By Paine, Allhiphop.com
In their independence, Public Enemy has released some outstanding albums. Still, according to some critics, those albums struggled to reach the masses. For the last two years, there has been talk of Public Enemy allowing their creative vessels to be directed by Bay Area legend, Paris in Rebirth of a Nation. This album, written and produced by Paris, features Public Enemy, dead prez, Immortal Technique, MC Ren, Kam, and the Conscious Daughters in one place. If ever there was an album that Conservative White America would try and stop, they should have attempted with this album. Consider it an opportunity missed.
Chuck D discusses his experience in making this album, with AllHipHop.com. He reflects on that distribution system that has made PE's plans harder than Chuck would hope. The Strong Island icon also touches upon some issues from a recent Elemental magazine column - including why "Stop Snitchin'" is hurting us all. Suckas to the sideŠ Chuck D speaks.
AllHipHop.com: It was interesting to me that on Rebirth of a Nation, you have this song, "Invisible Man". Originally, those lyrics appeared as "I" on There's a Poison Goin' On. Was it your idea or Paris' idea to revisit that? Why?
Chuck D: Paris renamed it "Invisible Man". I think he looked into it and took it to the next level. When I originally wrote it [as "I"], I wrote it as a story of just a day walkin' through the hood. When I first wrote "I", it was inspired off of when I saw a video of Bruce Springsteen ["Philadelphia"] walkin' through Philadelphia. That's as simple as it was for me.
AllHipHop.com: I just loved the opening lines, "I came from a place I forgot/woke up in a parking lot/far from a meal and a cot." It means something different each time.
Chuck D: That's why we write songs. Sometimes they'll make an immediate impact, sometimes they'll be time capsules in themselves. I'm glad you dug the song.
AllHipHop.com: On the stuff from this album, "Hard Rhymin'" with Sister Souljah is that classic Public Enemy sound. At one point in the song, you say that young kids are probably confusing the term 'ghetto' with the term 'ignorance'. That said, what does 'ghetto' mean to you?
Chuck D: Number one: I'd like to clarify - I wrote no lyrics on this album except for "Invisible Man", and that was the whole gift of the great experimentation of the project. What would it sound like to be actually [written for] and produced by somebody you truly admire from brick to mortar? But my take is that there is nothing ever-fabulous about the ghetto, 'cause the ghetto is forced upon you. Yes, maybe it's making sugar out of salt. But to me, the "stay in the ghetto" mentality is to accept what the slave-master has forced upon you. That's always been my belief. Maybe the world is the ultimate ghetto? But let yourself be exposed to all the [things] that the world has to offer instead of saying [that the ghetto] is only your world, and you can't go no further. That's some bulls**t, for real.
AllHipHop.com: This album was supposed to be released a lot earlier - like a year ago, the campaign started. What was the hold-up?
Chuck D: I have my label [SlamJamz], and we also release Public Enemy records all around the world. We wanted to release three albums in a short period. But in the route, distribution has a bottom line of dictating to you what they're gonna take, as far as a title from an artist. They're only gonna take one [release] at a time within a six-month window. [laughs] So, it wasn't so much as what we wanted to do as record labels, artists, or creators - it's what distribution dictates. I've worked very hard to try and balance that playing-field out. But I don't have a wand that waves over that world. At the end of the day, I'm still using the same distributors that go to the same retail shops which shows how quite primitive that whole system is. We just released a record [New Whirl Odor], and the other record we're releasing, How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul, which is a real gem - that's gonna wait till next year. I wanted to release three albums in a year like they used to do in the '60s. Distribution dictated that we spread them. Ain't that some s**t?
AllHipHop.com: Except, they did allow Nelly to release Sweat and Suit on the same day last yearŠ
Chuck D: Yeah, well, he can release them on the same day. But in essence, it's the same barcode numbers. Plus, it comes from a major. A major has a ruling thumb on what they're gonna dictate to the retail audience. It's a business that's unusual, right?
AllHipHop.com: Now as far as New Whirl Odor, how have you perceived the fan reaction from that album so far?
Chuck D: Based upon performance or the recording?
AllHipHop.com: The recording.
Chuck D: [laughs] I don't look at albums like - you drop an album and wait for the first month's reaction. I think it's a tragedy that they've turned the recording industry into the movie industry. That's so ridiculous. Anything I kinda record and write is always step one. The next step, the main step is - can we perform those songs? If you don't perform a song, it's just a song. When you perform a song, and it's able to have a part of you, then it takes on another form of life. That's one thing that Public Enemy [can do]. We can do concert tours with the U2's or the Dilated Peoples. We can do it till 2026. [laughs] My thing is - always make sure a performance is enjoyable. It's the thing that's allowed us our passport to the windows of the world. We deal with about 30 countries, and there's nothing sweeter than that.
AllHipHop.com: You pen a monthly column in Elemental magazine. In the latest issue, you wrote two pages on "What I Want to See From Hip-Hop in 2006". In particular, you address your displeasure with the Stop Snitchin' campaign. I urge people to read the article, but tell me, in a nutshell, why you feel that wayŠ
Chuck D: What I'm sayin' is - to make this even smaller than a nutshell - is that I'm so ticked off of smarter people havin' to dumb themselves down to feel comfortable with themselves in society. It's not a Black thing homie, it's an American thing. Americanism encourages people not to be smart, not to figure out what's goin' on in the first place. So when it comes down to it, to see college journalists accept these aspects in Hip-Hop just so they can feel like they're down with it, or down with the streets, this is a ridiculous notion. At the end of the streets, are two industries - jail and death, which are highly profitable for everybody other than who comes up out of the hood. [laughs] So I think if somebody's smart, and they know better than they should say better. The whole snitchin' aspect - if your mom needs to get from one place to another safely, how are you gonna say she doesn't need any protection? If you can't protect her, who the hell can? I just think a lot of these cats in Hip-Hop who know better, are so hypocritical to the way things are supposed to be.
AllHipHop.com: What do you tell those people?
Chuck D: I would tell them that I don't care how rough they say if they live in America. I deal with cats who are from Russia, and I ain't never seen no hard life as Russia. How will people know if they don't respect themselves? My job is also to give as much respect to them as possible. When I see wrong, I say, "That s**t's wack, that's f**ked up." Hip-Hop is also known as the art form that points at s**t as being wack. Snitchin' came out of the 60's, when you had revolutionaries who had the neighborhood in the best interest, [as] they were being disassembled by COINTELPRO. But if you don't know what happened in the 60's, and you don't know COINTELPRO, and you just lookin' at snitchin' as somebody who just rattin' out on a drug-dealer who ain't doing no good for no f**kin' body any God damned way, you're grossly misunderstood - and Hip-Hop's not about that. When it comes down to that criminal element, it affects Black people first. They can say I'm a racist, but that's just the way it is. When I say I'm a 'race man', it's easy for people to run away from me, or say, "Ah, I heard it before." This ain't a passing trend, this is what it is. I'mma die Black. That's just the way it is. Society doesn't need dumb mothaf**kas speaking for us - that needs to stop. The country already has a village idiot at the top. We don't need that same attitude in Hip-Hop. Quote me on that.
AllHipHop.com: In the same column, you also said, "Rap albums need decent liner notes by good journalists." Tell me whyŠ
Chuck D: I think everything needs an interpretation - not to be studied immediately. I take it yourself, just like myself, can have a portal into something we might not have previously been into, based on the liner notes. I mean, if I'm reading into some album by Prestige that they happened to have graciously given us in CD form, with the liner notes included. That allows me to get into the psyche of the music - and also get an idea of the sense of the time that it was [recorded] in. I think that's very important, to squeeze in the elements of what surrounded the musicianship with clear-cut interpretations. I think that Rap music now has a better chance of being enhanced by the liner notes because what we deal with is dealt with the written word. Having an interpretation by some journalists who have an idea of music history of Hip-Hop, can bring the best out of an artist, and explain the best out of an artist to somebody who might grossly be misdirected just on time [period] alone. People need to step away from anti-intellectualism and dumbassification. You always need a think-tank, and it doesn't always need to be for the sake of money. Believe me, if these motherf**kers were so smart on the money tip, then they should go straight to Wall Street, and make their money that way. This industry is based on the communication and spreading of souls. Yes, it has a profitable window somewhere in the picture, but it is not the theme that we should look and aspire to, and [have it] be the reason that we do it.