Chuck D is synonymous with “Fight the Power,” the Public Enemy song first heard in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” in 1989.
More than 30 years later – and 50 years since the believed birth of hip-hop at a house party in the Bronx – Chuck D is still prophesizing. But this time he’s taking his message even deeper.
As the developer and executive producer of “Fight the Power: How Hip-Hop Changed the World,” Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) and his producing partner Lorrie Boula corralled a noteworthy lineup of hip-hop names to opine about the evolution of the musical genre and its historical significance.
The four-episode series premieres Tuesday (9 p.m. ET/PT) on PBS, as well as the PBS app and PBS.org.
Drake at the Apollo: Dipset, 21 Savage joined the hip-hop star at the famed venue
From Killer Mike, Eminem and Fat Joe to KRS-One, Monie Love and Grandmaster Melle Mel, the docuseries delves into the societal impact of hip-hop – civil rights, police brutality, graffiti art, turf wars, protests – and its continued role in reflecting the state of the world.
Chuck D is also releasing a fine art book, ranging from sketches of Bob Dylan to visual depictions of myriad hotel rooms and airports he’s frequented. “Livin’ Loud: ARTitation” a collection of 250 artworks, arrives Feb. 7.
But first, Chuck D and Boula delved into the significance of the PBS series.
Question: It’s the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Is that milestone your reason for making this series now?
Chuck D: I’m 12 years older than hip-hop and I’ve been entrenched in it my whole life. I always wanted to be a caretaker of it. I grew up a child of the arts. I knew who my people were and when hip-hop came along, I saw it as a latter-day voice.
What did you learn through the process of exploring hip-hop history?
Chuck D: Grandmaster Caz, Monie Love, Eminem – they all sound like scholars because they were never presented with questions of depth and detail about hip-hop before. I learned that when you present questions in a high regard, when quality is the conversation as opposed to quantity, everybody came up with answers that went beyond what was expected.
Boula: I hope (the series) is a gateway drug. That if you don’t know about this history, you dig into it. It’s a rich and diverse music and genre and it’s so misunderstood because of the gatekeepers who go with the lowest common denominator.
Public Enemy was such a huge influence. Are there any current artists who you think could have the same impact?
Chuck D: No. The closest to Public Enemy was that collective of voices on “Fight the Power: Remix 2020” (with Nas, Questlove, Black Thought and others). Public Enemy was a collective group that went in a forward motion, it was not one person. Public Enemy was a movement that reflected a community.
In the last episode of the series, Monie Love talks about how music that came from pain was now being made for profit. Do you think hip-hop has become too corporatized?
Boula: Hip-hop is born of oppression, but we didn’t want to soak in the negativity of it. It’s about showing the importance of hip-hop. Even if people aren’t taking the messaging of hip-hop and are just discovering a new artist, that’s pushing the culture forward.
Chuck D: It was in the 1990s when record companies thought they could reduce everything down to one MC (rather than a group). If you look at hip-hop before and after the 1990s, it’s been individualized instead of being a collective.
Motown trailblazer: Barrett Strong dies at 81
Chuck, you say in your art book that your Public Enemy groupmate Flavor Flav’s job is to come into the room and “suck the stardom out of it.” What’s your relationship with him like these days?
Chuck D: You can be the icing on the cake and be the spectacle, but it takes the rest to be spectacular. I always urged him, “You’ve done the spectacle. Now work on the spectacular.” But it’s always good (between us). We’re a phone call away from each other. I believe in work ethic and I’ve waited for him to do solo albums. He should have had 10 by now. With that talent to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and then do no recording? Come on, man!
The book makes the point that rappers say what they feel, while a lot of other Black artists are just fighting for fame. You include a drawing of Kanye West and note that his fans are quite devoted. Does it disappoint you that he seems to be more into the attention than the message?
Chuck D: I don’t look at Kanye as being any different than Salvador Dalí. I’m gonna keep it to your art and go no further. I’m not in the business of making Black people or Black art look bad. Celebrity is a drug of the USA. They try to tell you it’s a drug of the world, but you go other places and they’ll tell you that you’re an entertainer, you have no political voice. They say, play a song and don’t say anything to the audience. And the No. 1 job of an entertainer is to abide by that law. I learned that with Public Enemy or we would have been Brittney Griner a long time ago. And no one was coming to get a Black male.
Dolly Parton rocks: The country legend is prepping her rock effort with big names
Story Credit: usatoday.com