bowie recently told me he was envisioning a situation where, let's
say he has 20 tracks that he's finished. You could go to his site and create
your own album, put together the 10 tracks that you want for $10 and then you've
created a custom album.
Chuck D: I think the Internet breaks open the potential for different
album configurations and formats. The majors, they might take 12 cuts, they're
promoting one record, really. I used to always say this about rap: Why make
fuckin' 12 cuts if you really have the ability to make three? You're just doing
another nine as a contractual obligation, which is bullshit. You can only do
three; you have the ability to do three because the other nine sound just like
the first three. You have a situation where you give away three, buy seven if
you want; or give away three, buy three for $3. If you went to a fruit stand and
had 70 cents in your pocket and saw a banana for a dollar — that's an
expensive-ass banana, ain't it? — but you really wanted that banana, would
that guy sell it to you or not? If he works for somebody he probably couldn't
make that deal. But if he works for himself, he could. So you, as a consumer
with 70 cents, and he, as an owner with a banana, will probably agree to say:
'Hey, let's make a deal.' 'Cause he's looking for a potential consumer in the
future. But, in the music business, what you have is a schism between creative
ownership mentality and job mentality. Many people in the music business have
jobs. So, when the creative person hooks up with this person that has a job,
it's just two different philosophies. Those deals couldn't be made. The artist
says, 'All right, I made this thing, let's sell it to the marketplace and have
the albums go for $2.' The record company says, 'Oh, fuck that, buddy, we got
your album and goodbye.'
ATN: When you look back on what Public Enemy has done over the years, what do
you see as the band's biggest accomplishments, its legacy?
Chuck D: That we gave people their own individualist trend of thought,
for people to think for themselves and not be programmed ... I think I'm in the
highlight of my career now. And a lot of cats that can't see it, they will see
it. I try to let them see it now so they can participate instead of being an
ATN: Can you foresee life after being an artist? Do you think you will always
rap in some fashion, whether it's in the music industry or in a political arena?
Chuck D: Contrary to popular belief, I've studied art. I have an art
degree. So, Chuck D knows about [16th-century Italian painters] Caravaggio and
Titian and [blues legend] Leadbelly as much as I know about [rappers] Common and
Ol' Dirty Bastard. I look at art the same way Picasso would look at art. I don't
know if I'll be jumping around on stage. You're talking about artists dealing
with art. It has nothing to do with trying to be the hip, new thing.
ATN: You said in "Fight The Power" that most of your heroes don't
appear on stamps. Malcolm X is on a stamp now.
Chuck D: Most of my heroes don't appear on a stamp.
ATN: Do you still feel the relevance of that song now, as you did when you
Chuck D: Yeah, most of my heroes still don't appear on no stamp. I
try to get the Malcolm X stamps when I can. Now I want to see a Nat Turner
stamp, but I don't think ... [laughs]
ATN: I know you worked with the Artist recently.
Chuck D: We call him Prince. We have license to. I don't think you guys
can call him Prince. [laughs]
ATN: Had you ever met him before you worked with him? And what did you teach
each other? What did you learn from each other? Do you feel any sort of kinship
with him [because] he has also had his run-ins with major corporations?
Chuck D: Prince and David Bowie are the template. I share a lot of my
ideals by watching how Prince has dealt with situations himself. 'Cause they're
trying to clear the way for artistry and when it came down to working with him
it was an artist-to-artist type thing. When I saw Prince put "Slave"
on his face, I didn't think he was crazy. Like I said, the public might have
thought he was crazy. Why? Because the public is controlled and programmed to be
naive of the whole musical process. People like to say: 'Well, the public only
cares about what gets churned out as music.' Then why would there be
"Entertainment Tonight"? There's an appetite for that. There is a lot
of information about the processes of the industry that people want to know. But
then again it's like, is it beneficial for an industry to turn its audience into
participants? That's what this whole Internet is about. Interactivity. If you
checked out art in 19th-century Spain or France, the audience were participants
and the community interlocked with each other and things spawned out of that.
I've got four studios. My guys can make, cut and put something out the next week
like Stax or Motown. If I got an artist that's feeling it, he goes in the
studio, cuts the track and we get it out to the world. That's the process we're
going to do with [my label] Slam Jamz Records and also the MP3 versions on
ATN: You've talked a little bit before about these messages that Public Enemy
was sending and then how gangsta rap has taken over.
Chuck D: Well, gangsta rap didn't take over. Gangsta rap was highly
financed and endorsed more than Afrocentric rap.
ATN: How did that make you feel, when that happened?
Chuck D: I never got mad at my peers. I just got angry at the puppeteers.
And then I see this overproliferation of the word "nigga" or 'I'm
gonna kill the nigga rat-a-tat-tat, never hesitate to put a nigga on his back.'
Whole bunch of white kids cheering with it. Black kids yelling. And then when I
ask a question about it, they say, 'Well, it was black kids talking about it.'
Yeah, but it's a white company endorsing it! 'Oh well, it's not censorship.'
Yeah, you say it's not censorship because you don't come from our community. But
you're endorsing it, financing it. And who else would let an 18-year-old person
be a voice of the community without any accountability or responsibility
attached to it?
ATN: What about things like [Southern rap labels] Cash Money and No Limit?
Black people presenting that same message presumably for other black people ...
Chuck D: I'll tell you, Cash Money, I love them. I love No Limit. But you
know what? Universal came in and they couldn't buy out [No Limit founder] Master
P. So, they took the second competitor in the marketplace and financed it. A
white corporate-owned financial plan to back a situation versus Master P's
black-owned [company], built it out of dirt and scratch. Almost like a regional
ATN: Was there ever any pressure on you to turn that page to gangsta-ism from
Chuck D: I always have ownership, creative mentality, that integrity.
I've always told people: 'I'm gonna take that $10 million job, but I'm gonna be
me.' And they say: 'Well, no thank you, Chuck.'
ATN: How do you think a band like Rage get away with having such a strong
message and being on a major label?
Chuck D's manager, Walter Leaphart: They are the epitome of an
anti-establishment within the establishment.
ATN: But how does that flourish?
Leaphart: Because it's fuckin' making money. [laughs]
Chuck D: That's it.
ATN: Is that really it, though?
Leaphart: That's it. They don't care what they're saying.
ATN: Their company can go along with them talking about cultural imperialism
Leaphart: Right. Because they're selling two million units.
Chuck D: Yeah, but if Rage would've came out in ... Rage sent me the demo
Leaphart: Yeah, but if Rage was black, it'd be a different story.
Chuck D: No, no. Maybe not. 'Cause if Rage would've came out in 1988,
they would've faced a different climate than now. There's this guilt factor in
music that says: 'Well, since we've allowed all this counterproductive nigga-ism
stuff we'll be wrong since we didn't come out against that.' Before it was
unprecedented. When Public Enemy came out with a nationalistic point of view it
was unprecedented in pop music to rage against the machine. We raged against the
machine and motherfuckers were like, 'How dare you be a slave and rebel against
the hand that ... ?' Not only did we bite the hand that fed us, we tried to chop
it off. That set a precedent for a lot of the artists to come out and do their
particular thing. Zack is pushing the envelope.
7.21.99 Chuck D: The NME Face-Off
Interview by Stephen Dalton
Once he was undisputed heavyweight champion of the rap universe, booming apocalyptic conspiracy theories from some of the most earth-shattering hip-hop albums of the last two decades. These days Chuck D is a rap renaissance man, lecturing and writing books, running a mini-empire of studios and labels, and raising a family in Atlanta. But he's still making revolutionary statements, challenging music industry convention by releasing the latest Public Enemy album 'There's A Poison Goin On' on the band's new Internet label, Atomic Pop.
The 'Net is Chuck's current obsession, and he is deeply involved with online radio channels bringthenoise.com and rapstation.com. He also has an explosive new band, Confrontation Camp, and a Puff Daddy collaboration in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, Public Enemy are back at their most formidable form for years, dissing hip-hop's "jiggy" generation and attracting flak for alleged anti-Semitism. Holding court in a London hotel room, NME wondered whether Chairman Chuck can still talk his way out of a tight corner...
How do you answer charges of anti-Semitism against the track 'Swindler's Lust' on the new album?
"In Schindler's List, Spielberg was talking about the pain of what he visualised in his people, and I'd just say for me as a black artist in the music industry, the pain I visualised was 'Swindler's Lust'. The swindle of the music industry has really been one-sided when it comes to black artists, especially in hip-hop. People have taken it as an attack on Schindler's List, like it's me saying Jewish people run the music industry, which I think is stupid and I wouldn't say it. But I would say that everybody had their piece of taking the soul out of black folks and turning us into jokes, even black people themselves. Anybody can be a swindler. People might say, 'How could ChuckD play around with Spielberg's creation?' But I'm like, 'Why the fuck not? He's not God!'"
Surely people are suspicious because Professor Griff is now back in PE after years of exile for making anti-Jewish comments?
"He wasn't really exiled, there was a rift between him and other people in the band and something had to give. I understood both sides. I can't help the way it was presented, I can't control TV and newspapers. But my version of events is in my book."
Aren't you simply stoking up traditional tensions that exist between African Americans and Jewish Americans?
"There's not really tension. I think that comes out of newspapers and hype coming out of New York, where the communities have overspilled into each other with city problems. Because New York's the media capital it becomes a bigger issue. The majority of black folk in the United States pay Jewish people no mind, they still can't find the difference between Jewish people and white people."
Lay it on the line, Chuck, do you have a problem with Jewish people?
"Not at all, I judge people as individuals. If a person I don't like happens to be Jewish, I just don't like that person. Your religion don't mean shit Š if you're fucked up, you're fucked up. Do I have problems with black folk as individuals? Yeah, a few of them. But it's a waste of time to dislike group philosophies other than saying that I'm tired of people being programmed, and that's what this whole album's about. Fuck it, I could say I'm Jewish tomorrow Š who's to say I'm not? I really don't get into classifying people other than saying that, as a black person, I'm classified."
Do you like what Eminem does?
"Yeah, he's been doing it for a long time, he's come through the school of hard knocks. I don't like to get into the thing of 'white rapper' because he's just a kid who comes up from the 'hood, and he's good. I would like to see more rappers and more black entrepreneurs, but I don't like to separate it into black and white. If you're gonna say 'black music', why not say 'white companies'? I'd like to see more white music and black companies."
You slam "jiggy" rappers on the album. Is that a specific attack on Will Smith?
"I'm dissing that aura of saying what you got is the end-all, be-all to the talent line. Will Smith actually came through a hard passage in Philadelphia. Shit, Jazzy Jeff won the world DJ mix championships. We've toured together, we know each other, nobody's down on Will Smith's talent. I understand why Will Smith does it because everybody's talking about how much they got, so he just says, 'Fuck it, I get $20million a picture Š you're not gonna get any more jiggy than this!' But some people are trying to be jiggy with nothing."
As a rapper approaching 40, do you feel the industry is less willing to let hip-hop artists mature and stick around like rockers do?
"Yeah, because the people who control rap music are usually corporations that want to recycle as many faces as possible. The industry is set up to take people for one year, two years, then spit them out. That's not art. Could you tell Picasso to stop painting pictures? Art Blakey played music till he died! Rap music has been undermined and co-opted to have artists believe their best success is the easiest way out and not the hardest road. But there's nothing wrong with trying something that doesn't work. Some of our best music has come out of tremendously unsuccessful ideas that have sparked somebody else to do it better. That's the beginning of hip-hop! The first time somebody scratched a record, the reaction was probably, 'What the fuck are you doing?'"
Does the Internet spell doom for the music industry?
"It's not gonna destroy it, just splinter the market. Downloadable distribution just forces the first two methods, majors and independents, to share the marketplace. It's a method that helps out the artist and the public, it bites out the middle area of radio, retailer, record labels. Record companies make as much as 400 per cent on their dollars. I think they can afford to make just 100 per cent. Do I think the public can spend half the price they do now? Yes, but the middle has to give. It's inevitable, with me or without me. Convenience drives people towards technology."
How will the 'Net affect music itself?
"You're gonna have probably a million artists and 500,000 labels in five years. I think it's good. I'm like: come one, come all to the download ball. People say, 'But there's something romantic about going to a record store and looking through all the covers' and I say, 'Yeah, because you're from 1968!' You still do the same thing on the computer. Overall it's a good thing for rap music and hip-hop, which is still undernourished as a genre. I can't tell you what it's gonna do for Robbie Williams or Shania Twain, but in my genre, 89 per cent of music is under-serviced to the world, and there's a world appetite for it."
So it's still the same capitalist business, just a different structure?
"I dunno. Public Enemy and Atomic Pop is like a partnership, whereas the music business is more like music employment. It's different from the same old game. Yes, it's capitalism, but it's like socialistic reform of the music purchase process."
Tell us about your new sister project to PE, Confrontation Camp.
"Confrontation Camp comes out of Public Enemy, and it's really the band elements Š noise, metal, funk and three vocals attacks. It's me, Griff and Kyle Jason and it's the most exciting thing I've been involved with in a while. It goes where Public Enemy would like to go. We cover some tough topics and get deep in the shit. That shit sounds very abrasive."
What do your kids think of your music?
"My kids don't listen to my music, heh heh! I don't make music for kids, and they probably wouldn't like it anyway. They listen to what's on the radio, because black people are religious to the radio. I don't let them listen to stuff with cursing in. You have to navigate your kids, you can't regulate, because regulation just brings curiosity. But recently I did a record with Puffy and that was a big thing to them."
Isn't that an unlikely collaboration, you and Puff Daddy?
"It's opposite ends of the hip-hop spectrum, because I'm a purveyor of ugly music and unpopularity and uncool. Heh heh! We had to meet halfway Š he got ugly. He covered 'Public Enemy No.1' and called it 'PE 2000' because he feels he's being hated as a Public Enemy, and as a person who's been covered probably more than any other rap artist, of course it's flattering. Whether I was going to get on that record with him is debatable, but then Puffy said he was gonna do a rock version of 'PE 2000' and I said, 'Yeah, why not?' That's us meeting halfway. So Puffy got ugly for a minute."
Your real name is Carlton Ridenhour, so what does the 'D' stand for?
"Middle initial. Douglas. Back in the '70s, if you happened to have anything like an E or B, that's what you used. I didn't call myself ChuckR because that had no ring. First I was Chuckie D, but when I got older I just took the 'ie' off. But it's an organic name, I was always called Chuck, it wasn't a name I made up."
After nearly 20 years in the game, is ChuckD an embittered veteran or still fighting the power?
"Do I still wake up angry at shit? Every day. And it's a good thing, it keeps me vibrant. I've never taken a bitter approach Š people might misconstrue my anger for being bitter but it's not. I look at the undermining and co-opting of the music by bigger structures that appear invisible to the public and maybe to the artists themselves. I've always attacked these processes and I've always been respected by all artists in my genre, and that's a great thing. Maybe sometimes they might just look at me as being the old uncle sitting there going 'Grrrr', but there's a reason for that and I try to make them understand the reason. And they do."
What are your plans for New Millennium Eve?
"I'm gonna be at home and make sure I'm not international anywhere, especially not in the quote-unquote Third World. I have plans to be at home, and no millennium parties unless it's in downtown Atlanta. And I'll make sure my tank is full, because Y2K will probably affect a lot of small systems that work on timers that may have been overlooked. It's gonna be a rough January for some places."
You know you spelt 'millennium' wrongly on the LP sleeve, don't you?
"Originally, yeah, but the record label in the States corrected it. I have a pet peeve for misspelled words. But will I lose sleep about it? No, I just say... damn."
7.19.99 Chuck D Q&A
When Public Enemy stepped on the scene back in 1987, rap music wasn't even a decade old and still trying to establish itself as a real art form. As the hip hop culture was developing to encompass breakdancing, graffiti art, and deejaying, early MCs like Kurtis Blow and Grand Master Flash, rhymed about the darkness of their surroundings, and Carlos DeJesus' Hot Trax gave up glimpses of their homemade videos. By the mid-80s, Whodini, Run-DMC, L.L. Cool J, MC Shan, UTFO, Roxanne Shante and Just-Ice, were getting airplay via mixshows held down on Friday and Saturday nights by DJs Red Alert, Mr. Magic and Marley Marl. Their songs were light and entertaining and did no more than boast lyrical skill, never really attacking any serious issues. Then something interesting happened.
In 1987, Boogie Down Productions' debut album, Criminal Minded, exploded with the classic cut, "The Bridge Is Over," the response to MC Shan's "The Bridge." Once KRS-One and the BDP crew started making noise, the shift in rap music was evident. That same year a new hip hop group out of Hempstead called themselves Public Enemy, consisting of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, and the S1W, and Long Island became known as a breeding ground for MCs. Their first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, set a new standard for artists coming out; all of a sudden, it was fashionable to be conscious. Their 1988 sophomore project, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, took rap into the political arena with "Bring the Noise", "Don't Believe the Hype," and "Rebel Without A Pause." From that moment on, they addressed pretty much every issue concerning the Black community, and never hesitated to call out anyone from politicians to the police. Also on that album they added Professor Griff, who later became a controversial figure after making anti-Semitic statements.
Twelve years older and a lot wiser, PE frontman, 40 year-old Chuck D, has had his share of battles within the music industry. Public Enemy were finally released from their contract with Def Jam early this year and subsequently signed with the online label, Atomic Pop. They were the first hip hop group to make an entire album, There's A Poison Goin' On, downloadable off the internet, eliminating the need for a middleman. It was their way of striking back at the music business. But with every victory you eventually have to take a step backwards. As recently as last month, the Anti-Defamation League attacked PE for releasing a song called "Swindler's Lust," a breakdown of the sheistyness of record executives. At first the ADL accused them of making anti-Semitic remarks, but then later retracted, saying, "We listened to 'Swindler's Lust' and found no apparent anti-Semitism. The ADL believes it is just as important to say what is not anti-Semitism as what is."
What's next for Chuck D? He just formed a new rock group called Confrontation Camp that he calls a hybrid of "Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit and Public Enemy," and he's continuing to push the concept of online music. For a look into the man who shouldered a whole genre of hip hop, check out what he had to say to Blaze Online.
You recently inked a deal with Atomic Pop online label to sell and distribute Public Enemy's, There's A Poison Going On. Is this the first time a high profile group has actually signed an exclusive record deal with an online label? A lot of people are raising their eyebrows. They're saying 'This might signal to end to big labels as we know it.'
It's not the end because I know big labels. The C process already added to A and B. A is the majors, B is the independents and C is the process of downloadable music which will allow more people to walk into places more regularly to crack the middle man.
What made you sign this deal? Was it just that you got tired of dealing with the corporate powers that be?
Well, with major labels, they move like that. It took me five years to get out of my contract with Def Jam. Contracts clash with freedoms; they're oxymorons. They are definitely two different extremes. In 1994, we predicted online label alternatives... that there would be a change in distribution. We did a track called "Harry Allen Super Highway." A lot of critics panned the record without even listening to it.
Now as far as with the split with Def Jam, we know the underlining reasons, as far as the artistic freedom aspect and Def Jam not letting you...
Naw, naw. This is the reason why I began to break the contract in 1994. Def Jam was sold from Sony to Polygram. Ourselves and LL Cool J remained at Def Jam and felt instrumental in the building of the company. I kinda felt we deserved some point equity.
So, there was no money in your pocket, basically.
No...not for that deal. So I was like, 'it's time for us to split.'
So, it was as simple as that. It wasn't because of the music?
As simple as that. For me, there wasn't no animosity. I was like, 'we gotta bounce.' I mean, it took us almost five years to release some of the songs from He Got Game.
Which was a decent album that really didn't get pushed.
Well, it wasn't suppose to be pushed. We were doing the soundtrack for a movie, end of story. I don't really heed to the music business standards anyway. What's the big deal if you sell a million records and they spend $6 million on it? That's only going to fool people who were trained to be robots, anyway. Where rap made its mark is, that 12 years ago, you could make a record for $25,000, spend about $25 to $30,000 on the marketing of it and see a million units.
And that's when the money's coming back to you.
I mean, that's real money going into it. $2 million videos and $ 4 to 5 million in promotions to see a million units... that doesn't really help anybody else but the company who has a big percentage.
The reason why I was talking about artistic control was because of the remarks you made about Russell Simmons and for some of the other big wigs at Def Jam. It just seemed like so much of it was personal. You really went after them on your website. What was your whole frame of mind back then?
My whole frame of mind is that I don't hold my tongue and if I have a problem with a person, I'm going to name that person and not the company. Especially in light of the big five record companies tripping at the aspect of this new technology. I never seen so many people that were unavailable for comment.
(laughing) Yeah, it does seem like they are shaking in their boots. When you really came to the forefront and started embracing Internet music distribution, it seemed like they really started to say, 'Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that music fans can download the music of their favorite artists and just play them straight-up, cutting out the middleman?'
Look. It's plain and simple as this. It ain't nothing romantic, first of all, spending $400 on 20 CDs in a store. Ain't nothing romantic about that shit. Muthafuckas gotta do other things with their money, like buy a shirt that they're only going to wear for about five months. It they can go to the Internet, download fifteen songs and burn they're own CDs, they can pick up a CD burner for about $120 and get a computer for $500 and make their own CDs for either $10, $5 or free. What the fuck is going to make them go to the store?
But being an artist, how will it benefit you, too?
Artists will began to adapt to find other ways to make money streams available. With Public Enemy, we have 5 or 6 different options of areas that we can work in. But those secrets will be mine until a big company will figure out what they can do. They'll call Chuck D and have a big meeting trying to see how they can adapt. If they continue to attack [technology] it will stab them in the back. If they figure out how to roll with it, it will be beautiful for them. But, I'm not going to tell them how to survive.
So, music artists, actually, if you do the numbers, can just sell like 200,000, 300,000 units and still make a huge profit. You only have to deal with your core audience.
But that's a music business standard. I see artists up here trying to talk about numbers they got nothing to do with. Record companies sell records; artists make them. It's important for the artists to know the mechanics of the record industry before they start talking. Companies sell those volumes of records because they're putting up X amount of dollars and they are claiming very high stakes. But you got to understand Music 101. Have your own business. Start from the ground up.
The new album's first single, "Do You Want To Go Our Way?," you seem to bringing back the classic Public Enemy sound. Is it indicative of the artistic direction of new album?
The album is like...picture the Bass Music Machine crashing into the Chemical Brothers running into Pink Floyd and stopping at Redman's house.
That's an ill collage of sounds. Who handled most of the production?
We started doing a lot of the production ourselves. Now, the first thing people want to know is who produced it. This is a Tommy Hawk project and we did it on a mountain. That's all I got to say about it. Listen to it. Don't ask no questions. It's either you like it or not. This album covers 21st century issues. We're right around the corner, so why not. There's A Poison Going On shows you how poison kills you slowly without you ever knowing it. It's a poisoned society of people that thinks everything is all good, and shit, but they are getting killed slowly.
And the poison meaning...
Things that are not good for you; they are disguised in things that are made to look good for you.
Like the music that we hear.
Well, yeah. It could be a lot of things. There's a poison going on and you think everything is business as usual, but it is mentally toxic to your existence. They blame this cat Jack Kevorkian, but these same muthafuckas that set this whole society up, they're killing people like it ain't no problem. They're talking about the 15 kids killed in Colorado. But at the same time the U.S. bombs Kosovo--that kills about 21 people. Death is still death.
Do you still think the reason why the tragedy got so much press was because it happened in a white area?
Yes. But tragic events are happening in all aspects of society because of the brain washing images being blasted across society.
Let's talk about the recent rash of hip-hop murders. What's your whole frame of mind on that? Is it just a part of the violence that happens in the black community?
It's a part of the black community, but hip-hop brings it out to the forefront. Because if Big L wasn't Big L, he would just be another statistic. Brothers are getting knocked off everyday.
Where were you when you found out about the shooting of Amadou Diallo. We're you surprised?
I was either here in Long Island or in Atlanta...but was I shocked? No, I wasn¹t shocked. Four cops living out in Long Island, what the hell they doing policing the Bronx? We need police who are concerned about the protection of the people as oppose to the protecting of property for someone that doesn¹t live there. The fact they were policing the Bronx and shot at this brother 41 times, it was typical of how some of these cats are misplaced.
Are you going to get more involved in the 41 Shots Project, in which hip-hop artists are getting together in response to police brutality?
I was barely reached but I'm involved with the Mumia 911 project.
Why all of the sudden is police brutality getting so much press? This has been happening in Black and Latino communities for years?
The Diallo shooting was an incident that was really over-the-top. Why not discuss it? However we should not treat it like a fad. We need some police that understand the needs of the people. But when you have Adolf Giuliani (New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani) you know, you doubt if police are concerned about the needs of the people at all.
He (Giuliani) acts like nothing can really stick to him. He doesn't seem concerned about too much. He's even pissing off white folks.
He calls it 'If you can't be weak you got to be hardcore,' and that's how he's living. We got to be able to adapt to that.
You released a Public Enemy remix album some months ago on your website and it really scared the hell out of Universal/Polygram. What kinds of things were the corporate heads saying to you? Were they like, 'Chuck, we¹re gonna sue your ass?'
Of course. The music business is run by the lawyers. The creative people in the music business could care less. But the marketers and the lawyers and the accountants find out there¹s a way it¹s going to eventually undercut them and they¹re right about that. I was one of the forefront leaders when we (Public Enemy)were trying to get out of our contract [in 1995]. Record companies own the masters. They have the right to tell you to take them down. That's their shit. So, I took the songs down. I¹m not gonna fuck around and end up with a lawsuit. They have the fuckin¹ ability to get 30 lawyers up in the court and shut you down. The best way to attack them is from the outside.
Now, is it better that you're given that freedom?
Yeah, because I'm rolling all kinds of grenades up in their grill. Technology is a grenade. The fact that the public got hold of the technology first before the industry is a grenade that they just can't fuck with. They can't stop it. And I'm actually screaming at the top of my lungs,'Hey, you muthafuckas have to deal with it!!!'
How is Public Enemy's album distribution being handled over at Atomic Pop?
Atomic Pop is a venture. We're delegating the equity in all of our situations. They have equity in us; we have equity in them and we doing this to make a whole new way of getting music.
Let's talk about It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back Could an album like that be made in 1999 with its large sampling cost?
Really, A Fear Of A Black Planet was a more of a sampled record.
Those days are over with, huh?
Yeah. Take Puffy for instance. He will sample the whole track cause' it's easier to jack a one song than make a song out of 30 tracks.
At age 40, you've seen hip-hop's evolution from the beginning. Are you feeling the whole entrepreneurial spirit of Master P (No Limit CEO) and Tony Draper (Suave House CEO)?
I'm feeling it, but I just don't want them to get caught up in thinking they can do business with the big boys. The big boys don't play with their own money. They play with corporate money and when Draper and Master P get up in that particular game, they got to watch out how they got there in the first place and be careful with their own money. And once they start competing on that level, you're gonna have to make $50 million every year and that's not reality. When you set up a template, in the past, entrepreneurs like Luke, entrepreneurs like Hammer, it sounds...at first like they're making a lot of money and competing with the corporate game. But, you can't compete with the corporate game. Even if you made $100 million on your own, how can you compete with a company that ain't spending their own money, who's paying their top dog $20 million.
A lot of people say that Public Enemy is the Bob Dylan of the hip hop generation...
...We like to consider ourselves like Led Zeppelin because of the power we conveyed. But I guess everyone has their own comparisons. If you look at it Run DMC is the Beatles (he laughs).
Are you listening to any rock & roll?
I like Rage Against The Machine. I like what a lot of the alternative kids are doing. As a matter of fact, we got this thing...me, Griff (Professor Griff) and Kyle Jason have this band called Confrontation Camp. That's the biggest thing I've done as far as rock. Of course, by nature there's going to be some hip hop elements, because we're rhyming through the shit. This shit is going to be shrapnel.
Are we gonna see an album?
Right after this PE joint, you're going to see Confrontation Camp.
Are you going to be the frontman for the group?
I'm one of the side guys. Kyle Jason's the frontman. This mutherfucka is awesome.
As far as the group's sound, it's going to be a hybrid of different things, right?
Well, picture Rage, Limp Bizkit, and PE. It's going to be even more political. You might say that Public Enemy has to stay in a box, but this shit goes to that Mumia (convicted political prisoner .Mumia Abdul Jamal) type level. I'm trying to position us where I can fit Confrontation Camp into a PE set. Griff is up here now, so we'll figure shit out.
Have you started recording yet?
Yeah. The album is going to be called Objects In The Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. The cover is like the Oklahoma City bombing. And we don't know where it might play. Rock radio is still fucking bias and racist. And urban radio definitely ain't playing it. But that's why the Internet is a new breeding ground for real alternative music.
What are some things that you do that people don't even know about?
I like to take a ride and play ball at Run and Shoot in Atlanta.
Oh, you play ball?
Yeah, I mean, I play. I got to.
Did you play when you were in high school?
Not really. I played football.
Safety, cornerback. I was 5'9" but I was solid. I was one of them short muthafuckas who hit cats. But as you get older, you can't be out there playing football. Now, I just try to stay in shape. I recently got this fuckin' thigh bruise playing ball.
What, somebody clipped you or something.
Yeah, man. I got fuckin' hit.
Was it a football game?
Damn!! What kind of basketball game was that? (laughter)
You know cats be lookin' at the TV, tryin' to play hard like that. Down in Atlanta, muthafuckas be playing like they're tryin' to get their VA checks.
You grew up in New York. In your opinion, who's the best Knick of all time?
When I was coming up, Willis Reed. But how could you not include Patrick Ewing and Frazier?
Yeah, a lot of people shit on Ewing, man.
Ewing's a trooper and I love the fact that he stayed a Knick. And Patrick Ewing always gave 100 percent. See, the beauty of being a fan for something is that you don¹t have to win all the time. The only thing you ask for is that your team makes an effort.
to Dean's Tribute to Public Enemy (Main)