Thursday, February 2, 2012
Chuck D’s rap group Public Enemy, celebrating its 25th year with a new album and world tour, was once feared – and vilified – for its angry political messages and sonic assault. They’ve since been named one of the 50 greatest artists of all time by Rolling Stone, responsible for, according to the New York Times, one of the 25 most significant albums of the 20th century, with one album, Fear of a Black Planet, in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. Mr. Chuck has stayed busy writing, lecturing “from Harvard to Howard,” appearing on TV shows, creating websites, and co-hosting radio shows on the former Air America and elsewhere. He comes to CSUMB Tuesday, Feb. 7, to kick off the school’s Black History Month events, still agitated after all these years.
What are some of the issues you will address in your CSUMB talk?
Rap, race, technology, culture. This is stuff that’s floating around in young people’s minds. People are taught to consume it, to like it, but they don’t know why. Especially art and culture.
What’s an example of that?
R&B. R&B was a term created by Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records. Working at Billboard, his editors didn’t want to call [black music] “race records” – it was a derogatory term, so Jerry went home and named it R&B. A lot of people say “big deal,” but facts mean a lot. If you don’t know, the myth and the hype can [become] the truth.
Where can people find real, faithful coverage of culture and music?
I’m doing right by hip-hop [laughs]. There’s hiphopgods.com for classic artists, shemovement.com for women. Those two [groups] have been long ignored. Rapstation.com is a site portal; the show I do is And You Don’t Stop. We talk about the music, exposing the myth.
How do you promote a pro-black message while staying inclusive?
I don’t think I’m [promoting an] exclusively black message. I have a humanist message for everybody: Treat people like you want to be treated. Culture is what brings humans together. All this other shit is made up. Government likes to differentiate people, to divide people, categorize [people]. I’ve always been a culturalist.
What’s been your experience overseas with your music?
Hip-hop and rap music started 35-40 years ago as a culture. Anything that’s been around that long is going to metastasize into other populations. It’s not different from The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, morphing out of what they thought was the blues.
Are there any black heroes in our history that are still mostly unknown?
Most of my heroes still don’t appear on no stamp. Still. That’s the name of the new Public Enemy album. You can Google it. Most people got a lot of information right in their hip pocket. These are not times to be stupid.
You’re really popular with college students. Why do you think that is?
I use their language really well. I don’t talk down to them. I don’t talk about myself. I was a college student, too. They need re-affirmation that they’re not crazy: “Am I being played? That music’s not for me. Am I an outsider?” You’re not crazy. You grow in stages. Old school [music] is cross-generational. A lot of stuff now is targeted to middle school, the biggest consumers.
Is it more effective to fight the system from the outside or from within?
A combination. You got to fight the power. You got to find a way to get around it, go through it.
Do you support all rap expression?
I don’t believe someone should be talking about hustling and pimpin’ on mainstream radio. Some things need to stay in the strip club, in the pool room, on the corner. Everything is not everything. It’s like, you can’t sell sex to an 11-year-old. It’s just not right.
Like that song that won the  Academy Award, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”?
It’s easy to get away with being derogatory to black people in this society. That’s why we need to fight for the truth. I think Obama is a wonderful symbol that we should be tireless, but we’re disjointed. I have this Utopian view: Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive.’ You can march forward with hope even if it looks like you might not succeed. I don’t know anybody who has a crystal ball.
Jazz and blues are considered the only two American-born artforms. Do you think hip-hop will join them?
Hip-hop has joined them. Hip-hop is even beyond that. It’s an artistic and technical achievement.
CHUCK D visits CSUMB’s University Center, 6th Street, Seaside, 6pm Tuesday, Feb. 7, to kick off the school’s Black History Month events. $5/general admission; free/CSUMB students, faculty, staff.