Interview: Chuck D

Chuck D is one of the most important figures in the history of hip-hop music. He is the founder and lead rapper for the hugely influential (and controversial) band Public Enemy, which created a powerful mix of politically-charged lyrics and layered, aggressive sounds. Their second album, 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, is widely regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, and is considered to be hugely important for making rap music popular with white audiences. Other notable Public Enemy albums include Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987), Fear of a Black Planet (1990), Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991), and How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? (2007).

Chuck D answered the following questions by email on 1/6/12 for a preview article for Public Enemy’s 1/14/12 concert at the Majestic Ventura Theater.  (L. Paul Mann photo)

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming Public Enemy concert in Ventura?

Chuck D: We’re like the Rolling Stones of the RAP game. We present an experience in sight and sound – an event that takes people’s limited understanding of HipHop into the realm of MUSIC. Our 80th tour will be realized this year.

JM: I always enjoy reading your perspectives on hip-hop, both of today and of yesteryear. A few weeks ago in the New York Times, the cultural critic Toure said that “Hip-hop is primarily a celebration of black masculinity.” How would you respond to that description?

CD: Well, it was a penetration of black masculinity under its own terms in the early 1980s when that image was constantly repressed by america. HipHop and rap shouted back and bragged about self like few other forms did vocally.

JM: Public Enemy is/was more political than most of today’s hip-hop, using confrontational lyrics to highlight social and political injustices. Is confrontation the best way to elicit change?

CD: You should always support your stance and beliefs as strong as possible. The defense of a people and culture is more necessary than ever.

JM: In addition to great lyrics, Public Enemy developed an innovative sound. Could you reflect on the contributions to the early Public Enemy recordings by Hank Shocklee and Eric Sadler?

CD: Hank, Eric, Keith, Bill Stephney, Terminator X, Johnny Juice, Flavor [Flav], [Professor] Griff and myself were raised through the existence of MUSIC in the 60s and 70s. It all came out while creating. Hank was a master of records. Within those recordings were the sounds and musicians that we also had to recognize.

JM: An early supporter of Public Enemy was Rick Rubin. How did he influence or contribute to the band’s music and career?

CD: Rick was always BOLD and daring and adventurous. He knew that we were the one act he could leave alone to take it further than even he imagined. That’s bold in itself to create the sphere for bold endless creativity.

JM: You did a few “crossovers” – “Kool Thing” with Sonic Youth, and “Bring Tha Noize” with Anthrax. How did these come about?

CD: All upon the insistence of the the other act. SY we shared studios with in lower Manhattan and it came about over ordering food and conversation. Anthrax came because Scott Ian wearing our TSHIRT in a giant rock fest in front of 50,000. Photo in MelodyMaker made me name check them in BRING THE NOISE. Which in turn Scott Ian and Charlie Benante spearheaded the thrash cover 4 years later. I just followed through.

JM: Flavor Flav has taken a different road in life from you. How has this affected Public Enemy?

CD: Flav has always been different. PE is NOT a duo, it is a group. We have various individuals on different paths. Our original commonality is that we all came from Black Long Island. Flavor has always been different. As with PE it reflected how us black men were varied as opposed to the stereotype.

JM: Your SLAMjamz record label is described as “the 21st century record label”. How so? And how does SLAMjamz compare to, say, Def Jam in its heyday?

CD: Its digital releases set to deliver on tech devices rather than a physical form. DEF JAM is in the same ranks of SUN, MOTOWN, ROUGH TRADE, SUB POP, ATLANTIC. Lovers of music that had to fight for the right to record and release. There is no comparison although I would like SLAMjamz to follow what hiphop labels Stones Throw, Rhymesayers, DuckDown are doing. We also dig DAPTONEs direction.

JM: Public Enemy will be eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year. What is your perspective on this (likely) honor?

CD: I grew up as a sports fan. I believe in the preservation of historical archiving. Worked with the museum for years. I’m not thinking about it now but our last 12 years have been as groundbreaking and exciting as the first 13.

JM: If you had the ear of the U.S. population for two minutes, what would you say?

CD: The Cheapest price to pay right here right now IS attention. Fight for your world rights to be a citizen of the planet. And culture can bring humans truly together when at its best, something GOVT should take notice to. Be on top of technology don’t have it be on top of you…

JM: Since your wife is a professor at UCSB, do you spend much time in Santa Barbara?

CD: Yes.

JM: Do you want to set the record straight about anything from your career, music, or life?

CD: Simply our music travels, opinions in our genre are as compelling as with Dylan, Beatles, Stones, etc. Black music is usually treated less. Life is to be sipped like fine wine not guzzled down like a 40 oz.

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

CD: We build our sites to provide infrastructure to our genre of HipHop and RAP music for classic rap acts for women in hip hop an audio visual internetwork that hosts worldwide shows

You get the idea all spawning from our first built in 1998, the longest running site in HIPHOP

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?


1. Truly do what you do from your training and belief.

2. TRY NOT TO ASK other people opinions of your art.

3. Give music away like an advertisement for your performance as an act.

4. Make a video for 33% of your music, we live in a visual audio age, not audio visual.

give all my email:



No comments for “Interview: Chuck D”

Post a comment