A conversation with Public Enemy rapper
Photo courtesy of JasonAlanLayne(CC)
No one has ever been able to bridge the gap between politics and peace in hip hop the way Public Enemy has. This comes in part from the genius of lead rapper Chuck D, an artist who creates music that delivers political and social messages. The group shows that hip hop is more than entertainment and proves that you can create an engaging effect through music.
The Fulcrum: What is your definition of peace?
Chuck D: Not only do I define, but I design peace. I design peace in my life by having some goodwill and caring for what other people feel, and also when you care about how other people feel — you know, treating them according to how they want to be treated.
With that in mind, how would someone emphasize a message of peace through music?
By saying words. Words can start wars and end wars. You should try to learn the words that make people feel great about you. Songs definitely could use more of those words, because a song is basically a language — a language to the unknown because you don’t really know who would be listening.
You once said in an interview with N’Digo magazine, “(The genre of rap) is only going to be dead if it doesn’t talk about the messages of life as much as the messages of death and non-movement.” Do you think the ideals of peace can be effectively portrayed in rap?
You always have faith in today’s music, but once people start thinking that music is a commodity, then it turns into something else. I think music is a natural and organic passage, something that feels good and you don’t have any ulterior motives. Once people start feeling like they have to sell music, they start getting all types of pressure and start dealing with the unknown, and that makes it feel kind of ugly.
What is your idea of a peaceful world?
I think Mars is peaceful, because there’s no one on it (laughs) … a world that coexists. But remember, even nature isn’t always peaceful. We have to understand that the weather itself can take you off the planet or it can give you a beautiful day. So there are certain natures that go on that kind of have to be held accountable and kept in check as much as possible, but they will go on, because that’s life itself.
We have to realize that in human nature, we have to say we understand there’s a need for a government to be able to look over people to help us not get out of whack. But also, they’ve gone overboard in controlling people, and the fact that we need passports and borders and they give orders and the military spends money on weapons and bombs and territories — it’s a sign of governments turning into corporations that end up wanting to control people like robots.
A theme in many of your songs involves the idea of revolution. Do you think revolution is synonymous with peace?
Revolution means change. If you don’t have peace, something has to change, and the people say they want change but what they really want is peace. They want to get a chance to live a life, to be able to have their loved ones, be able to grow. I think once things start growing into the realm of greed then it turns into something else and becomes hard to come back. So revolution means change, and when people feel distraught, the first thing our people ask is for change. Then we gotta change, man.
What musicians do you currently listen to?
I have 10,000 songs on my iPod and I’ve listened to the last 70 years of the music repeatedly. I listen to a lot of George Harrison. I especially like to listen to the Roots. I have a radio show in New York so I play a lot of artists that are not as well known, but also make statements. J-Live is also dope to me, Johnny Cash is still alive to me, Ray Charles is still alive to me. It’s funny; I talked about Dead Prez in my last interview. Dead Prez has been fighting the power for so long and it’s been convenient for the mainstream to smother them, but Dead Prez is not about the hype, they’re about saying what needs to be said, and you gotta love ‘em for that, forever.
Thank you Chuck D for taking the time to call and give me this interview.
I’m very, very, very happy to have been able to do this interview with you and be able to talk to you. All the best, and I wish you well, and always stay strong in your beliefs and remember, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything, you know?