Public Enemy's Chuck D: Yeah, I voted in the 2012 election
L-R Atiba Motta, David Reeves, Flavor Flav, S1W Pop Diesel, DJ Lord, Chuck D, S1W James Bomb, Professor Griff, Khari Wynn, S1W Mike Williams
Photo by David Wong
Rap music is an omnipresent sound in the country's earbuds today because acts like Public Enemy refused to fold. With two albums released this year, Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp and The Evil Empire of Everything, this has been a vital time for the 25-year-old group and its merciless mouthpiece Chuck D.
Now, his task is raising up the community around him with the Hip Hop Gods tour featuring luminaries X-Clan, Monie Love, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, and more. The show is a continuous explosion of "classic hip-hop" that focuses on the performance art aspect above all.
Gimme Noise reached Chuck D in Indianapolis ("the other 'apolis" city, he says) ahead of tonight's First Avenue show to discuss Rhymesayers, PE's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination, and Brother Ali, who he calls "my dude."
Gimme Noise: What's at the center of your friendship with Brother Ali?
The core is the bond is the humanity of hip-hop and just being humble. Slug introduced me to him when we were doing a panel in Minneapolis, and from that point on, we continued our relationship. We be wherever we can be to be in service to him, to help his scene and everything that he deserves.
What do you guys like to talk about?
We talk about life. Sure, we're artists, but the core of this, we're human beings. I'm an older brother who can actually give some advice, and a cat who can learn from a great artist like him about the way he sees the world and things like that. We're human beings first, and this is what we do. A lot of times when people look at athletes in sports, they have it understood. When it comes down to music, especially hip-hop, because people look at us as being some sort of abnormality [laughs].
What do you think about the structure Ali has worked within at Rhymesayers?
I've always enjoyed they way Rhymesayers has treated hip-hop. They treat it like it's a craft, not a hustle. They see the shoddiness of the industry and how it's treated the middle of the country. People talked about the tour market going down in hip-hop, and shows turning into radio behemoths that charge $135, it totally became something else. Building from the ground up is the only way to go.
Yeah, and in that touring model the Twin Cities often gets skipped over for hip-hop tours.
'Cause you do. Most places get skipped over. When you're talking about gigantic situations, they can only end up going to five or six cities anyway. New York, L.A., maybe the Bay, Chicago, possibly Atlanta. That's not touring. Those are just festivals. Rock the Bells is a festival. They can't support a $150 ticket in parts that have really been torn apart by the American recession. These artists are corporate situations. At the end of the day, you say "Is this hip-hop?" Rhymesayers takes those "other" markets. We're going to enter a couple of those markets on this tour.
The Hip Hop Gods tour is a prototype. This is the first time we've been to Lincoln, Nebraska, and Jackson, Wyoming. So we're making this a showcase to a city that never thought they'd see these artists ever.
You dropped two new albums this year (available via SpitDigital) so how can you balance getting that out to people with the old stuff some cities have never heard before when you perform?
Region and territory will dictate that. It's no different from the Rolling Stones. If I'm going to see them, I totally wanna hear "Satisfaction." I want to hear the body of work over two hours. Even if we get one hour, we're going to give people good representation, energy, and effort.
My favorite part of the Hip Hop Gods is everyone playing together and doing what they feel. The theme of Hip Hop Gods is not looking at artists just for what they did before, but these artists are cutting records now. They're touring the world now. We make sure we get out each one of their social networks. I made initial calls to these artists and they all agreed. If you look around, you can't find any other hip-hop tour that goes East to West, North to South. Usually, there's a big hole in the middle of the country
The U.S. still faces plenty of the problems it did when Public Enemy got started. Does this get frustrating at times?
In politics, 25 years is a short amount of time. In music, they're dog years. They're long and they're stretched out. Many people have not changed a bit. Pretty much, it's been a flat line. It doesn't get frustrating, because this is a job I have to do. Hip-hop is my military, and when you're in service, it's your job not to get frustrated.
Have you ever performed for the military?
Not specifically, but many military members have shown up at our concerts.
Photo by Piero F. Giunti
Did you vote, and were you hesitant to do so?
Yes, I voted. I have no hesitation. People have died and struggled, black people especially, for the right to air their views in this country. I have a lot of issues that this country needs to deal with, but I don't think me being invisible or having a protest that's disjointed necessarily helps that process.
How does it feel to reach the group's 25th anniversary?
I grew up as a sports fan, so I respect tenure. It does mean a lot. I feel good about my team. Whenever my team can get awarded, why wouldn't I feel good about that? I wouldn't necessarily go around and say "This is great for me." I feel good for people like Griff and Flavor and Terminator and DJ Lord and Hank Shocklee. It's great for our art form.
Tell me what this expression "classic hip-hop" means.
I was inspired by what they did with classic rock back in the '70s and '80s. To separate the Led Zeppelins and the Beatles from the Bostons and the Framptons of the time. Classic rock is a different thing, so that's why we call it classic hip-hop -- we don't call it old-school.
So it's about taking control of history. And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination could help a lot.
If it wasn't for Public Enemy's international travel, and our profile, would we be around 25 years just dependent on the United States to cover us? Hell no. I want to see this thing for my peers that we have for ourselves. Since we're nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if a light shines on us, we're going to shine it back at the genre. Whether we're elected in or not, we're a force to be reckoned with.
Guns 'N Roses didn't seem to think too much of it.
They're within a genre that's organized. We're within a genre where the infrastructure's been fractured and taken over by corporations. Any rock group exists within an organized genre. The cats in Guns 'N Roses can say, "Well this doesn't mean shit because there's so many other rock cats who it does mean shit to." In the case of Grandmaster Flash in 2007, Run DMC in 2009, and last year with the Beastie Boys, this doesn't just speak for the artists, it speaks for the genre. People say hip-hop is dead because there are so many areas that have been neglected, used, and abused that anything we can do to revitalize is important.
Gods of Hip Hop Tour: Public Enemy. With X-Clan, Monie Love, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, Wise Intelligent, Son of Bazerk & No Self Control, Awesome Dre, Davy DMX, and Johnny Juice. 18+, $25, 8 p.m. at First Avenue. Click here.
Chuck D also hopes to make a special appearance at Brother Ali's Occupy Homes anniversary event, which begins at 5 p.m. Details here.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.