Chuck D Interview
Props Magazine...September '96

Give us your thoughts on the passing of 2Pac.

Chuck D:I remember helping put 2Pac on his first tour as a shorty back in 1990 when he was with Digital Underground. He was a dancer with D.U. and night by night slipped a verse or two. I'm part of the Bomb Squad that put together the score and soundtrack for the movie Juice and I saw Ernest Dickerson pick 2Pac as a character in the movie. That was like beginning. From that point, it was seeing him ascend to "stardom".

2Pac was a reflection of these times. Unfortunately, he will go down as the James Dean of this particular period whether for young black or white kids. I think the media picked from the downside of 2Pac instead of his beautiful upside. Too many times, brothers are not given the two roads to take equally, the high road and low road. The low road is much wider, much bigger and more lucrative than the high road many times. That road was more beneficial to 2Pac and so he took those ways to actually to the fill the character in his records. That's unfortunate.

Young brothers need guidance and direction no matter what they do whether it may be sports, computers or music. That's debatable on the type of guys he had in the last four years, but 2Pac was a man who was able to make his own decisions. He showed signs of potential that could have moved millions of people in the way where we could have beat a lot of our struggles, but first he had to get through with the struggle with himself.

What have people been saying about his death?

Chuck D:My question is how the hell can a white Cadillac commit a crime and get away on a crowded Vegas street? You know it a black person who did it. The black community in Vegas is only about eight blocks long at that. The city's in the middle of the desert with two roads to get in and out. I'm just saying if a brother ripped off a casino, he'd have a helicopter on his ass. White on rice, no pun intended. But you can murder a black life and get away with it and get out of town scott free. It just tells you something about the situation. That brings us back to your contribution to the Stop The Violence Movement where you were on "Self Destruction." Black on Black crime is nonsense with brothers shooting each other. My philosophy is sense overwhelms nonsense. Eventually it does and everyone comes back to the understanding of stupid dumb shit compared to thinking it out is minuscule. Everybody is coming full circle to realize that here you've got one of the most productive young men in the past five years just smeared out and turned to dust on some stupid shit from rebels with no causes. It's like people playing gangsters. You want to follow Italians, they came in fighting over territory, fighting over the ability to get their business started in America which was racist to them. Not justifying their actions, but that's was the premise for them to go into war.

But it was concrete. They got something out of it which is what you're saying. They had concrete reasons to say "well fuck that motherfucka" If we can't have be in our territory in there, it's over. But now it's a stupidity aspect because people in the music business have nothing to fight over. Even people in the drug game never win because they being maxed by the situation that set the drug game up in the first place. Niggas never win in the drug game. Even when we kill ourselves over that, it's just the bottom of the barrel type of stupidity. We got to try to understand that we are one team. What we should put forward is that it ain't all about the hundred meter dash, it's about the marathon.

Now that 2Pac is gone don't you think that the Hip Hop community should sit down and come down to their senses. Do you see any kind of unification between the east and the west?

Chuck D:I don't think it's the situation where artists put in their own hand. I don't think that artists don't have the abilities and skills to put in their own hand to unify. Just to say "Yo what's up bro, peace." I mean, that's an easy thing to do. This type of activity of unity has to happen from a higher level and at a level where everyone has to acknowledge it or deal with ultimatums. I'm a sports follower and I look how sports are organized.

Brothers in sports are the same age (as Hip Hoppers) and everyone in the community is on the sport's motherfucker dick. Look at Michael Jordan and Emmett Smith. No holds barred. In sports, there is an organization that trains the individuals to do their thing but still sell the art form, the league or the sport. They still do their thing and the bottom line is that everybody is on their jock at the end of the day.

I think the same can happen to rap and Hip Hop. But they have to happen on a higher form. Being able to train an artist, to school them to handle the public and themselves. Ultimatums have to be set up. In sports, if you fuck up on three strikes, then you're out no matter how good you are. People may say art is subjective and there should be freedom to the art and it's censorship if it's not. But when it comes down to you can't sell an art form that is being scrutinized like Hip Hop. If you can't sell the art form before you sell yourself then you talking about a situation that is cancerous to its existence.

Does a lot of this is dependent on the responsibility on the labels?

Chuck D:I believe that if every artist has an artist development situation, they are able to set the situation. We're trying to plug into the world of rap. We're trying to get into venues and we're trying to get this. We're not giving a fuck if you individually sell six million units. If you don't do this particular job and fuck the whole game, you're going to be on the outside looking in. I know that's hard to say but that happens everyday in sports. You got muthafuckas that leave the league and rebound and leading score on the outside looking in. The NBA says we don't give a fuck. You can never be as fly as the NBA. But this can only happen from the management and the record companies' point of view.

There's no such thing as management in the Hip Hop world. So record companies have to take responsibility to train their artists, to deal with the public, to deal with themselves, to be able to have a better understanding, to have some direction. And number one, the artist will listen to them anyway. You know why? Because every single artist signs a contract. The labels do have the power to have artist development departments but they really have to be able to say "instead of this guy being a Big Willie tomorrow, what we can do is take this amount of money, employ these people coming out of the colleges to put these artists into a training ground so we able to continue to sell this art form for thirty or forty years no matter what artist comes to our label.

This is a good opportunity to talk about your new label Slam Jamz. What can you tell us about this label?

Chuck D:Logistically, we will concentrate on the grassroots aspect of rap, like 12" singles. We only believe in putting out EP's as a development situation as a prototype which downscales the spending in the process of records without getting it caught up in the major league hype. For example, somebody comes along and they feel they don't know how to handle rap. They can get a video done but they gotta spend $80,000. But I can show them ways to get it with a better recruitment system. Artists, I will teach them to learn four key aspects (M.O.V.E.): The Music that they do, (you don't want to tell the artist what kind of music to do and you don't want to tell them what to say in their music because that's entering upon censorship). But you want them to have an Objective that's clear. You want them to have tight Visuals, you want them to be recognizable and you want them to be able to perform and Entertain. Because the bottom line is when they come in front of the audience and the audience spends fifteen dollars on their hard money and this muthafucka is on stage wasting their time. I think that's something that throw the art forms off a little.

Hopefully, I can build this prototype and people can look at it and say "Damn, we spend two million dollars and we came up chocolate. Meanwhile we look at Chuck's program and he stood maybe $200,000 and got like four potential artists out of it. It's all about building artists and making careers. What I'm doing is taking a risk to try to go against the grain in building this company. I believe in the art form and I've been involved in the art form for twenty years and I believe I can be involved for forty years from different areas which is considered the ugly work.

Even one fifth or twenty percent [of rock n' roll-generated profit] would be fantastic. We can get there if we shape up the art form so rap is not part of pop music where it's an exception to the rule, but a rule of its own in a realm of its own so that it can become like rock is and be in a world of its own. Rock has its own rules and if they can't get on pop radio, they have rock radio. Rap radio is something that can grow and grow but all other aspects of rap and hip hop have to grow along with it.

What have you learned from your first project, "The Hyenas In The Desert". Was it a blessing or a curse that it was distributed by Columbia?

Chuck D:Since Def Jam and the entire Public Enemy machine moved over to Polygram, it was a whole new surrounding that it wasn't accustomed to as opposed to Sony which I have helped build those roads over the last nine years making the rap world recognizable to a company that goes worldwide. It was a blessing to get back into the Sony system, the system I knew so well. It is what I wanted to do. For me to do a deal anywhere else, I would have definitely go for the fucking money, whereas Sony I went for the ability to build something because I knew the road that was paved there, by even myself. Sony has the most paved road throughout the world for rap music. That's important to me, how many countries can you sell in. How many continents? It is attested by the work that Public Enemy has done there. Same as Cypress Hill, The Fugees and now Nas is gaining the benefits out of those roads. All other companies in the big six are playing catch up and trying to develop a way and a pattern but the Sony system is far ahead.

So why did you go to Mercury?

Chuck D:To spread the gospel around a little bit. I've been at Def Jam for ten years. When I went over to Mercury, it was actually the first record company that I ever signed to. Def Jam to me was like always a street hustle. I first got signed by Rick Rubin and after Rubin left at 89, I dealt directly with Sony. I never dealt with Def Jam. Def Jam moved over to Polygram in 1994 and it forced me to deal directly with Def Jam. Def Jam was under Island, then Leyor and Russell had a blowup with Island and then they moved over to Mercury after I'd signed with Mercury. People thought when I signed with Mercury, it was because Def Jam was there. Hell No! I had a bidding war of eight labels and I broke it down to two labels which the Work Group at Sony and Mercury. The thing that kicked it over was Danny Goldberg, the president of Mercury Records, who recognize certain intangibles. When I came to Mercury, it was like you're getting a player coach. So it was certain intangibles I could lend to the system that they're not going to get anywhere else. He said some things that were different and we hooked up. Def Jam came a month later. I had a choice to leave but I told Danny that maybe we could work it out. I like to spread the gospel as much as possible with my solo career at Mercury, Public Enemy at Def Jam, and Slam Jamz with Sony. My biggest change is in the last two or three years other than being quiet cause I was quiet for the last two years because I believe one should listen and watch before they speak again.

Another change in the last couple of years is down scaling my tour schedule which was outrageous over the last nine years: 38 countries, 7 continents and 1200 performances. The problem was I'd be in Indonesia trying to get rap over there, chopping down jungle and meanwhile somebody that was handling mail in New York or LA would go from mailroom to executive position telling me what to do. I was like "No, I'm gonna be up in the middle of the Andre-Puffy-Russell mix" cause all they do is stay in one or two areas and just make maneuvers. I feel that I know just as much. Then I'm limited. I could never take the low road. I gotta figure out ways where I could win with my own rules. Sometimes, people would come up and say something, but they don't know me. Everything becomes an issue because people have a certain perception about me.

I s it hard because you have this persona of you as the scholar, teacher and politicial analyist. Is it hard to break out of these roles?

Chuck D:People think they know you but I tell people that you know me and you don't because you know only the public side I project. But really, I don't want knowing my business. There might be a side of me that say for instance, let's do a rated X video. Those are the thing to take into consideration when you're in the business of making records and running a label. Sometimes you gotta take the low road and high roads but my high roads gotta outweigh the low roads. Lot of times people will be like "Fuck that, you gotta make that money." What I try to do and compensate is I try to go into areas that no one else can do. Like I will cover the Republican and the Democratic convention. No one else can do that shit. I gotta find areas that I'm strong in because of the positive connotations I have that other people in the rap game won't be able to get to. So I key into those areas as opposed to making the easy money.

Talk about your presence at the Republican Convention.

Chuck D:I went to San Diego and covered it for MTV. I covered the protest outside and took the protesters' complaints to the delegates on the floor. There had to be less than eighty blacks in the building: about 54 black republicans maybe family members and press people. The Republicans were selling America to the Americans in the fantastic TV show with a lot of power and muscle and trying to take it back to 1958. Everything from the clothes, hair styles, politics, philosophies. They were taking it right back to 1958. I talked to many Republicans about the black community in particular and a lot of people were saying, like the one in South Dakota in particular, "well, that's not really an issue with us because we don't have the Black community where we're at." They responded like "if we did, we definitely would be like open arms." It was like in Budapest and telling them that if the hood was there, how would they treat it.

Before we talk about "The Autobiography of MistaChuck", let's talk about your evolution since the beginning.

Chuck D:I wasn't a rapper in Spectrum City, I was an MC that did all the ugly duties concerning the world of rap like drive trucks, write tip sheets, handle record pools, run the radio station and MC at the clubs. I did all the building-process things. I actually started rapping in 1977. When I was a around 17-19 years old, I was raw and devastating. I had a deep voice for a teenager and back then the test on an MC was how good your voice was, not like now where if you have skills, you can have an itty-bitty voice. Basically I had a powerful voice and when I said rhymes, I was heard. Back when they had those old cheap systems, it was like if you didn't have a good voice, your shit wasn't going to carry. But my shit broke through. I didn't almost need a mic. My first influence in straight up rhyming was Melle Mel in 1979 and this was before rap records. Here was a guy with a powerful voice but who also actually had intricate rhymes and a style. I rapped in '77 and '79 and then I moved to another level that Hank Shocklee taught me to do which is emceeing and holding the crowd and setting up an event or gig and hosting records.

In 84-85, I did demos on WBAU because we did not have enough rap records. I did demos to help sell the station. We made artists from our local area. The Bomb Squad made music for rappers that were in the (local) area at the time. The guy who invented the 808 bass-kick sustain was actually Dr. Dre (Andre Brown). We introduced him to the 808 which was the same machine Bambaatta did Planet Rock from. He found a way to sustain a kick and Dre and he was the first guy from our camp who got involved with the Rush/Def Jam camp. Dre showed Rick Rubin a technique and the first jam you ever heard implement that sustain was Together Forever by Run DMC in 1985. Dre had signed to Def Jam and he started a group called Original Concept. Actually, Rick Rubin wanted to get me signed in 84. I did this demo called Public Enemy Number One for WBAU and Rubin tried to get me into the Def Jam situation. In fact, he tried to get me to rhyme with the Original Concept, but I was like "I'm busy, I don't know, it doesn't sound lucrative. I'm twenty five and I need a plan. I'm out of college, I got out in 84 and you can't throw me a biscuit" because hey, we tried to get into syndicated radio with rap. We had a UHF video show with myself, Bill Stepheney and Hank Shocklee called Word and we didn't have enough rap videos. So here we were ahead of our time with nowhere to show our worth. By 1986, we made the negotiations and I signed into Rick's fold after meeting him and decided to put together the aspects of Public Enemy. We were all college educated but what people failed to remember was that we were coming from Long Island with the all-black situation. We were very militant and black nationalist oriented.

You hear people talking about it today saying that it was marking. How the hell can it be marketing? Shit, we come from 1968. I was born in 1960. I remember that shit. I remember fighting with muthafuckas in 1971 over Black Panther lunch boxes. The Panthers made sure you have your lunch programs. So I wasn't making no shit up. The advantages in 1986 and 87 when I recorded the first works of Public Enemy is that I was ten years older than the average rappers at that time. They talked about teenage stuff and I was talking about mid twenties shit that rappers talk about today.

So when I made Yo! Bumrush The Show, I was highly influenced by the styles of Run DMC and LL Cool J. Even though I was older, I was still in a younger state of mind with a different topic. All that changed the next year in 1987 when Rakim and KRS One came out with another style which led to the changes to my style in Rebel Without A Pause. But my topics remained the same because it was embedded inside of me and it helped throughout my career. As people got into the conscious black nationalist kind of lyrics, I would tell them to do shit that they felt was real instead of jumping into it. It's real to me because I remember seeing the news when King was shot and killed, Malcolm X and Medgar Evans shot and killed. I remember as a child seeing this. I remember as a child seeing this. So it meant to me that I was being real with my shit.

Chuck, do you find it ironic that coming from such a Black nationalist point of view, that you have so many white fans?

Chuck D:I think white kids always want to find out what's happening with other cultures. White culture in the western hemisphere is limited only because they don't accept other cultures to be interspersed inside theirs. Those barracades have been broken down to the point where we can have shows like Moesha and In The House with more than just a black audience.

Let's Talk About The Autobiography of MistaChuck. How closely tied is the book to the album? I'm not hearing an autobiography but rather your opinions of the current state of affairs.

Chuck D:It's a just a hell of a title just like The Autobiography of Malcolm X. There's only a couple of autobiographical songs in the album like MistaChuck and The Pride. Everything else is a matter of opinion.

Is the book like that as well?

Chuck D:The book talks about three situations that has led me to be the most interviewed person in the last ten years in the rap game: The lyrics, the musical innovations, and the issues. The books is tentatively called Fight The Power but I would like it to be Lyrics Of A Rap Revolutionary: The Times And The Rhymes In The Mind Of Chuck D.

Define the term Big Willie Syndrome

. Chuck D:Big Willie is a false illusion of power and wealth and it's an attitude that is projected by people within industry over the commonplace black person. With this false illusion, a lot of people are gravitated to getting things quick and not trying to look at the heart of the matter of learning the profession and doing the "ugly work" involved and just not think about the pretty benefits. The syndrome is pretty much just projecting the pretty benefits. To me, if the person who's doing their job, why flaunt what you got in front of someone else who doesn't have. When we flaunt these false powers on the basis that all we're allowed to do on the high end level in the United States is sing, act, dance, rap, play ball, tell jokes for big money. Those are the images that are being projected for big money. Just because you're able to get into the house, don't be a house Negro and show off to everyone else in the field.

Exactly. The big money people are the ones who actually own the film and record companies.

Chuck D:They manufacture so called illusion of the black celebrity. Black celebrities are manufactured. Just like they make dollar bills, they make black celebrities. We're here only because they allow us to be so. Don't think that black celebrities automatically happen. In the middle of this century, they never allowed blacks to play baseball or football. Basketball was never a sport and in the beginning, blacks weren't allowed to play. Blacks couldn't sing in white clubs unless they had a specific card to let them pass through. Dark skinned women couldn't dance inside the Cotton Club. They only picked light skinned women. We have to understand that our predecessors busted their asses and went through a lot of racism to get black performers and athletes into a better situation as it is today. So we shouldn't be saying "alright, we're better than you. I got me a fuckin Lexus, I'm making five million dollars a year because I can sing and I'm better than you." That's Big Willie. That muthafucka ain't Big Willie compared to the muthafucka who made him Big Willie. There's a muthafucka that makes a muthafucka. Big Willie is usually the black guy next to the white boy who writes the check.

So what's the solution?

Chuck D:The solution is instead of muthafuckas trying to Big Willie it, take some of that and develop artists and professionals in those record companies that actually build a cycle of people in the community to be a participant and also for a structure to be in place for people to be a participant and also lend professionalism to an area and also, if a muthatfucka makes 6 or 7 million dollars, make it work for a long period of time for a bunch of people! Money is not power, influence is power. Money is a tool that powerful people use on those who don't understand.

Talk about your reunion with Professor Griff on the track "Horizontal Heroin." Will Griff be returning to PE?

Chuck D:There is a possibility of a reunion with Griff. Me and Griff have been working here and there for the last four years. There wasn't a problem with me, it was a problem protocol. Public Enemy is like 25 to 30 people in a working environment. He had some problems with the situation which he left on his own. He's come to grips with some situations. I would like to see him work with Public Enemy, I didn't want to see him go at that particular time.

What about Isaac Hayes. What was his role. He's the guest producer.

Chuck D:That was the recording joy of my career. I went to Africa in 1993 and we were participants in the culturefest in Ghana. Me, being a black music fan, I listen to Isaac Hayes everyday especially myself being a fan of his work as a songwriter at Stax Records. Isaac Hayes was surprised that I knew so much about him. That's how we first met. It was like an older brother/younger brother type thing. We played in Memphis on one of our tours and afterwards Isaac came on by. Next year, we played in Memphis and Isaac came on by again and asked whether I'd do a rap on his album which was on Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic. On his album Branded which was a sample we used for Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos. After Isaac's album came out, he was giving me PROP$. I was like "am I worthy?" Then I did a project, and I wanted Isaac to get down.

Was he behind the boards?

Chuck D:Yeah! It was him and Eric Sadler. Isaac played the keys, the chords and went into the studio and then I rapped on it. Soon as I did, I asked him to sing a little part in it. So he sang that section at the end. To be produced by Isaac Hayes, Shit! I want to do a cut with Bobby Blues Band. That's one thing about solo situations. It allows me to do experimentation that I couldn't do in a Public Enemy album.

Tell us about the next PE album.

Chuck D:It's in the works. You can't get a feel of what it's going to be based on any PE or the MistaChuck Records. One thing that signifies my career is everything I done, whether you love it or hate it, is different. No two projects were exactly alike. I always been the one to take on challenges and never adhering to popular taste. I have a jazz attitude without doing jazz music. I'd rather have people be curious about it than expecting it. The album should come out by mid 1997, probably alongside with the book.

What about a solo tour?

Chuck D:I don't think so. However, I've got a four piece band. Occasionally Flavor might come cause he can play 14 instruments. He would be the bass player. Right now I'm trying to get Flavor's solo project done through Island UK.

You are probably one of the most interviewed Hip Hop artists because you the most articulate.

Chuck D:I don't think I am the most articulate. I think Ice-T is the most articulate with KRS One up there as well. Anything that I bring to the table, is three things: the musical innovations that changed the whole face of music in the late eighties, the lyrical innovations, and the issues. Those three aspects make me a catchy interview because I can talk all three. In closing, I'd like to say that Hip Hop and rap music is better than the NBA, it's fantastic!

This article appears in the September Issue of PROP$ Magazine... It was reprinted with permission....from editor Maximus Clean.....

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