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Making a living and making a killing are diametrically opposed. You can’t have them in the same space.”
Chuck D is in fighting mood. Public Enemy are back on the road and ramping up their tirade on the music business.
“I call it the 25-year-old fight against corporations and radio-dominated music. I continue to be impassioned and fuelled by anger at how [commercial hip-hop artists] totally dominated and destroyed the business of hip-hop,” says the Public Enemy frontman.
In shorthand, he means the polished bling that sparkles from the rings and cars (and guns), which are financed and fuelled by greed and the profits of vacuous airtime fillers.
Chuck D and long-time Public Enemy producer Gary G-Wiz have now cornered both the means of production and the point of sale.
Two new records, whose releases bookended the summer, Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp and The Evil Empire Of Everything, were made via a virtual recording studio that took in eight US states and are distributed using their new spitdigital.com aggregator and channel.
“We are no longer four or five cats at a board in one studio in one city together creating new arrangements from world sounds,” says Chuck.
“These albums were spawned from the virtual studios of 14 production lab experts in sync from eight different states in the USA.”
Speaking to Chuck, as he pulls over on a freeway in the middle of the US with a blown tail light and fearing a booking from a traffic cop, it seems a good thing there is a bit of distance between him and bandmate Flavor Flav.
Chuck is the teetotal businessman. Flavor Flav is the loose cannon, hype-machine-cum-party-boy who has made reality TV his main aim of late (there was a joint series called Strange Love with Brigitte Nielsen who he’d fallen for on The Surreal Life in the mid-2000s and a stint mucking out stables with Keith Harris and Orville on The Farm on British TV).
He’s also due to face charges of domestic battery in Las Vegas on his return to America after a whistlestop three-date UK tour to support the new releases.
Public Enemy’s third musketeer, Professor Griff, is also back in the fold for the shows.
Chuck’s had the torture of holding the group together though some tricky times. In 1993 Flav was charged with attempted murder and imprisoned for 90 days for shooting at his neighbour. Domestic violence and drugs charges followed. Then Flav checked into rehab for crack addiction before breaking both arms in a motorcycle crash.
New York beginnings But Chuck insists he has no regrets about forcing Rick Rubin to sign them as a pair to his new Def Jam label when he first spotted them performing on the New York scene as Bomb Squad in 1987.
At the time, Chuck had just graduated from Long Island’s Adelphi University and landed Flav a job delivering furniture.
“Public Enemy wouldn’t have been Public Enemy without Flavor Flav. And Public Enemy would never have been Public Enemy without Professor Griff. Flavor Flav was essential for us to be a group. Without him, I was a soloist.
“I can write anything but I need his performance art.”
The performance side is on Chuck’s mind today. He says it’s what hip-hop is lacking.
“Rap music and hip-hop needs to connect with people a little better. I think concerts need to be more giving.”
Now the international scene is strong he says it’s time we looked beyond the US for hip-hop as well as underground music. He references dubstep, the UK-born style, when I ask him about the famous line that Public Enemy were quoted as wanting to be music’s worst nightmare.
“That was thrown upon us by journalists and TV people when they thought our music was totally something else. I always want to make changes and make some sort of sonic revolution but you’ve got guys doing dubstep and jungle artists doing it today and that’s good.”
Six months after the passing of Beastie Boy and Def Jam labelmate Adam “MCA” Yauch, it’s fitting the act that wanted to party for your right to fight rather than fight for your right to party are still keeping hip-hop outside trends, instead focusing on live shows and pushing boundaries.
The video for Real Talk, or RLTK, from Most Of My Heroes (whose title plays off a lyric from Public Enemy’s polemic Fight The Power), sees Chuck in a Union Jack Stones T-shirt.
“We’re the Rolling Stones of the rap game, so that was kind of like saluting Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
“Run-DMC are The Beatles of hip-hop, so that’s what that statement was saying.”
Darryl “DMC” McDaniels (of Run-DMC fame) guests on the track, while with the second record in the series, The Evil Empire Of Everything, probably features more collaborations than any other Public Enemy record.
“I don’t try to do collaborations that are just marketing schemes. And I think that’s where majors get a little floppy with collaborations and where you see it’s a little overdone.
“But I think it’s testament to a lot of artists today – ‘Wow, you can’t do this song by yourself, you got to always get someone to help.’”
Public Enemy have hung around since 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show – nine tracks of statement, attitude and manifestos that set the ball rolling for a lifetime as the Black Panthers of hip-hop.
“I grew up as a fan of Bob Dylan and The Beatles, Earth Wind And Fire, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown.
“We’d have been over a long time ago if we had nothing to say,” says Chuck, hopping back in the car, tail light fixed.
- Public Enemy play Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Church Street, on Monday, October 29. Starts 8pm, tickets £24. Call 01273 709709