The Incomparable Chuck D: Quote Me on This!
"There was a time when we raged against the machine and rebelled against
the status quo. Now, you see a lot of those cats ended up becoming the status quo. I guess the guys at Def Jam ended up becoming the guys they
rallied against."-Chuck DStill fighting the power. Always.Chuck D.
It is not everyday that you have the opportunity of sitting down with an anomaly in your field; the inspiration which inspired your inspiration. The only way I could describe the sheer magnitude of this conversation would be to compare it with a sports journalist sitting down with Bill Russell to talk basketball or Jim Brown to talk football. Lovers and loyalist of Hip-Hop and all that it embodies would agree with me that I am not reaching with these comparisons. Were talking about Chuck D. here.
Chuck D was Hip-Hop when being Hip-Hop meant that you battled against the machine and took no prisoners. Everything about Rap music was cutting edge and in your face. The heart and the value of the craft were front and center. There is so much depth and history to the music that when a new artist hits the scene, you can smell the lack of history for the craft in how they present their product. So if you were born after 1992, you are not of legal age to buy cigarettes and you shouldnt be able to pick up a microphone without having a handle on the history of Rap music.
Now that I got that out of the way, Chuck D, wow, if I gave you a rundown on what this man means to the game, Id have to dedicate a week to him. You hear artists rhyme about how people should pay homage to them. Their first mistake is that they are requesting for it to be paid. Chuck D would rather that you pay attention. And in our conversation, I paid in full (shout outs to Eric B. and friends, cant forget Rakim). We talked about his groundbreaking partnership with Sellaband.com, we talked about what he hope would be a potential partnership with Allhiphop.com, how he feels about Def Jam, Kanye West, Gucci Mane (yes, we quoted him on it first), and the man that back in the mid to late 80s was skipping school and making moves in East Trenton.
AllHipHop.com: Weve just received news that you have raised
$50,000 in two weeks through your partnership with Sellaband.com
towards your next studio album. For those that dont know about this
groundbreaking accomplishment, talk about the partnership and what was
it like for you knowing that 1/5 of your goal has been reached so
Chuck D: I had met the owner of Sellaband 3 years ago at the Worlds Biggest Music Conference. This was a method that has worked in Europe and Asia; markets that have made fans into believers of the system. I believe in this system. And what we have done is just baby-steps to stockholders or sponsorships. Being the North American representative of the model, we thought that it was wise to say, Why not use Public Enemy? But the difference is that there are high end stakes on Public Enemys part. We are totally free, and we know that we have four studios and producers around us, so we can always make our records in-house. How well do this through Sellaband is by working on each song a collaborative effort. Well ask our fan base, What would they like to see? Well take their ideas into consideration. And these fans will also have the incentive of being involved in the revenue stream. This is looking at the Music Industry model, almost backwards. In this system, you find your fans first. In the past, Record Companies were the banking systems to finance the product.
And about the money, the $50,000 doesnt come to us directly; it goes into the system to fund the entire process. We wouldnt have made this record if it wasnt for the innovative approach. 1/3 of the revenue will be shared by a pool of believers. Think of it this way, people usually invest 10 to 20 dollars on an album, believing in the artist, but just buying the album blindly. Now, they could at least feel like their input mattered in the finished product that theyll receive.
"These artists need to leave Jay-Z alone, he is No. 1. He has all the
components. A guy like Jay-Z, I give him Rookie of the Year in 2009.
Over the next 10 years, Jay-Z will take Rap music to a place that we
could only imagine."-Chuck D
AllHipHop.com: Lets talk about www.HipHopGods.com. I hear that it will be a Hall-of-Fame of some sorts?
Chuck D: Hip-Hop Gods shares an influence from you guys at AllHipHop, OK Player, and Classic Rock radio. It is also influenced by the 1970s and how radio was able to place Classic Rock, first and foremost. This has always been an idea to work on. The focus is building an online community based on Classic Hip-Hop artists. There is a 15 year eligibility (the eligibility is half of 30 years in which Hip-Hop has been in existence) as far as artists and contributors to the artform to be selected. It is a closed community of interconnectivity that fans can join in and enjoy. Hopefully we can fit in and become a vehicle that could work together with AllHipHop.com and vise versa. And also be parallel to what OK Player does. I am very excited about it, because there are classic artist still out there recording and doing videos and performing just as often as new artists. These artists are recording there records all over again, performing their records all over again. There just wasnt a house that was solely concentrated on them, until now.
AllHipHop.com: I am a gamer. And I couldnt help but notice that Bring the Noise was picked up by Guitar Hero as well as DJ Hero. Did you get the opportunity to play your song on the game? And how do you feel about how Bring the Noise is still relevant in 2009?
Chuck D: I dont play video games at all. But I will tell you that I am very fortunate to have a song that will never die. Bring The Noise is a song that has lived different lives and changed into different forms. The first year it was on the B-Side of the Less Than Zero soundtrack. Then it was on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Then it was covered by Anthrax (rock group). Then last year it won its first Grammy for Dance Remix. And now here it is, on both Guitar Hero 5 and DJ Hero. Bring The Noise has taken a weird life of its own. Just a little history, part of the premise to Bring The Noise came from the fact that people used to call Rap, noise. So the whole thought was, if you want to call it noise, then we are going to come out and you will be formally irritated by it, not just by the sound of it, but what was also being said in it. Bring the Noise was a slap in the face to all those that opposed it.
AllHipHop.com: This recent MTV awards show gave Hip-Hop two black eyes with Kanyes acceptance interruption and Lil Mamas infiltration of Jay-Zs headlining performance. Did you feel any type of way about either of those occurrences?
Chuck D: To me, Kanye is entitled to having a Kanye moment, he is young enough to have a Kanye moment. Maybe hes young enough to have three of them. Remember, he is still the one that stepped up and said that George Bush doesnt like Black People, and it paid off for him. This time around he made a move and it didnt work out for him. So you can say that he is 1 for 2, batting .500. We cant forget that this same impulse left us with a fantastic quote. That same impulse impeded on someone elses shine, which was wrong. And seriously, nobody has to check him, hes checking himself, because embarrassment is what Black entertainers fear the most.
"Lil Mama is just the result of record companies trying to make
somebody. In the past, Lil Mama jumping on stage was
rewarded as being a big moment...for her, it backfired."-Chuck D
Lil Mama is just the result of record companies trying to make somebody. Everybody figures that they could take a dysfunctional route to get some shine. It falls into this saying that any news is good news. Thats bullshit. In the past, Lil Mama jumping on stage was rewarded as being a big moment. Now, when you have that much impulse and that much energy, there is a chance that your big moment might backfire. And for her, it backfired. Youre damn right it backfired. Kanye West was on Jay Leno the next night. So the question is would we be talking about Lil Mama, right now, if that moment didnt happen. The answer is HELL NO!
Allhiphop.com: We cant talk to you without getting your views on Def Jam. What were your thoughts on the Anniversary show?
Chuck D: If there was one thing that I wanted to say about Def Jam, being that it is the 25th Anniversary; there was a time when we raged against the machine and rebelled against the status quo. Now, you see a lot of those cats ended up becoming the status quo. I guess the guys at Def Jam ended up becoming the guys they rallied against. The power of money has sidetracked a lot of people. And I tell people all the time, money is not power if you dont direct towards the people.
The recent Hip Hop Honors were well put together with Nelson George and Jac (I didnt hear his last night right) from MTV, but then there was a lot of legitimate beef with that. Nikki D had a legitimate beef about not being invited. Nelson George and Jack can put on a great television show. However, the dynamic of DEF JAM would require that the invitations would be worked out to have the people which had their heads, their hearts and their ears open. The people that helped to build the structure at DEF JAM. There were artists that were left out. There were people that shouldve performed more. There were people that helped build that company and werent even invited. My man Dr. Dre (Andre Brown), I tried to get him on the show as a DJ. He was like one of the founding members of the Original Concept and he didnt even get a whisper. And this is a guy that excelled in the Original Concept, a part of one of the groundbreaking groups, DJ for the Beastie Boys, co-host on Yo! Mtv Raps, he made history in so many ways and wasnt even invited. I tried to bring him into the situation on my own. He is still bitter to this very second.AllHipHop.com: Chuck D, it was a pleasure sitting down with you for this conversation. But I cant let you leave without getting your Top 5 Dead or Alive. Oh, and to let you know, your name comes up a lot in other people lists.
Chuck D: Chuck D, as in being respected in Rap, I should be in peoples Top 5 that way. As far as an emcee, 30 years? Man shit there were hundreds of fantastic emcees over that time. Ill be glad to be in somebodys Top 50. There are some great artists out there that do it so well. I think that their coverage hasnt been thorough and I believe their coaching hasnt been good.
For example, when we started producing Ice Cubes first album, we didnt start with going into the studio and picking beats. We went to CVS, picked up a notebook and started talking about theory. Cube and I sat in the car and talked about rhyme theory. People can write about anything, but can you think before you write. Can you back your words up to a certain degree? We felt that you shouldnt swing for the fences if you couldnt step up and say my bad later. The theory of Rap has to be coached. So if I am in someones Top 5 as a coach, someone that could talk about the theory of Rap, then yes, I appreciate it.
"I think that the science of Hip-Hop and Rap are so far skewed to the
unknown, that people are just dropping the ball on what it is, what it
means and where does it come from. People are making their own
relationship with Hip-Hop in their head."
I think that the science of Hip-Hop and Rap are so far skewed to the unknown, that people are just dropping the ball on what it is, what it means and where does it come from. People are making their own relationship with Hip-Hop in their head, and using that as general thought. Hip-Hop is not based on what you think it is Hip-Hop is what it is. People ask, Who is the Best Rapper Alive? I answer, Where, in the United States? And theyll tell me to stop being a smart ass. Then Ill ask, If Hip-Hop was in the Olympics, where do you think the United States would rank? Youve got Turntablism, youve got break dancing, and youve got Graffiti artistry. And for the longest period of time, it wasnt until this year that a turntablist brought the title back to the States. The last element of Hip-Hop is emceeing, and anybody that would quickly answer yes to that question of whether the United States could win the Gold in the Olympics, hasnt been anywhere.
This is 30 years into the art form, and I know certain dudes overseas that can rap in three different languages. The components of Rap are linguistics, vocabulary and whit. Those dudes can braid all three languages together as they spit. That is some incredible, impossible shit. But a dude that only knows English can do nothing more than switch their slang or shift their accent. How deep do you really want to judge this music?
But let me end it with this. These artists need to leave Jay-Z alone, he is #1. He has all the components. A guy like Jay-Z, I give him Rookie of the Year in 2009, because he is just getting started. Quote me on this, JAY-Z IS JUST GETTING STARTED! Over the past 10 years, the best interview dude out there was 50 Cent. 50 Cent interviews were just brilliant. Now, Jay-Z is giving the best interviews. Jay-Z is actually doing things with areas of movement, saying some powerful things. Next, he JUST starting to perform, stepping out of that box. So Baby, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, any artist trying to battle Jay-Z has better chancing of surviving jumping into a pull with a plugged in toaster than beating him. Over the next 10 years, Jay-Z will take Rap music to a place that we could only imagine.