Chuck D has served as the voice for hip-hop for more than 25 years. He continues to be vocal on issues that affect the Black community and hip-hop generation.
With the ongoing protests over violence against unarmed Black males by the hands of police, and recent killing of NYPD officers, it was imperative that we reach out to Chuck D.
During an interview with rolling out, Public Enemy’s lead emcee shed light on the NYPD tragedy, the protests for equality, and how the hip-hop generation can move forward in the new revolution.
We are in a tense moment in time. What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the two NYPD officers who were killed by a person who claimed he was seeking revenge for the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown?
Tragic. It’s tragic and you hope that your fight is righteous. I know on social media, people were talking about was there karma going around. I don’t know if karma speaks for somebody who just got some crazy thoughts in their head. So I wouldn’t call that karma, I would call that just a bad action. You can’t weigh that as being a positive point for a movement. It’s just what you call a bad tragic side effect.
With all that has happened in 2014, how do we make sure that we continue to remain focused on fighting injustice?
Revolution is not an event, it’s a process. As Black folks, we need to look at ourselves as a union because we will not be united if we don’t look at ourselves as a union. I don’t mean tying ourselves emotionally together. It has to be beyond emotion. I’ve always said this for a long time. The government systems of the west, if Black folks in the United stated don’t link and lock up with the diaspora, then we’ll forever be slaves in the USA surprised by the same old tactics that they have been playing for the last 250 years. You got a lot of the same tactics in different faces. People born in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s are being victims of the same bulls— that’s been around for 100 to 200 years. So if we don’t lock into the diaspora, if we don’t lock into the history of struggles and we don’t really link into the stories of these people who struggle with their lives and apply it to where we have to go in the future, then you know we’re going to be in chains. Right now, what we’re seeing is the rebellion to the chains. You have to figure out how to break that chain and connect to somebody that might help you release that chain. We have a lot to learn from our elders, our pioneers, and our past our history
Eric Garner was choked to death for essentially trying to earn a dollar. How did his death reflect the suppression of a Black person seeking ways to earn income?
He was a Black man trying to make a dollar. They aren’t trying to have anybody actually make a dollar. I don’t call the USA America, because there’s South America, North America, and Central America and the Caribbean. We got other countries that we have to consider too. We make mistakes with our history and our geography. We have our history, we have our geography, and we have our story, then it makes movements at least more connected and united. When we don’t have history and geography on our side, then we continue to do the same thing over and over again, but even worse. The diaspora is very important because it locks you in to struggles of people who actually were the same and looked the same, so there shouldn’t be any surprises. Also, I feel we need more thinkers because thinkers are leaders. I said this in social media the other day. I said, when you have a lot of people who feel they want to rebel and revolt and you don’t have any generals, then the people just turn into a heap in the heat. So you need thinkers and people who are able to see the whole total picture. Because if it came down, are we prepared if we’re not united? This guy who is on the borderline of crazy goes and kills two cops and thinks that’s going to even the score. No, it can make it really unjust and very tight. They’ve already built facilities in this country that are able to fit five million people. They’re at almost three million now, where you do think they’re going to get the other two million? So you always need thinkers and elders. That’s very important to pay attention to because if you have a movement, it’s like football. You’re making a whole bunch of lateral moves and they’re even getting thrown back a couple yards, and it looks like you have a game. Then they change the rules on you, then what? So sometimes that Hail Mary desperation will make someone think that they can even it up. But that’s an individual thought. Individual thoughts can set you backwards.
How has the hip-hop community responded to the Eric Garner and Mike Brown protests? Can more be done?
The hip-hop community has tried because individuals have tried to tell a story, but a lot of the people have felt that the story ends at the end of their lips and you don’t have bigger sources able to pick that up and spread the story. What we’re going to do at RapStation.com, where we have 10 stations, we’re going to create a station called Anthem Tone Radio. We’re going to have that be the first hip-hop station to have just positive uplifting conscience music. Everybody that seems to make a statement about Ferguson or Eric Garner and everything else that’s been happening, we’re going to find a place for their music and their songs. That’s what I can do artistically as a culturist. We already do beyond what anybody else can do at RapStation.com by just by being able to air people’s opinions and their music.
When considering different media platforms, there is a dearth of Black people who are hired by Facebook and Twitter and in Silicon Valley overall. How do we increase the presence, or should we focus on building our own?
Like I said in the beginning, when we as Black folks limit ourselves to the USA and don’t connect with the diaspora, we’re bound to be chained to its law and its rules, even down to our story. That’s why we always have to thank those that paved the roads in television and radio in the past and not just be foolish with it like we have become. Now you see black people on television, you hear black folks music on the radio. It’s coming through the filter of being accepted for somebody else based on money. We weren’t always based off money. That’s why you always have to give a salute to Munson Steed and rolling out because what we do have is print and multimedia. So we get the true story and you have some leadership when you have people that are able to edit on your behalf.
What will be the big agenda for the next generation of Black Americans?
I don’t think individuals can make it. Not in this millennium. Individuals are reduced by the radiation of white supremacy like you wouldn’t believe. So as much as they applaud individuals for making that money or making that business, individuals are actually the reduction in any kind of Black consciousness movement. Once you’re individualized, then they can throw a focus on you and then reduce you. So I think the whole thing is how do you actually become unionized with each other and then stay connected as a union? We’re at the bottom of the barrel as far as a social cluster of people because we’re all over the place. But we have to be unionize just to be able to demand that respect to be a part of the human family of the earth and the human family of the earth doesn’t see any color. It’s like we’re human beings. That’s how it should be. But governments have altered that categorizing human beings and individuals and the clusters where they can control. So I think young people should understand that the diaspora adds another category of answers that they might not be able to pull out of the USA’s hat.
With the recent change in relationship between America and Cuba, some have called for Assata Shakur to be returned to America to finish her prison sentence. What are your thoughts on Governor Chris Christie’s open letter to President Obama urging that Shakur is captured and returned to America?
There’s always an adversarial point of view that’s always trying to get brownie points for becoming the next John Wayne of the government. So what would we expect Chris Christie to say to try to get him brownie points as a governor? He doesn’t have to agree to how we feel, but we don’t have to agree to how he feels.
What do you think will happen with the Assata Shakur case?
That’s not for me to say. I’m just trying to be fair so when my words are printed out there, they’re concise, they’re clear, and they give somebody the energy to go forward and not back. I could be pessimistic, I could put a lot of s— out there. A lot of people say, ‘You you should be out here fighting the power. I just fought the power 28 years ago. I’ve done a lot of things since then and I’ve said a lot of things. You can’t turn revolution on and off like a switch. It’s a gradual movement of people coming together. It goes beyond you. How are you going to figure out how to take care of your children, your family, your property, and how do you get a bunch of people thinking the same way to be able to be forward thinking and not falling victim to the stupidity and foolishness that might take us back? Everybody is not equipped for that. But everybody is not equipped to deliver bulls— either. You have to check a lot of that because bulls—- sometimes hurts a lot of us.
Chuck D and De La Soul’s “The People”