Chuck D always has his mind on a revolution. If he’s not working on his progression as an artist, he’s working on his progression as an inhabitant of this planet. The Public Enemy founder, teacher, emcee, husband, father and all around entrepreneur is, hands down, a living hip-hop legend.
Chuck D began his ascent into rap history in the mid-1980’s when he put out his first mix tape, Public Enemy # 1. Since then, Public Enemy has unleashed some of the most politically conscious content that the hip-hop community has ever heard. The first four albums that Public Enemy recorded transcended rap music. Fear of a Black Planet ushered in the ‘90s with the song “Fight the Power,” a rallying cry for rebellion while 1991’s Apocalypse 91 . . . the Enemy Strikes Back, was its most resolute political record. After 25 years in the business, 2012 finds Flavor Flav, Chuck and Terminator X embarking on a new mission with two new releases, Most of my Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp and Evil Empire of Everything. Most recently, he has his sights set on major labels.
“I’m getting ready to start a civil war against, not just major labels, but their dominance over radio conglomerates, television corporations such as Viacom and major media. Their job is to smash out independent growth so I have to pick my side very clearly because there is so much great art out there and people are doing so much that it’s ridiculous for people to fall for the same hokey doke,” Chuck says. ”I think what’s coming from major labels right now is terrible because it doesn’t represent the people whatsoever. It’s nothing I got against the artists like Kanye or Rick Ross or Jay-Z, I just hate the system they’re in. I hate the major record labels. I hate the radio and Clear Channel. I think it’s time for me to set the side and set the difference. I think Viacom has been viciously one sided. You can quote me on all that. I hate the major record labels.”
And he’s not alone. More and more artists are choosing to go the independent route these days by starting their own label. Major labels are notorious for squashing an artist’s creative freedom or molding them into some kind of freak that looks like a demented Barbie doll, not to mention the fact that they are only concerned with their bottom line. As Family Man Barrett of The Wailers once said, “there is no concern for an artist’s development these days.” While that may be true, Chuck is no hater. He understands the game, but chooses his team wisely.
“There will always be somebody who will want to ride that system. And I have to be honest and not knock people for wanting to be signed to a major record label and get riches, but I have to choose my side,” he says. “It’s more of an industry attitude. It’s not bitterness at all. You have to pick your side and shoot your missiles from where you are. It’s like David against Goliath. I’m down for that. It’s a civil war for civilized music.”
It’s not surprising that Chuck is so vocal about his beliefs. After all, that’s always been what Public Enemy is about. The Public Enemy from the 90’s is no different than the Public Enemy of 2012. They still have a political agenda; it’s only the causes that have changed. Over the years, he’s noticed just how ethically and morally wrong the messages mainstream culture conveys has become.
“We have weapons of mass distraction everywhere. We are in a misinformation age right now and that’s something that’s even more harmful these days. Realize there’s a lot of things that’s everywhere, but who says it’s right or wrong? We said ‘don’t believe the hype’ a long time ago so you really have to challenge information,” he says. “That’s what that song was all about. You really have to challenge the information coming at you. We encourage a lot of artists out there to be their own label and there are a lot of philosophies we put out there for people. We want them to feel happy about their independence as an artist. Just don’t be putting things in your mind like ‘I’m going to get a Lambo or a Phantom as soon as I make a recording.’ If you’re looking for a record deal, don’t just do anything or bend over backwards for it.”
At this point in his career, when Chuck D speaks, people listen. Not only is he inspiring, but he is behind a movement that’s all about unity. He doesn’t believe in borders, color or censorship. He has a sharp sense of humor that you might miss if you’re not paying attention. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Chuck D will undoubtedly be a voice for future generations to come and a driving force towards change one step at a time.
“Change starts in your own head then maybe you can change your own house, then maybe change your block, then you can maybe change your town,” he concludes. “But if you can’t even change your own house or you can’t even change your own thoughts in your head, I mean, what are you talking about? I think a lot of people have to have to be encouraged to find their inner strength and think differently and move forward.”
Public Enemy with X-Clan, Monie Love, Leaders of the New School and more, December 7, at Bourbon Theatre, Lincoln, 8 p.m. Tickets are $25/ADV and $30/DOS. Visit www.bourbontheatre.com for more information.