Guitarist Scott Ian from the band Anthrax performs with rappers Flavor Flav (right), Chuck D and the band Public Enemy during the 2007 Rock The Bells Festival in New York. Photo by Reuters.
Public Enemy's Chuck D is not holding back, writes Chris
Riemenschneider, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
More than any other act, they gave hip-hop its social
conscience - the Bob Dylans of the rap world, if you will.
They also had a big hand in rock fans taking rap music
seriously. And they scared a lot of people.
When you remember all those facets of Chuck D and Public
Enemy, it's no surprise that the pioneering New York rap
troupe found no place for themselves in today's
corporate-run, fluff-catering, mind-numbing mainstream
That was just one of the things Chuck D discussed in a phone
interview to promote the Hip-Hop Gods Tour.
An all-star revue featuring Public Enemy and eight other rap
acts that date back to the '80s - including Monie Love, the
X-Clan and Schoolly D - Hip-Hop Gods is an extension of
Rapstation.com, one of several websites that Chuck is
involved in to give veteran hip-hop artists a platform to
create and promote new music. Another of those sites,
distribution aggregator SpitDigital.com, is how Public Enemy
released two new albums over the past four months.
These new-era platforms seem ironically timed to the other
big news about Public Enemy: Chuck and his cronies are on the
ballot for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, 25 years after the
release of their debut album Yo! Bum Rush the Show.
Even more than N.W.A. (also on the ballot), they seem like a
shoo-in to be the fourth rap act to hit the hall, after
Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and the
Beastie Boys, who were inducted by Chuck himself at last
The rapper pointed to some of the hall's biggest names for
what he said is ''racist treatment of our legacies by the
''I think it's time for classic hip-hop to start getting
treated more like classic rock,'' said the real-life Carlton
Ridenhour, now 52.
''There are too many radio stations to count still playing
the Beatles and the Stones and Led Zeppelin, but there aren't
any still playing Run-DMC and LL Cool J and Public Enemy.
''I think we're as classic as Magic Johnson and Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar,'' he concluded with a laugh.
Most hip-hop fans would agree with Chuck's assessment of
Public Enemy, which he created with high-wire sidekick Flavor
Flav while they were attending Adelphi University on Long
Island in New York. After joining Run-DMC and the Beasties on
Rick Rubin's fledgling Def Jam label to release Yo! Bum
Rush the Show, the group quickly put out two more
incendiary and revered albums, It Takes a Nation of
Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black
Controversy came hand in hand with success. With its
militaristic stage shows (guns included), radical politics
and blunt deliveries, Public Enemy struck a combative stance
epitomised in its anthem Fight the Power - a song that
played a pivotal role in Do the Right Thing, Spike
Lee's Oscar-nominated 1989 drama about the racial divide.
''None of it was ever contrived in any way, or done just for
the sake of stirring up controversy and getting attention,''
With a slight laugh, he added, ''You gotta remember: In the
Reagan and first Bush era, any black person who raised their
voice was considered controversial. So it really wasn't hard
to get that kind of attention.''
He addressed one specific controversy circa 1989, when one of
the group's DJ/producers, Professor Griff, was accused of
making anti-Semitic statements while discussing the Middle
East. Griff is the only original member still active in
Public Enemy's Bomb Squad production crew.
''The real controversy there was: 'Why is this black man
talking about something as intellectually challenging as
Israel and Palestine? Go back to talking about the less
consequential things rappers and DJs are supposed to talk
Of course, Chuck believes that popular hip-hop has gone back
to being inconsequential: ''I just don't believe that any of
these cats believe in what they're spitting about anymore.''
Which led him to Minneapolis. He is a fan of Rhymesayers
co-founder Slug's work in Atmosphere (''just a true
original'') and he heaped praise on another of the label's
stars, Brother Ali.
''Now there's a guy you can tell believes in what he's saying
150%,'' he said of Ali, who got Chuck to guest on his
Us album and repaid the favour by appearing on one of
the new Public Enemy records.
''He has a voice like Ray Charles. It's authentic, and you
know it when you hear it. It's full of conviction and
Those qualities still define Public Enemy, too, as heard on
both of the new albums, Most of My Heroes Still Don't
Appear on No Stamps and The Evil Empire of
Everything. Chuck's and Flavor's distinctive rapping
styles are unchanged, but the themes reflect contemporary
issues, and the production has received a reboot. You'd be
surprised by how much sonic punch these records deliver.
They're the group's first full-length releases in five years.
During that time Flavor Flav became a reality-TV series star,
a fried-chicken restaurant owner and something of a punch
line - none of which caught Chuck by surprise.
''He has always been somebody to look at and wonder,'' he
said with a laugh.
''We've been through so much over the years, none of that had
any effect on our relationship.''
Public Enemy remaining active reflects something missing in
today's hip-hop, he said.
''That's one thing that has spoiled rap as an art form, I
think, is everybody only doing it by themselves and for
''You can't replace the chemistry that comes from being in a
''One-on-one, there are a lot of other rappers who are better
than me. When I'm with my group, though, no-one can touch