State has just felt the wrath of Chuck D. Not in a ‘Fight The Power’ sense, but the Public Enemy leader is certainly not an interviewee not to speak his mind. It’s what has made him and his band such a vital influence, not only on hip-hop, but on popular culture for nearly thirty years. With their Electric Picnic show just days away and his Jay-Z and Kanye answering track ‘Notice Know This’ just released online, we asked him what roll rap – once dubbed by himself as the ‘black CNN’ – played in 2011…
“It’s almost like a worldwide cultural religion, it still has that importance. It is failing to respond to the problems of the black community on a mainstream level but there are a lot of artists out there who are doing their own thing, thank god for the Internet. There’s a sheer laziness from the media and journalists that means they’re conditioned to only judge artists that come from major labels. There’s hundreds of acts who are saying incredible things but why are journalists too lazy to go onto the Internet to look for them, is it too much? It’s not the artists’ fault that they won’t check out someone who’s presented by a major record label. The technology and delivery of art has outgrown the industry of coverage”.
Do you see a distinct difference between the mainstream and underground?
“I’m increasingly losing my sense of definition of those terms, there’s just a mass of music that’s all over the place. There’s a little bit too much for the traditional industry to try to condense”.
You recently talked about Kanye West and Jay-Z needing to try a little bit more to reflect Otis Reading’s ‘heart rather than swag’, has the heart gone out of hip-hop?
“Whenever you talk about materialism at that level, it’s not in step with where the people are at. America is going through a financial and spiritual recession; the black folk are suffering a depression. They’re at desperation and that’s also being felt across the mother nation on a regular basis so you have to ask who you’re rapping to and for what?”
What do you make of Odd Future?
“They’re going to have to travel round the world and perform, then they’ll meet their match. I’m a person that thinks if you have a lot of hype then you better live up to it, beat the hype out. Public Enemy had a lot of hype when we came out but that was our challenge, we beat it through sheer intensity. Odd Future are going to have to find their identity to achieve their greatness.”
It seems as though they have plenty of anger but no clear direction for it to go. If you compare that with early Public Enemy and NMW records…
(Interrupts) “I don’t want to get compared to NWA because we had a very clear direction in what we were talking about. I was very specific”.
Where do Public Enemy sit now, do you feel you have more freedom?
“That freedom started in 1999 when we were the first to release something overnight just because it came to our minds. That was the beauty of being involved with the web, the immediacy of being able to release something straight away. I did this new track online and uploaded it to YouTube in less than 24 hours”.
Is that the future for the music then?
“To me that’s hip-hop at its best, when it’s spontaneous. Whenever you go to a company and they have to prick at it, weigh it and truncate it you lose something”.
Does all this put the artist back in control?
“With all due respect, if this was the year 1999 or 2000 we could talk about the excitement of the internet. For god’s sake, this has been going on for twelve years”.
So what will the next stage be?
“I think it’s going to spread laterally, more artists and labels doing their thing. You’ll be dealing with lesser quality but acts will release their music and maybe reach 100 people, but be happy with that. They might want more but they’ll be satisfied with that at the beginning”.
Public Enemy play the Electric Arena on Saturday night