Chuck D speaks on Obama, touring, health care and immigration [Interview]
New York, NY – Chuck D has spent much of his 30 years in music labeled as a rebel. “Fight The Power” was one of several powerful, socially mobilizing songs Public Enemy used to change the face of popular music. They spoke out against a variety of social injustices, lead an ideology that made black people a priority, made bold videos and spoke in defiant tones. Yet now, Chuck D is an icon. He’s a hip-hop legend. He’s somehow still a rebel, but now also an authority. And it’s with this tone he speaks with HipHopCanada about President Obama, health care, immigration, touring the world and establishing a new business model for artists to finance their albums.
HipHopCanada: Public Enemy is utilizing Sellaband.com to get contributions to help you record this new album right? Why employ this technique after all these years?
Chuck D: We’re selling the model. Public Enemy is already sold. We’re selling the model that this can work for an artist beyond ourselves. It’s like 1/15th of the things we’re doing. It’s something we’re doing now for 2011. The revenue that’s actually raised means the artist can finance the collaborations on the project.
HipHopCanada: So you plan to utilize this to bring in other acts and use this model to help them as well?
Chuck D: Bottom line when it comes to financing for promotion, marketing of any particular record its going to come from one of two sources. It’s either going to come from one: corporate banking funds, i.e. the record company or it’s going to come from a fan base that’s going to be into stock marketing.
So we ain’t selling no Public Enemy record so I don’t want people to think this is about a Public Enemy record. We paid for records before. What makes this different is we’re using the system and will probably collaborate with someone on every single song.
HipHopCanada: Switching gears a little bit, in Canada we have universal health care and we’re watching the States as there’s this massive shift in policy and the huge debate that its caused. So first of all do you support the new bill and how things are moving as far as health care provisions?
Chuck D: Yeah, I support the new bill. For obvious reasons and I could be actually wrong in not knowing all the reasons that it shouldn’t be supported and all the reasons that it should but I would tell you that the United States and Canada are different animals. Thirty seven million people in a country can’t compare to three hundred million people. And the amount of back log and beauracracy and red tape and crap that will go on from this point on it’s a messy situation when you talking about 300 million people.
I know that for poor people – and there are a lot of them in the United States that not having health care is like signing a death certificate.
HipHopCanada: I read that you said if you could tell President Obama one thing it’d be to “get some proper rest.” Do you like what you’ve seen and heard from Obama since he’s been elected?
Chuck D: Yeah, but I’m bias.
HipHopCanada: Even though you say you’re bias, you don’t think you could hold an objective opinion based on his actions?
Chuck D: No.
HipHopCanada: Really? Does that taint your opinion on anything to do with Obama since you’re bias?
Chuck D: I told people coming in I’m very glad President Obama is in this position but I got my own selfish reasons. We cannot afford for President Obama to be the whipping of mass distraction away from the point. I always tell people to pay attention at everything. I know the job is well beyond a good guy who wants to do good. I think in the case of Bush, Bush was a guy who gave off the impression that he didn’t care, that he wasn’t intelligent in the right situations, that he allowed the cowboys to be cowboys. This is different from President Obama. I think President Obama first stepped into a skull and bones seat that’s been there for hundreds of years. And his willingness to make particular change will leak out in small increments and we have to take advantage of those small increments cause if we don’t we’ll be a blizzard of evil bullshit.
HipHopCanada: One of the things you’ve always been very vocal towards is the media. One of the differences in the media in the States is its decidedly partisan when I watch the U.S. news. Is that something you’re aware of or you think most Americans are aware of when they’re watching news – that there is a left side and right side to most news?
Chuck D: American news has become more like Saturday Night Live. It’s turned into entertainment. The stiff old white men on Canadian television telling the news, might be boring but it’s boring for a reason. There’s a whole bunch of things you should pay attention to and it might be difficult which means you might have to raise your attention level.
HipHopCanada: The issue in Arizona, in 1991 you and Public Enemy took on Arizona not recognizing MLK day and now 20 years later this new immigration law has made national news and is back on the radar. Does it frustrate you that after all this time a bill like this could be passed in the United States?
Chuck D: No it’s not frustration; it’s knowing that it could happen at any particular time. I think that the glaring overture of what happened in Arizona – I think the thing to watch out for is the other States that are passing similar laws that people would pay less attention to – like Minnesota. If Minnesota has an immigration law, who are they going to racially identify? Canadians? And how do you do that? “Hey, you look Canadian, let me see your papers.’ Which by the way, I think is the most racist boarder in the whole planet. I think that Canadian racism is spoken in its boarders and its unwillingness to expand beyond thirty seven million people. But that’s not just Canada’s fault, I think the whole aspect of boarders and passports is the most racist ridiculous concept in the millennium.
HipHopCanada: People anticipate hearing your comments on things like this now, are you aware of that expectation?
Chuck D: I’m old enough to be. I’ll be 50 years old. If a 50 year old is full of bullshit and can’t say shit then what the hell is that? If a person is even 30 years old and thinks they should be 16 in they mentality, what are they all about?
HipHopCanada: Looking back at things, can you remember when you created the Public Enemy logo?
Chuck D: 1986, I was actually making the logo for another group, one of the local hip-hop groups that I did logos for. It was for flyers because I was envious of how rock groups made logos for their groups and I wanted to do the same for hip-hop and for Public Enemy. I took a logo from one area and applied it to another and boom there it was.
HipHopCanada: And it’s been one of the most iconic logos in music since.
Chuck D: Yeah, I’m fortunate.
HipHopCanada: That was a real effective piece of work that day.
Chuck D: Ha, yeah. I’m fortunate. I just thought my background had been art and studying music and studying other iconic logos in sports. I would want not so much just Public Enemy, but I would want the music and the genre to have a similar thing going on so I’m happy to see people like Run DMC… you see those Run DMC letters with the bars. You see the Wu-Tang, it makes me happy that we weren’t the only ones.
HipHopCanada: I read you said more Americans should go see the rest of the world. Do you remember some of the things that you first realized about the world when you first went on tour internationally?
Chuck D: When you go around and you basically going at the world from your point of view, like just off what you know… You were just getting information from books you read or American news. Now it’s different. You can catch today’s newspaper from individual cities and countries online, you can catch dialogue, you can go to your visual blogs in minutes, so the key is to pay attention and not be complacent on the gratitude that we have today.
HipHopCanada: As far as just existing while on tour, I’ve had an opportunity to go on tour across Canada twice myself. I developed a couple techniques myself to stay sane and grounded, like exercising and getting some alone time and since I’m a writer, just writing about what’s happening helped me to put things in perspective. What do you do when you’re on the road to stay sane and grounded?
Chuck D: I enjoy the road. I enjoy people, places and things in that order.
HipHopCanada: That’s so amazing because that’s the first thing I said when I got back. The funniest thing is just meeting the people in all the places.
Chuck D: Yep, those are the things that are more valuable then what we call gold. People are the world’s most powerful resource to human beings.
HipHopCanada: Maybe this isn’t even a fair question, but Public Enemy planned to do a two year project only. How did a two year project turn into 30 years?
Chuck D: The world. An obligation to the planet, makes it 30 years later. Two years in every little area. Three years for every four states [Laughing]. 30 years, two years for every few countries.
Written by Jonathon “Bizz” Brown for HipHopCanada
Big shout-out to Union Events for their recent hospitality at the Chuck D event in Edmonton. Check out their upcoming shows with Sage Francis, Shad, Grand Analog and Drake. More information is avaialble at http://www.unionevents.com.