From Rhyme Animal to Rebirthing the Hip Hop Nation
From Rhyme Animal to Rebirthing the Hip Hop Nation: One on One with the Legendary Chuck D
By William Hernandez (Intro by Tony Muhammad)
UAN’s own William Hernandez had the honor and pleasure of interviewing one of the great minds of Hip Hop, the Rhyme Animal himself, Chuck D of Public Enemy. This came two days prior to the departure of our beloved elder brother, Professor X. In this interview, they discuss both current and upcoming projects Chuck has with his record label, Slam Jamz and other groups, including the most recent Public Enemy albums New Whirl Odor and the most recent Paris produced Rebirth of a Nation. Among other things, Chuck also focuses on how it has been consistent key creative decision making throughout the past 20 years that has made Public Enemy the successful entity that it is, even today, as it has very respectfully earned the title of Hip Hop’s Rolling Stones. Focusing on technology and pressing global issues, Chuck brings us up to speed with his views on the growing popularity of MP3’s and the importance for the Hip Hop generation in the United States of getting a passport, traveling the world and opening their minds.
UAN: Talk to us about the concept behind your record label Slam Jamz.
CD: Slam Jamz is a label I put together. It was a whole dream of how Motown and Stacks would put together performing artists that would really want to able perform, get grabbed and making sure that in this country we cop our regions. We really have a global approach to it with the idea on the regular of grabbing 35 to 45 countries. I really want to be able to look at an artist base that we have on the label and break them across the world as opposed to breaking them in the U.S. We would take the U.S, but the amount of red tape and political action on getting on the airwaves is very intense.
UAN: Talk to us about the ideas behind the album New Whirl Odor?
CD: New Whirl Order is almost like saying the world is in a ball of confusion like the old Temptations record. Governments are the cancers of civilization. There are things that governments don’t want the average person to see, feel, or hear. Really, they satisfy their population with things that people could get kind of away with, treating them less than how they’re supposed to be treated.
UAN: How did the collaboration with Paris’s label (Guerrilla Funk) for the Rebirth of a Nation project come about?
CD: I’ve known Paris for quite a long time. We have a similar interest and I just thought that I had just recorded two albums: New Whirl Order and How Do You Sell Soul to a Soulless People That Sold Their Soul?, the second coming out next year. Paris came along with a concept at the end of 2002 that he wanted to produce and write a Public Enemy album. We had talked about it. He had put it together. It was a 2 to 3 year process. He took me into the studio and we knocked it out.
UAN: How does it feel to collaborate with Dead Prez and Kam who are featured on Rebirth of a Nation?
CD: They’re all great allies of ours and it took the ability of Paris to make it work and happen.
UAN: I always wanted to know why P.E. left Def Jam back in 1998.
CD: We just felt our philosophies were going in two different areas. They were going into bigger corporate type of ideologues and I didn’t really want to be part of that world. I was about building something from the grassroots from scratch and build it up; make it so you integrate it with a lot of new minds and new energy.
UAN: Hank Shocklee (head of the Bomb Squad: P.E’s production team and Shocklee Entertainment) receives Urban America Newspaper every month. In an interview I had with him he said that you are working on a project with him. Could you fill us on some details about this project?
CD: Hank is putting together the Public Enemy box set and hopefully in 2007 we get some legal type way of knocking it out of the way. We can actually put out the P.E. box set and remastered versions of Fear of a Black Planet and It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back. It’ll be through Universal and in a combination with Slam Jamz and Shocklee music.
UAN: Speaking of Fear of a Black Planet, how was the process of working on that record to up the ante of the previous one?
CD: Well you know the whole key is, if you follow baseball, you come with a 95 mile an hour fast ball. Fear of a Black Planet was a curve ball. It catches you looking. (Laughs) The whole key is not going anywhere where It Takes a Nation went. That was the key to Fear of a Black Planet, not trying to do or repeat anything you did with that other record. Public Enemy’s whole meaning throughout our years was never to make two records alike back to back. Of course, it would always go head and shoulders behind people’s imagination. Like they couldn’t comprehend that, but later on they understood it with groups like Outkast, who were known for that. Public Enemy, we came along and said, “Well the minute you like this type of thing, you’re not going to get it the next time around because we are just going somewhere else with it.” We were known to do that.
UAN: One of my favorite songs is Brothers Going to Work it Out. How did that song come about?
CD: We were working on the tail end of It Takes a Nation. We put it together and I was taking songs with different titles that might have come somewhere else. That’s a Willie Hutch Motown title and it energized me enough to write some lyrics about how we can get together and work our differences.
UAN: How was it like working with Hank Shocklee and Bomb Squad in the studio?
CD: I was a part of the Bomb Squad. It was almost like a mini Motown assembly machine.
UAN: I’ve been having this question on my mind for a longtime and people wanted me to ask you as well. What happened to Terminator X and why did he leave the group?
CD: Terminator retired in 1999 because he wanted to go through his situation and slow it down. He didn’t leave because of any rough feelings. He left because it was time for him to leave. Of course we didn’t want him to go, but DJ Lord has been there for the past 7 years and is world turntablist, fitting in a whole different other way with smoother adjustments than many others.
UAN: Chuck what has been your most memorable moment of all your years touring with Public Enemy?
CD: I’ve had a lot. I would say being in front of the pyramids in Egypt was a great high point, but I’ve had so many. Being in every continent is an enjoyable process.
UAN: Public Enemy has recently been incorporating the live band element. What happened to those two side projects/groups you were working with, Confrontation Camp and Fine Arts Militia?
CD: Those are things that are actually constructed by a band member Brian Hardgroove. Brian Hardgroove is actually with the backing band of P.E. which we call the greatest show on earth. (Laughs) Because P.E. is the Rolling Stones of Rap, Brian Hargrove is the bass player and the head of the band. The band is called Banned and they’re making an album on Slam Jamz. Tyrese Wen is the guitarist, and Michael Faulkner is the drummer. To make a long story short of that, those combinations with Brian Hardgroove contributed to making Confrontation Camp with myself, Carl Jason, and Professor Griff and also Fine Arts Militia which took my lectures and put them into a song form.
UAN: What is your take on bootlegging and MP3’s?
CD: Well bootlegging and MP3’s for the longest served almost doing the jobs the radio stations should have did. That’s why people are picked up bootleg anyway because they don’t want to be tricked in the stores. Picking up something for $17 and knowing they can pick it up for $5 and have better chance of being less burnt. The Mp3’s are the new 45’s. You can give those away and make somebody go and get the album. Then something has to be able to be the worm that catches the bird.
UAN: You narrated a documentary recently called Bling. Can you talk about your involvement in that?
CD: Kareem Edward, he’s really conscious of the fact of trying to figure out what direction the streets are going. He really looked deep into the matter and saw the atrocities that are taking place in Africa. Many of the things that are being said are kind of out of sight, out of mind. He connected Africa right on to the streets of Hip Hop. You know, Black folks like to wear jewelry. He kind of looked at from both sides of the jewelry game: whether somebody’s getting stuck up for it or somebody’s getting forced to work in the mines over in Africa. There’s a business of crime that affects us as a people before it even gets to the counter. He addressed that.
UAN: How hard is it to get Hip Hop kids of today to acknowledge the conditions of the child workers in West Africa?
CD: I don’t know. All I know is Hip Hop has to able to define itself and be more balanced and the balance might be enough to make somebody realize that there is a little bit more to life than jewelry.
UAN: In your opinion Chuck what’s the biggest problem in Hip Hop and what is your solution for it?
CD: The biggest problem is not so much with the artist, but the biggest problem is the balance of airplay and the amount of respect outside the world of Hip Hop when it comes down to radio play and when it comes down to saying who’s videos. I think those areas respect big white corporate businesses more than they respect the art form and that’s a problem. I think more Americans and especially those in Hip Hop need to get a passport and become more worldly. It’ll make your discussions and vision a whole lot clearer.
UAN: Any last words Chuck?
CD: Yeah! Slam Jamz, we believe we’re the 21st century record label for 45’s and MP3’s. We’re trying to get out there.
For more updates on Chuck D and Public Enemy visit the following websites:
www.slamjamz.com, www.publicenemy.com and www.rapstation.com.