I DID this interview with Chuck D in August 1999, ahead of the release of Public Enemy’s seventh album, There’s A Poison Goin’ On. Can you tell that I didn’t really know what I was talking about when it came to all the downloading e-webnet business?
* * *
THE bar and grill of the Regent’s Park Hilton is perhaps not the most obvious place to meet a musical urban guerilla of the stature of Public Enemy rapper and chief propagandist Chuck D. But sure enough, walk through the swing doors held open for you by a liveried concierge and there he is.
He’s easy enough to spot. Aside from his manager Walter, busy taking care of business on the other side of the room, Chuck is the only black man in the place. Alone at a table between interviews he seems at home, comfortable even, among his well heeled fellow guests, using the free time to jot down notes in the ever present notebook.
Despite the baseball cap and the head-to-toe black Adidas, Chuck doesn’t look like a successful hip hop artist supposedly should. With body adornment limited to a simple silver chain around his neck, a not particularly ostentatious watch on one wrist and of all things, a copper rheumatism band on the other, he exudes an understated style a world away from the fat gold chains of LL Cool J and the Rolex-cool of Jay-Z.
But we wouldn’t expect anything less. Public Enemy have always eschewed the dubious delights of hip hop’s love of conspicuous consumption – choosing instead to concentrate on harsh realities which affect us all rather than the exclusive pleasures of the lucky few.
PE adopted a genuinely revolutionary stance, at once uncompromising, unforgiving and, it should be said, pretty uncomplicated. They were tightly focussed, structured like a military unit, distrusting of outsiders and seemingly unperturbed that their radical, pro-black mesage was often percieved as being anti-white.
They called their third album Fear Of A Black Planet. Assuaging the fears of white liberals and rednecks alike wasn’t – still isn’t – high on their list of priorities.
“We do songs, we play our music and we hope that we make some of those songs come alive in performance,” explains Chuck. “We hope we make some people think about the things we talk about. It’s as simple as that.”
Of course, there’s much more to it than that.