Volume 93, Issue 34
Friday, October 29, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Public Enemy's Chuck D still fighting the power
By Luke Rundle
With quaking fingers and sweating palms, I begin to dial the long distance telephone number which will connect me to one of the most prolific artists of the past decade, Public Enemy frontman Chuck D.
When the crackly connection is made to his cell phone in a Victoria, B.C. hotel, the first stop in Public Enemy's nine day Canadian tour, I realize the only way to muffle the man's powerful voice is through the unreliability of his digital transmission.
Renowned for trailblazing the rap movement with his explosive rhyming style and combustible lyrics, Chuck has added many other outlets to spread his powerful message, including books, college lectures, political commentary and internet site design.
The latter avenue is currently the most relevant to Chuck, as shown by Public Enemy's recent departure from Def Jam. They left what is arguably the penultimate rap label in the genre today, in order to release their newest album, There's A Poison Goin' On, on the internet-based MP3 company, Atomic Pop.
Rumour has it Public Enemy split from Def Jam due to the label's decision to spread out the release dates of the supergroup's three reunion albums (after a brief breakup), rather than in the 12 month span the band reportedly intended.
Chuck deflates this rumour in a sense, saying the reason for the separation was philosophical, rather than economic. "In 1994, when Def Jam went from Sony to Polygram, our philosophies reached the point where they were totally different. It was time for us to go our way and they went their way. So we released what was to be our last record for Def Jam and that was it. There was no future for us with Def Jam from that point on."
This split was an unparalled action in the music world, an acclaimed musical group refusing to accept the loss of creative control and willing to give up the comforts and trappings provided by a major label in order to take back the integrity of their work. Chuck recognizes what his monumental decision spells for future groups namely that it is entirely possible to get their message out without selling their creative soul.
"There's a million artists on five hundred thousand labels and not many of them allow the artist to dictate their own agenda," Chuck says. "I think this is unprecedented in the media, because it goes against what they've always relied on. The artist and the public are being naive, manipulated into believing something's popular in order to maintain [the labels'] power."
As the phone connection begins to fizz menacingly, Chuck says, "Hold up, I'm going in the elevator, so if I cut out, hit me back."
Since the internet is still such a relatively open avenue, it would seem to be an ideal forum for Public Enemy to release raw, unmediated material, a point which Chuck concurs.
"We're dealing with a genre which is primarily underserviced and in areas of radio and video, only centred on things that have been accepted into the mainstream. The internet purports to be an area that all these areas can be exposed greatly and I don't know what it'll do for, say, Robbie Williams, but I know that for hip-hop, the genre works spectacularly well for expanding the point of view," Chuck rhapsodizes. "The thing that makes the internet wonderful is that people aren't just sitting there waiting to be programmed. If you want to see the video, you just go and see it. If you want to hear the song, you go hear the song."
Of course, Chuck still recognizes that the oldest and most effective way of bringing his message to fans is through live concerts and is thus bringing Public Enemy's tour to Canada for the first time in a decade.
"This would have been our fifth Canadian tour by now, the way we do it, but Flavor couldn't get into Canada [because of criminal charges] and that was a big thing. We wouldn't be doing this tour if he couldn't," he explains. "We've been trying to set an example for many rap groups to follow, so they can expose their ability and talent across the planet and do their thing."
With Chuck approaching the hotel front desk to complain about a faulty room key, I realize the phone signal is close to cutting out. Before being reduced to a cloud of static, I thank Chuck for his time and tell him I'll see him when Public Enemy comes to DV8 this Sunday. He responds by exclaiming, "London? We're goin' to wear that town out."
Copyright © The Gazette 1999