Inside The Terror Dome
As The Release of Possibly the most controversial album of 1990 nears Public Enemy's Chuck D. Kicks some science and talks about the making of Fear of a Black Planet
By Davey D

Inside a Greenwich Village recording studio, Public Enemy producers Keith and Hank Shocklee, Eric Saddler and lead rapper Chuck D. go about their work with amazing meticulousness. When laying down the final touches on "Polly" a song dealing with interracial dating, Chuck has Keith go over the same ten-second routing for almost three hours. Keith repeats the line, "Yo, baby, whatcha with him for" more times than I care to remember. Chuck painstakingly sifts through each groove of recordings of Boris Karloff and Richard Pryor's voices searching for the perfect sound bite. When he finds it, it's on the next sound.

Later that night, Saddler and myself join Chuck in his red Bronco for a latenight search for an old Afrika Bambaataa track. As Chuck weaves through the twisting streets of New York's SoHo district, Saddler and I listen with amusement as he describes how his daughter, oblivious to the grueling all night recording sessions, has been climbing onto his bed and hitting him in the head until he wakes up and plays with her. Sleep is becoming a precious commodity for Chuck D.

When we arrive back at the studio, the jovial mood is broken. A woman who had come down for that night's session is outside the building looking very upset. We learn that, while using the phone at a bar across the street, she'd been driven out to calls of "nigger" and "bitch". Adding insult to injury, she'd concluded that the abusive bar patron had pocketed her beeper, which she'd forgotten behind. Outside, the woman's boyfriend is confronting the man, who denies stealing the beeper-until it goes off in his pocket, He drops it and runs. Chuck is called across the street by Lyor Cohen of Rush Management, P.P.'s former management company. Meanwhile, two officers, one on horseback, arrive and order the rest of us to put our hands against the building. Within a few seconds, sirens wail and three squad cars pull up, bringing the total to eight white male officers.

"Yo, officer, what did we do?" I ask, turning around. "Son, I'm not going to tell you again. Turn around, you're making me nervous!" I remember the morning's headlines about an unarmed 15-year-old Brooklyn youth being shotin the back by a "nervous" officer. The scenario is all too well known within the bowels of black America. Keith and Hank Shocklee and writer Harry Allen arrive on the scene and attempt to explain who we are, to no avail. Then the man who had harassed the woman is led to us and he identifies us as "the guys that tried to shoot me." Fear races through my body. None of us has a gun and neither Saddler nor I have ever seen the man before, but the officers aren't listening to us. Finally, some of the white workers at the studio give the lowdown to the cops. "Are you saying I tried to shoot you?" I asked the accuser. He takes a long look and says, "No, I don't think it was you guys." Finally, we're allowed to go, but the officers take our names and addresses. No apologies are offered; the story of the woman whose beeper was taken is ignore. Harry Allen demands to know why there aren't any black mounted officers. The reply is, "Black people don't like riding horses." All this takes place in front of the studio where Chuck D. is recording Fear of a Black Planet. One of the lines from the first single, "Welcome to the Terror Dome" is "When I get mad I put it down on the pad."

The incident was still fresh in both our minds when we talked a short time later.

What is your definition of racism?

People that are imbedded in a certain belief structure who are unwilling to be objective... People that are imbedded in a certain belief structure have to be so at the expense of others, and really could care less.

Do you think its an accurate statement to say that there's been an increase in racism as it pertains to music, and rap music in particular?

Do you mean outside or inside of the music industry?... I think racism is definitely intertwined with the music because it's coming from a lot of people that have structures in the mainstream and are unwilling to accept something different coming along...that something that's been here is something under control of people other than the usual. I'm talking about racism not in the music business, but outside the music business... You have people looking at the music in the mainstream, with a nose-up approach because it's something different coming along. For example, rock'n'roll is outta here, and for a lot of people, their whole structure has to be readjusted. And so it means looking at this black think as some kind of problem because they can't understand it.

All the rock kids have to do is look back before them. But they tend not to look back. They just happen to look at the present period or the immediate past as far as they can relate to. They never really look at rock 'n' roll, only back to maybe the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

Are you saying that rap is messing with the mind-set that people have become accustomed to?

Yes, it's sort of a threat...People will only view it as being a threat because it's different. Racism comes from people that are afraid to accept something that is different.

What's your perspective on racism in the music industry?

I think we allow ourselves to be exploited, Once upon a time, we got exploited, Now we allow ourselves to get exploited, I think during the process we have to educate ourselves...If we create, then we should control what we create, That's what this should all be about, or at least a big chunk of it. A lot of our people who get in this business, they either start out young or cone through the wrong door.. I think racism in the music industry is something you should expect because the people have their company and when you go to their company you gotta expect hem to say, "Hey, this is my company." I have a choice of not going there or to go there. And if people who go to these companies [think] they're gonna get the top position, they should have another thing coming to them because of a lot of [the] time they cannot. Sometimes they can, but a lot of times they cannot.

Is there a double standard? You have the Professor Griff situation and the Guns N Roses situation. So in Public Enemy's case, the media wants to focus on the group, but why aren't they focusing on CBS, and why aren't they focusing on the radio programmers? If there are anti-Semitic or racists statements in the song, the attack should be made on all those entities that are supporting it. Whether it be me playing it on the radio or the guy down the street writing a good review.

What you're saying is they should attack the ones that really need to be attacked, A lot of times they figure the root of the problem is the artist.Sometimes these are the powerless factions that feel that they should attack a group if they talk about the wrong things...[There is] Public Enemy, who I believe is on the right path and not offensive, but there are groups like Guns N' Roses, who are out there and can say, "We're just out there to get ours." And you have to remember, they mean eight million people worth of sales projected, Money talks, There's nothing that's going to change Guns N' Roses position but [their record company] Geffen. They make too much money.

Do you think that [associated dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies] Rabbi [Abraham] Cooper and other critics should've been talking to the record companies, too, and holding them accountable?

They did, but what can you do? The send a letter to Geffen, but that wasn't their objective. Their objective was to squash the PE situation where the message was specific. They didn't want to broad stroke this too much. They wanted to nip this in the bud by nailing Griff. But that's what those organizations are supposed to do. They're like radar systems. They're not looking at the business end. They're not looking at none of that. And it's good that they're not, for my sake. They responded to something that caught their attention. They did something that we as black people should learn to do-defend our interests.

Why is the upcoming album titled Fear of a Black Planet?

Fear of a Black Planet is the refusal to accept the Afro centric point of view and the continuing indoctrination of the Eurocentric point of view. Which I don't think is beneficial to the majority of those on the planet. Fear of a Black Planet, in a nutshell, is a counterattack on the system of cultural white supremacy, which is conspiracy to destroy the black race.

What do you mean by cultural white world supremacy?

Meaning that everything on the planet is funneled through the narrow vision of Eurocentricty. Which means that the people who have designed European culture, their vision is forced upon everybody living in the world today. It means that every other culture or way of life or understanding is deemed inferior to their standard of living, especially in the western world.

So Fear of a Black Planet will counter that notion?

I think that it explains our point of view and how we feel and what our reflections are on life. It shows life through our eyes as opposed to the life of an outsider looking at a black situation as being a small, minute consideration on this earth. "Fear of a Black Planet" is a song that deals with the facts that there is no such thing as black and white. Meaning that everybody sprouted from the original Black-Asiatic man. That means that black and white were only set up by world supremacists so they could divide people and conquer people for the benefit of the minority of people under the Caucasian characteristic. The fear is that if the world was to come together through peace and love, then, by white supremacist standards, the whole world would be black eventually... There's this belief that the white race is pure, and this was set up by white world supremacists setting their vision through Eurocentricity, and that's false, because everything evolves from black, which means that everybody's from the same seed. Black and black can produce white - it can't be the other way around, genetically speaking.

What are some other jams?

One untitled jam is a reggae groove with a regular rap on top of it. Basically, it shows I never tried to pretend to have an accent I never had, which means I just kicked it my regular way. But I'm still feeling the thing - the same cultural likeness of somebody from Jamaica. There's a certain way we have it here, just with a different dialect. It's the same style and same groove.

So are you attempting to bridge the gap by making the connection with African people from around the world?

Yes. You also have "Who Stole The Soul" which deals with reparations. It deals with the jackass theory, People always say Public Enemy talks about problems but never cones up with solutions. But I say, in this world where everybody acts inhuman, consider yourself human before they break it down into black and white. Black people, we come up with our own blackness as far as being even self defensive because it's not delivered to us and we have to find it to defend our culture or defend ourselves against a culture that only promotes white and Eurocentricity. So that counterbalances that, but you know when they say why don't I come up with any solutions, I call it the jackass theory. 'Cause acting Caucasian kills a simple solution.

Which means that the minute some of that arrogance stops from that particular brand of people, then we can start to build solutions that will make this a better place for all. Which means that a lot of people will have to disknowledge their history. For example, one of the lines to the song goes:

"Forty acres and a mule, Jack
Why did you try and fool the black?
You said it wasn't you but you still pledge allegiance to the sucker that stole the soul".

Another line goes:
"Why when the black moves in Jack moves out?
We come to stay and Jacks moves away/
Ain't we all people?
How the hell can a color be no good to a neighborhood?"
This means that running away from black is stupid.

Another jam-'Brother's Gonna Work It Out'-is self-explanatory, meaning that even though brothers are at their lowest point and we get the most scrutinization from the system and society, eventually we're gonna work it out with a mind game.. Meaning the rise of black intellectualism where the black male is going to have to step up mentally and unify together in order to do a little bit of something. It will have to be a collective effort. Individually, the Black man is a pawn in a game.

'911 Is A Joke', which is the next single, is also self-explanatory, as it deals with the lack of emergency [assistance]. In our neighborhoods, when there's an emergency and we need help right away, we don't get action as quick as in more posh areas. Especially in urban settings. The hospitals are more careless, the vehicles are fun down, traffic is in the city, people are apprehensive about moving within a certain location or dealing with a certain location or dealing with a certain group of people. It's basically a lack of emergency service.

'66.6 FM' deals with me being the topic of discussion on a radio program in New York. Note the 666, which means collectively the media is the devil,especially until we pick up some counterbalance against the same forces that worked against us. In order for us to offset radio. In order to offset television, we must control some sort of television. In order for us to offset movies, we must have some movies.

A lot of people might respond by saying Public Enemy owes a lot of their success to the white media, who, at the same time they have attacked you, have give you much praise and recognition-much more than the black media.

I think the black media is not cohesive, and fails to exist because they don't stick together - and they play keep up with the Joneses, which keeps them down. With the white media, rap makes an interesting story to cover because a lot of white kids are involved with it. Black kids are involved,but when you see anything invented with a black infrastructure, it is always continuously being moved away from by its black bourgeoisie class....There's an old, standard statement that applies here: You don't use it, you lose it. Like jazz. Its like with [Black Entertainment Television]. They were around but they don't put out a rap show first, so MTV puts out one and now BET plays keep up with the Joneses. That's typical. And that's how a lot of black radio stations allow white-owned and corporate-owned white stations to move into a market. A black station might be high on the horse and will play this certain type of music and not play this certain type of music, i.e. disco, club, house or rap, and a white station might be failing playing country, rock or all-news all the time. [They] might feel that they can get sponsors or a new set of listeners and make their money by doing what black stations out to be doing. And that means having better contact with the community.