A quarter century years in the rap game is nothing to sneeze at. In an industry where hip-hop stars die young, disband, or simply 'disappear,' Public Enemy have remained intact, are burning up the charts like never before (in the UK, anyway) and just got nominated for the Rock&Roll Hall of Fame.
With this week's release of their latest album, The Evil Empire of Everything, P.E.'s Chuck D sits down to discuss everything from the band's legacy and his regrets to Frank Ocean and Eminem to the Illuminati and why he's not expecting an invite to the White House anytime soon.
Public Enemy is celebrating 25 years in the business. How have you seen your relationship with the media change?
The media has become fragmented. There are so many different areas now where everybody has an opinion. We're in a disinformation age, and an information blizzard, so people have to become better literate on disseminating information that's coming out of more angles. It all goes back to what we said about 'Don't Believe the Hype,' which is based on the author Noam Chomsky.
Back in the day your videos were always conscious. There was no bling, no cars, no half-naked women.
No, all that stuff we keep private! [Laughs]
If anyone did it back then it was LL [Cool J], but you guys never did that.
Because I wasn't for sale. We were grown men, too. I mean, why would you put your business out on the street?
How has the oration of your voice changed over the years?
It's changed, but I've always had a voice that can yell over mountains, so all I have to do is be enduring.
How is your relationship with Russell Simmons today?
Russell's one of the nicest people in the world. I love Russell. I don't respect all of his moves; for me to respect somebody it takes a lot. There are people I respect, there are people I like, and there are people I love. I love Russell. I respect him, sometimes.
Who do you love in the industry?
I love Dougie Fresh, Kool Moe Dee, KRS1, DMC, will.i.am, Queen Latifah, Lady of Rage!
At the end of your Montreal concert on Sept 1, Flava Flav had a moment of silence for Chris Lighty from Violator records, who allegedly committed suicide on Aug 30th. Russell Simmons [recently] tweeted that he doesn't believe that [Chris] killed himself and that he and Chris's brother are launching an investigation.
Russell is wrong.
And here is my segue into the topic of the Illuminati.
The Illuminati is just the evil, 'nameless' people who are behind governments. There's always wicked people around no matter what. Just like years ago with Public Enemy and the Jewish issue. It was just a fact that it was the wrong choice of words, at that particular time. But the sentiment was that there are evil people who are using religion as a baby shield to protect them -- when they really are just fucked up human beings.
There's a long history of Jewish managers, producers, label heads connected to the rap industry.
Lyor Cohen was a necessary partner for Russell, who wanted to run around town and be a socialite. I think I was disappointed with Russell and Lyor later on because they turned into the same guys that we rebelled against in the beginning. It had nothing to do with a 'black guy and a Jewish guy.' I know these guys as people. Most people, who are good, just follow religion to make themselves better.
There's a long line of believers in the Illuminati, especially in hip-hop.
So you think Chris Lighty was a sacrifice? I tell you, every time I would see Chris Lighty he was stressed out because he was dealing with some shady characters -- people that don't know how to act. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and when people start getting it confused, that means they need to sit down with some real people. There are a lot of people that are running the music business who really have the ulterior motive for control and greed. That's all. You can put all kinds of tags on 'em, you can call it what you want. But you know when someone is just thinking selfish for self -- those are traits that have the side-effects of discrimination and racism.
So you don't buy into any of it. If it is true, how come 'THEY' never came after you? You were the most politically defiant of them all?
Because I'm usually in my basement. I'm taking out the garbage. [Laughs] I do regular things. The higher you go up, you will find things you won't understand, and you'll find people that you don't understand the way they act.
So Jay Z & Kanye's Illuminati rumors, you don't believe in that?
[In a very measured tone] I don't believe in it. Everything exists, [but] how much of your mind and your soul are you going to lend to it?!
Professor Griff is all over YouTube talking about it?
With Griff, that's his topic that he's detailed about. So he has to get more and more detailed about it, and when you are detailed and bring a lot of facts to the table, you can be armed for debate.
Noone would be better at this debate than you, being so respected and such a maverick?
But I can tell you straight up and down, my time is somewhere else. I don't even put the time into it, all I know is that [I've got] really broad strokes about it. Mind control has been going on, for the longest period of time, especially in the ages of technology. I'm a firm believer that people don't have control of their own thoughts and mind right about now.
Do I have control of my own thoughts and mind right about now? Pfft. Damn skippy!
Talk to me about your thoughts on Frank Ocean's success.
It's good. I guess you saw my recent comments saying that [his coming out] is not a hip-hop first. He's an R&B singer, who said he was bisexual/gay--OK, there have been others. But people are like "Oh wow, he's the first that really came out," and I'm like, "well, it's 2012. Little Richard didn't have Twitter!"
You say you are the 'Rolling Stones of rap.'
And that's not to say that I'm Mick or Flav is Keith...
Well, how is your relationship after 25 years? Because [Mick & Keith] allegedly can't stand each other but they still get on stage and rock out.
And that's the magic. Me and Flav are two different people. Were not night and day-- but we're dusk and day. When I say we're the Rolling Stones of the rap game, it's not just the Mick and Keith thing. It's homage to the rolling stone. We've 'rolled' around the world on our 84th tour! [Breaks into rap] "Rolling Stones of rap game, I'm not braggin', my lips bigger than Jagger..."
Looking back do you regret saying anything to the media.
My first year I said some crazy, stupid shit.
Your first year out, like 1987?
Yeah, it's like I was out of my goddamn mind. Would I do a [song like] "Sophisticated Bitch" as a title again? No. I also had some remarks in '87 that wasn't totally favorable for outside of heterosexual relationships for black people.
That was kind the sign of the times back then though.
Yeah, but I should have known better. And I wasn't that offensive; I just said I don't think that's 'favourable.' The statement was like, "A mother and a father is the right way it should be" and at the time I was worried about the 'black family' [unit]. You should be able to admit that some of the things you did or said--you were out of your fucking mind to think [you] could think like that or say that shit! You gotta man up. That's why I give people in their twenties some rope.
What do you think about that generation?
As far as artists go, they young and dumb themselves down. The person who actually gets an education and are well about themselves, to fit in circles, they kind of take off their intelligence like it's a suit. Which is just so harmful. Like, why would you not show off your intelligence, but rather show off some shit you just bought? It's just backwards.
Were you one of the first in your family to go to university?
My mother went to university, my father didn't. But they are very educated, very wise people. My father went to the military, so he's worldly. One of the first complex words my mother ever said to me was: "Be a conscientious objector." A lot of things happened in the 60's. Remember, the first ten years of my life was Vietnam, the Black Panthers, Summer of Love, Assassinations. I remember being in 3rd grade when Dr. King got killed in April.
Comments on the Obama/Romney campaign?
I predicted that Romney would be the prototypical white man to be chosen by the Republican Party. Someone who's tall, intelligent, well-to-do -- "OK here I am, I'm Clark Kent/Superman." I just saw that they wanted someone symbolic in a time when most people are connected into sight and sound.
He's got a 50's 'Father Knows Best' vibe about him
Yeah, like the good 'ol days! But he's not that guy, though. Obama actually has more of that perfect white man in him than Romney.
Do you vote?
Sometimes, because I believe that local voting saves you.
Have you ever met President Obama?
Nope. And I don't expect him to come around to say 'you know what, P.E., I listen to them' because they gave him hell for having Common in the White House. Common's a good dude.
I know Jay Z's been to the White House?
But Jay-Z is safe for America. He's got these 'Made in America' concerts. He's what America expects black people to [be like]. We need people in all different categories. You gotta respect the radicals, too. I don't expect President Obama to have the radicals mentioned in an interview. You know damn well he's got Public Enemy in his mind somewhere, but he can't say that publicly and be President of the United States?
Let's talk about the two new albums Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp which came out in July and The Evil Empire of Everything which is due on October 2nd.
They are fraternal twins. They'll talk to each other and hope that you can listen in. "Spit Digital" is probably the thing that we feel proudest about. There's a cut off of our second album and the single is called "Everything" -- and this song is unlike any song I've ever done before. It's like if Otis Redding were alive today and he could spit, how would he do it? Kanye and Jay-Z tried to do "Otis," it resonated nothing from the realm of Otis whatsoever. This will.
Do you want to be in the business in 20 years?
I don't wanna be in the business; I AM going to BE in the business. The trappings of what this industry says it is, is a problem that people have had that I've never had.
Someone like Eminem seems to 'hate' his fame...
He needs to visit a hospital of ill kids. Too many people make excuses, and say 'this is a curse.' If it were up to me, I would take every single artist to a hospital of kids and I would take them every week, until they start looking at themselves with a better perspective.