For this week's Hip-Hop History Amoeblog, I take it back to 21 years ago to early November of 1992 when I caught up with Chuck D of Public Enemy (PE) to chat with him on the state of politics. Since that interview (which I just uncovered again this past week) was never archived anywhere, I decided to share it here because its content is pretty engaging from a historical point of view. I also assembled a series of Public Enemy videos from their six-year career up to that point. November 1992 was a time when the politically charged hip-hop crew was still riding high in popularity and public consciousness.
Tragically, even hip-hop heads don't realize that PE are still together as a group these days, touring, recording, and making meaningful statements. But back then, everyone knew and intently listened to what the group, -- whose previous year's album Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, was still selling briskly and whose compilation of remixes and new tracks, Greatest Misses, had just been released seven weeks earlier -- had to say. Of course things would soon shift on the popular hip-hop landscape since, just a month later in mid December of 1992, former N.W.A. member Dr. Dre would release a game-changing album - The Chronic with the Snoop Doggy Dogg featured lead single "Nuthin' But A G Thang" - that would be highly instrumental in helping push popular rap away from the political arena and towards the gangsta/G-Funk/mob style of rap as the predominant force in popular hip-hop.
But for the time being the type of conscious rap that Chuck D and company presented was still most popular and PE were master practitioners of it. In fact, Bono of U2 was so impressed that he invited PE to open for them on their Zoo TV tour. Hence they were in the East Bay to open for U2 at the Oakland Coliseum on November 7th, 1992 (The Sugarcubes were also an invited opening act). November 7th, 1992 was the Saturday after the Democrats had won the big election - a significant realigning one coming on the heels of three consecutive Republican victories. After two terms of Bush (senior) and one of Reagan, Bill Clinton's win in the popular vote appeared to be about to usher in a whole new era of hope and change for the United States. Or did it?
Billy Jam: Do you think that there will be any real changes with George Bush out and Bill Clinton in?
Chuck D: I think it couldn’t get any worse. The Bush administration has been in effect for the last twelve years: Reagan, Bush whatever you want to call it. I think that right now you got a person that made a lot of promises. So I think there’ll be pressure on him to live up to his promises so that’s got to be better than somebody that just basically said, ‘well, nah we ain’t gonna do that’.
Billy Jam: With homelessness, AIDS and everything getting increasingly out of hand in the United States do you think that a nineties revolution is quite likely?
Chuck D: Well I think it’ll get a lot worse before it gets better, because you got all the momentum from all that BS in the past so right now what the Clinton administration has to do is really like roll up their sleeves and get down to the nitty gritty and tell people that 'There ain’t gonna be no overnight fix’ - definitely not in this system. It got too many holes in this system. If there was really a revolution, what kind kind of revolution is it gonna be? Is it going be for the better or is it going to be for the worse? So basically everybody got to be able to get to the table and that’s what I guess maybe the Clinton administration will offer is that more people will be at the table trying to think out the situation rather than it be a little closed circle of elite for the elite and keep the money for the elite.
Billy Jam: Do you think that racism in America is with us forever or will it ever go away?
Chuck D: I don’t know I’ can’t predict the future right now. Will it go away in the next ten years? No, but people have to be educated. Right now people are trained and education is the next step. We’ve got to erase the training process People are trained pretty much like dogs, you know what I’m saying? So right now education could really turn a lot of people’s beliefs around and also you have to have a situation where the money is overturned from the rich down to the poor so everybody can have something and it just can’t happen just in this country.
It has to be a worldwide thing too. People of color are catching hell all over and when they revolt there is usually a lot of death and bloodshed involved in their revolution. One thing that this administration offers is hope that everybody getting to the table and everybody airing out their problems so people could begin working on the solutions.
Public Enemy "Can't Truss It" (1991)
Billy Jam: Do you think that hip-hop culture, including rap music and movies such as Boyz N the Hood and the recent Malcolm X film, are educating middle America?
Chuck D: Entertainment and the arts has been the thing that made white America 25 and under aware of a lot of situations that we have. That’s the difference. Before the arts and entertainment of Black people was limited in our anger. Now the arts and entertainment that we express has a lot of anger in it so it’s that combination of the Malcolm X and the Panther parties of the sixties that basically took it to the pulpit into speeches and now you’re basically hearing it in entertainment which goes around the world so that that voice has to come out and it’s coming out by whatever means necessary.
Billy Jam: Speaking of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. You were asked to do the theme song first, before Arrested Development, true?
Chuck D: Of course, very true but because the was a conflict between Spike and the Nation [of Islam] I didn’t want to be in the middle of it. I didn’t want to get in a conflict of interest - nothing against Spike but I have my priorities and I have my own rules. So when I finally got clearance I was like - well damn, what should I do? But I didn’t have enough time so I didn’t reach the deadline. I will say this though, me and Spike are still close as we ever can be. That was just a whole creative situation and I would say that when Spike made his selection with Arrested Development that he couldn’t have made a better selection. With us it would have been like ‘ yeah,here we go again’ but with Arrested Development it shows that Spike is on the cutting edge of what’s happening now . I like whatever they do because I think that they are one step ahead of a lot of other groups out there and I think Spike couldn’t have made a better choice even if he picked us. I’m just being a man and saying that as it is.
Public Enemy Live at the Apollo Theater, Harlem NY (1992)
Billy Jam: Now a movie soundtrack that you, or rather your original band Spectrum City, is on is for the film South Central. How do you feel about that 1984 recording being out there?
Chuck D: It was stupid. It was a just a record company that went and bought the rights of something that I did before and just wanted to sell a soundtrack and try to exploit me and I don’t know if I should sue ‘em or not but I would love to get a chance to sue ‘em when I get some time. When I stop touring I’ll start suing!
Billy Jam: Do you like Ice Cube’s new single “Wicked”
Chuck D: Yeah, I like it a whole lot. I like his album a whole lot cos he’s taking a step in another direction and people have got to understand that this is a music that will be judged later. It can’t be judged right now. It’s a music that’s too big to be judged now. Too many people are judging it for it’s present and forgetting about it’s past and always trying to guess it’s future and no music should have to go through that. The present should be enjoyed. The past should be appreciated and revered and the future should always be like - okay it’s only nothing but more exciting things to happen.....Hip-hop has to always be able to last, to always be able to try different things, to go in different areas, and still it must be able to bring people up. The problem is is that if it doesn’t bring people up it’s going to push people down. And if it push peoples down, people going to push it out.
Public Enemy "Shut Em Down (live on UK TV)" (1992)
Billy Jam: What about the future for you? What’s next?
Chuck D: Well, it’s been six years. We’ve continually been traveling. We’ve been around the world four times, 36 countries, 22 tours going on another one after this one’s over and I got to stop touring!.....What I want to do personally is a talk show similar to Larry King. That’s what turns me on. Maybe that or broadcasting sports or something like that.
[Back in '92 when this interview was originally conducted parts of it ran in both text and audio forms on KUSF and The BOMB hip-hop magazine - two entities that are no longer around and that never archived this interview]