Moe Train has interviewed over 60 of the world's most renowned musicians, and in this podcast, Moe Train Eats/Moe Train's Tracks brings to you one of the most legendary MCs to ever hold a mic... Public Enemy's Chuck D. Train and King B interviewed Chuck D while backstage at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Listen to this amazing interview and get an earful as Chuck D drops gem after gem.
Look for more mindblowing interviews on Moe Train Eats Podcast, and on the actual Moe Train Eats TV show! Follow MTE on Facebook, Twitter, Vine, YouTube and Instagram!
Interview with Chuck D from Public Enemy
Chuck D, Moe Train and King B
Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo
“Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding don’t come in the microwave.”
B: Here with Chuck D, the legendary MC of Public Enemy. In the 80’s, you pioneered politically and socially conscious rap music, do you feel that that is something that’s lacking in the genre today?
C: I think people when they ask me that question need to ask me, “Do you think that it’s something that’s lacking in the United States?” And I would say, well, yes. The maintenance of it is lacking, but it’s all over the world. I think one of the problems most Americans have is that they don’t understand that what has evolved in hip-hop is that it’s super-global. The United States is one of the places that it does it. Does it do it better than all the other places? I don’t know. You got guys that can spit three languages, how do you weigh that? I mean how do you weigh it, do you weigh it because you live in the United States, like this is it? It’s like covering the Phillies, you live in Philly, so I’m covering the Phillies, you know, so outside of Ryan Howard I don’t know what’s going on. But that’s my answer there, it’s like, political rap, you cannot be around and in the rest of the world and not say something that resonates with the people. You cannot, it doesn’t exist. There’s hundreds of thousands of rappers out there. Whether it’s Dam, them Arabic MCs, that’s in Palestine talking about that friction over there. Whether it’s like my man MV Bill and Eli Efi from Brazil, you know we’re talking about thirty years of recorded musical science. So, this is the thing that I hope and think that the hip-hop nation here understands, that you gotta comprehend that it’s over your head. What’s the exposure? BET, MTV, any of your local radio stations. Obviously, you’re limited to the two or three places that you can name when you say that that’s the epiddimy of exposure and if whatever’s being said out there, can’t get on there, there must be some kind of ulterior motive. We’re in the days of MySpace pages, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. I mean, what do you want to include and what do you not what to include. I think that the major labels dominance of saying, “This is official”, that’s been over. I don’t know why people keep holding it up. Let me tell you why it’s no excuse, you cover hip-hop right? Sports fan?
C: Do you ever hear a sports journalist talk about activities in high school, JV, college being lost? They cover everything. Everything is covered, even damn-near the playground gets covered! And 1 gets covered! Hip-hop, it’s just like, it’s the level of laziness of going past what’s thrown at you. I mean, what’s the level of coverage is only going to depend on how legitimate the coverage wants to consider itself. They’ll say, “Oh, we only wanna cover if Def Jam releases something, we’ll follow that.” If it don’t come through this one imprint than, you know, “If we don’t know about it, we ain’t gonna cover it.” Now you in the day of MySpace pages, man. I think diligence have to go to it. It’s gotta be like, “Well, I’m not getting paid, but I does this, I follow, ‘cause I love it.” Like I said, I’m a sports fan, and they don’t let a pitch go by without figuring out was that 94 or was that 83 mph coming from this college kid that’s playing a college game that might be meaningless between two teams, but it’s still be documented.
B: But they can tell you every pitch count, yeah. You were a consultant on the Let Freedom Sing project. You wrote the liner notes. Describe that compilation’s significance.
C: The compilation’s significance is because especially black people use a portal of music and expressed ourselves through other ways when we couldn’t express ourselves to the masses just by speaking alone. There’s often times when the poets and the artists would have to say something that would penetrate the veil of racism and do it in such a way that, you know, speaking for what is right is colorless. It doesn’t matter what color you are, you speak for what it right versus what’s wrong. That’s why on that box set it’s everybody from blues artists to Pete Seger. And using music, being that we were a people and are a people that follow music a little bit more closely, because of that history of it being this expression when you couldn’t really express yourself, it meant that much more. A lot of people said, this is how I feel, so I’m gonna hum it and sing it so I won’t get beat-down maybe, or killed. Spread your wings dog!
M: When you guys were coming up, you came up with the roots of hip-hop, as artists…
C: Oh yeah, ‘cause I was getting ready to say that when I was coming up there was no such thing as rap records or hip-hop. Even when I graduated outta 12th grade, if someone would have said that I would have been making records, I would have said you out of your mind, doing what kind of records?! You know, you had Earth, Wind, & Fire, the Commodores, that kinda thing going on.
M: With your music, with how politically fueled it was, when you say about your color didn’t see color, you appealed to the masses. You appealed to me as a kid. I was a kid in the suburbs. You spoke to me, you spoke to the kids in the ghetto. What did it mean to you to get your message out there, so strong, and have the sort of influence that Malcolm X influenced you? You have a voice, in a different way, but you have a voice to the masses, where you can speak to millions of people and get your message across.
C: Number one, your thankful, but it does not start with, it doesn’t end with you. You’ve got to be humble to all those things that were able to give you the platform and it’s not about you. One of the greatest things I’ve heard President Barack Obama say, last year when he was actually at the democratic nomination, he said, “Hey, it ain’t about me, it’s about us as a people, and if this out there I see it and if you see something say something.” And I just think that that goes across the board. One of the worst things that ever came and attached itself to the culture of hip-hop in a very wrong and misconstrued way is when they come across and say, “Stop snitching.”, and not even know the true idea or essence of where it comes from. That’s why you got to know your history or have an old-head not afraid to tell a young-head that this where it comes from. Yeah you can do your thing but just know where it comes from and do the right way. This whole thing of older heads mixing with younger heads to try to appeal to them and be fly with them, I think, is a discouragement and it is discrediting young people from living their life. I think the responsibility from an older person to a younger person is to say, “Yo, man, you know you can do your thing but just look out…”, boom-boom-boom, you know, and just keep it moving or whatever. No ulterior motive like, “I hope you love me, I hope you dig me, I hope you buy me. I’m thirty-five years old, your twenty-one, yo, support me.” There’s not a reason to support you! Young people wanna support their circle of things, they just want older people to give them guidance because knowledge, wisdom, and understanding don’t come in the microwave. I mean, that’s our role, that’s our objective. When you don’t do that and your like, “I ain’t nobody, I can’t say nothing, I don’t want to be preachy.” When you say that, was your saying is that, “I don’t want to be older, I don’t wanna grow older. I might have well as died when I was young.” I think that that has hurt hip-hop. The other day I got a list of rappers right and the list was like thirty deep. And everybody was like thirty and over. And the latter half, like twenty of them, were like thirty-six and over. How can you be thirty-seven years old and not say something to somebody young that somebody young can grow off of, like we say, “drop jewels”, and you keep it moving?! There’s no excuse not to be men, and women. And not saying there’s one type of man or woman that somebody should be but being a man and being a woman that means that your mind, you know, you gotta drop somebody young down. Yeah, you know, do your thing, you know be at the club or whatever. Wup, wup, wup! If you see somebody trying to act like their… Well, you know, I got the world’s biggest teenager with me! (Laughter) But there can be exceptions! Everybody can’t be like that.
M: So, you’re a little bit older, has your message been received well by the people?
C: Always. Well, number one, ain’t nobody else my child or my children. But, I’m gonna be like that older brother figure. Yeah, cool, do your thing. If your gonna ask me a question, I’m gonna give you the answer. If you’re gonna ask me, “Yo, what’s up old-head. Can you give me your wisdom on this?” Then I’m gonna be like boom-boom-boom, I give you what I can give you. If I don’t know, then I’m gonna try to say, hey, this might be an answer you can use. That’s our responsibility, that’s our accountability. It’s been received all over the world, and I’m thankful for that. If it had to come through the portal of rap music and hip-hop, I’m doubley-thankful for that! I’m very honored and I’m blessed and there’s no excuse not to hold my head up high.
M: So, what do you think about Bonnaroo?
C: Bonnaroo is a wonderful thing. Whenever you can get groups to come together and play, and play in front of the masses… Festivals are an opportunity for people, who would not check you out of your own, to check you out by default. And Public Enemy was one of the first rap groups to play festivals. Festivals were a common thing in different continents because economically it was the thing that would work for maybe countries that just didn’t have this plethora of a financial situation. But, now that the US economy has dipped down and shifted gears, it’s like okay, festivals work and instead of promoters taking like two or three acts across arenas and stadiums is not looked upon as being feasible. Although, the arenas and stadiums are brand new and in many cases need and have a big interest in not to pay, they’ve got to fill them. But, other than major league sports, which is another pressing matter, they’re trying to get it filled. I think Bonnaroo, the Warped Tour which fifteen years ago was able to take parking lots and make that feasible… At the end of the day somebody’s got to say, “Okay, I paid the price. It didn’t kick my ass, but if it did kick my ass, I want the show to kick my ass and make me say that’s the best thing I’ve ever paid for and it was worth while.” You’ve got to give people more for what they spend. You’ve got to give them an experience, and that’s the gift of music. Now, what I try to tell many artists, and hip-hop artists really included, is don’t let your art overtake your responsibility as a performance artist. The whole key is to bust your videos and your songs, bust them in the ass when you’re live. That’s the best way that you share your experience with that audience. And that makes them go back to the music, not the music first makes you come, yeah, in a way. Really records came from the fact that I went to see Duke Ellington, blew me away, what can I take home other than just the ringing in my head? And that’s what that evolved out of. Once that became a business, it flipped back the other way. We can’t lose sight of that. But it’s easy to lose sight of it because people are distant from the history of even the things that they like. Sportscenter, when it comes on ESPN, it behooves that they show it six times so that their followers will not be stupid in the afternoon, so by the afternoon, you’re up to speed, you know. We like to see the same in rap music and hip-hop.
M: So what do you have to say to people that haven’t made the trip to Bonnaroo?
C: It’s a wonderful festival. It’s in the southeast, there’s a lot of people in the southeast that probably can’t make it out west or up north to the other festivals that are in those other different parts. If you don’t catch it, you know, we’re in a highly technological age, there’s no excuse not to hop on YouTube and catch somebody’s filming of it.
B: You’ve been one of the most vocal activists for peer to peer file sharing on the internet. Where would you like to see the music industry be in the future?
C: The music industry is healthy. I’d like to see the record industry become more supportive and the music industry become even more supportive of providing platforms for artists to be able to come at a grassroots performing level and really try to help a great minor leaguing, maybe Single A, level of artist doing their thing and let that cream maybe rise to the next level. One thing you have in sports, not to go back into the sports analogy, somebody always has a chance to try out for JV or varsity. Not to say that they’re gonna make the team, but they have the chance to try out. Well, a person should have the chance to try out as an artist, somewhere. Not to say, this whole thing, “Well, I gotta blow up!” If you can’t do your thing and be supported and blow up local, you know, down the block, then why should you even be bigger?! So, I always asked for radio, urban radio, how come it doesn’t support it’s local? If an Indianapolis radio station calls itself the home of R&B, then how come everything you play is groups that get signed to major labels from L.A. and New York, and even the Atlanta artists! They’ll play the Atlanta artists but only if they’re legitimized by the New York and L.A. companies. You can’t have no legitimacy that way. So, I would like to see the structures be more giving to, my wife says it best, territory bands. Territory bands were a big thing in the early parts of last century, territory bands. You really succeeded by maxing out your territory before moving into other territories. We need to see that in rap music and hip-hop. If not, it’s gonna be this thing of “Oh, we signed this person and nobody knows who this person is. We’re gonna put this put galvanizing, steroid of a marketing plan behind them. I hope everybody gets it and it blows up!” I mean, that’s ass-backwards, and because it worked at one time in our past doesn’t mean it’s the right way.
B: What’s the future hold for Chuck D?
C: Getting on stage, and trying to defy time! (Laughter)
B: Alright, Chuck, thanks for your time.