Contrary to popular belief, seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy have never broken up since they formed in Long Island, New York in 1982. The group (founded by the politically conscious Chuck D, the hilarious Flava Flav, the controversial Professor Griff, and the since departed DJ Terminator X) have not just forged a path for themselves as the godfathers of a musical movement, they’ve also become something akin to the Rolling Stones: an unstoppable force that cannot be denied.
“We call ourselves the Rolling Stones of the rap game,” agrees Chuck D with a laugh. “I don’t know if I’m Mick or Flava’s Mick and I’m Keith – we flip back and forth.”
We spoke with Chuck D having just completed the fourth leg of an eight-leg ‘Fear of a Black Plan’ tour, which sees them revisiting their seminal 1988 release Fear of a Black Planet, things are incredibly busy for the group (Chuck D launched the www.HipHopGods.com website last year and continues to run the digital label www.slamjamz.com) all the while piecing together a box set that collects material from 1999 to now for the group. He’s also somehow found time to release a solo album last month.
“It’s changed a lot,” he reminisces of the rap game, recalling an earlier time when samples didn’t need to be cleared quite so stringently. “But it’s almost changed back to its original state where I think you could make something similar but you can’t monetize it – I think a couple of years ago when Danger Mouse did the mash up with the Beatles [and Jay Z] that shows you can do anything.”
Always outspoken and never shy to speak his mind, Chuck has traversed the divide from being an agitator to a respected voice of authority through the passage of time.
“You’ve just got to uphold what you’re trying to do,” he says. “Carving your own niche was a necessity back in the day, you had to be distinct, you had to stand out, and the whole goal was not to be similar. The diversity and the daringness disappeared out of the rap game a long time ago for the sake of big business being able to be behind it. Groups that are good that are still doing it are ten, fifteen years old, groups like Outkast and the Roots.”
Public Enemy trump them all, clocking in with nearly thirty years on the clock and still going strong.
They’ll be playing Fear of a Black Planet in full at Field Day 2011.
By Andrew Weaver