Public Enemy’s Chuck D — still angry after 24 years

Chuck D and Public Enemy headline this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin. - David S. Rubin
David S. Rubin
Chuck D and Public Enemy headline this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin.

Anytime I receive a second-rate demo by a third-rate rapper, my first reaction is to grab him by the throat and ask, “Have you heard about Mandela? Have you read Malcolm X? Have you ever listened to Public Enemy?”

Driving on Pacific Coast Highway, somewhere near Los Angeles, Chuck D chuckles.

“I know, I know,” he says. “Once the corporations started dangling their money on top of the art form, it turned the ‘we’ into ‘I.’ I have nothing against these songs, because people want to actually get away from what affects their everyday life, they want to have a good time and drink, but there [used to be a] balance when it came down to black music, and that’s where we come from. Somebody’s got to protect the door at the party, you know what I’m saying?”

The next party Public Enemy will protect will be Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest this Friday, where lead rappers Chuck D and Flavor Flav will be with the rest of the PE army: Professor Griff (vocals), DJ Lord (DJ), the S1W trio (which stands for “Security of the First World) of Brother Mike, James Bom, and Pop Diesel (three guys you don’t want to mess with), and “The BaNNed”: Davy DMX on bass, Khari Wynn on guitar, and T Bone The Dirty Drummer Motta on drums. The 10-man army has embraced today’s political climate with a renewed sense of purpose.

“We got to occupy hip-hop,” Chuck D said. “And you occupy hip-hop by supporting many of the artists who make songs that support the people of their community, [instead of supporting] the corporations’ point of view of trying to get money from the community by any means necessary. I think that’s a good way to start: support the artists that are saying something, and there’s plenty of artists who are doing it on the Internet.”

Among the websites Chuck D has set up for PE and others is, meant to fight against the side of hip-hop that still treats women as hoes and bitches.

“We built as that portal that really has women making music on their own terms without having a man dictate what kind of music they should do or what kind of art they should do,” said Chuck D.

I only wish he went all the way with Obama. He calls him “a great driver in a bad vehicle” and “a good captain in a bad boat,” and the two-party system “outdated.”

“The only thing you can do in that presidential suite is do worse,” he said. “You have to say basically, ‘Fuck the people’ and ‘Fuck the world,’ like Bush said. Then you can probably be successful at being a U.S. president because you followed the American agenda. Is that too strong for you?”

It’s pretty depressing, but what should we do, then?

“I’m going to vote for Obama again,” he said. What? Is he serious? Not you, Chuck. Why reward the Democrats again for showing no spine when they had everything served to them on a silver platter? Why reward a man who chose to “negotiate” with people who told him to his face that their main goal is to make sure he’s a one-term president instead of doing all the change he promised all of us suckers? Why keep voting against something instead of for something?

“I don’t know, man,” Chuck D says. “To me, it ain’t no baseball game. I don’t want no cowboy up in there like Governor Rick Perry.”

Public Enemy might not be as “hot” as in their late ’80s heyday, but I’ll take their worst albums from the 2000s over any of those by your average my-cock-is-bigger-than-yours up-and-coming rapper. I could live with shorter album titles, though. Their landmark 1988 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (arguably the greatest hip-hop record of all time) had its reflection in 2007’s underrated How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? In 2012, Chuck D will do it again, naming the next album Most of Our Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp, a wink to the “Fight the Power” lyrics. But even though Public Enemy is still recording relevant music, it is something you have got to see live.

“If somebody see us for the first time in Austin, they’re going to say, ‘Oh my God.’ That’s our only goal. A song can be anything, but if you can’t perform the song, what good are you? We don’t need no explosions. We don’t need none of that pyrotechnic shit. What we gotta do is get down.” •


Public Enemy at Fun Fun Fun Fest (Blue Stage)

8:30pm Fri, Nov 4
Auditorium Shores
800 W Riverside Dr (Austin)


Fun Fun Fun Fest
Feat. Spoon, Slayer, The Damned, Danzig Legacy, Diplo, Henry Rollins, T-Bird & The Breaks, the one and only Sergio “Sexy Sax Man” Flores, and dozens of others.
Fri-Sun Nov 4-6
$66 (one-day ticket including fees) and $161 (three-day ticket including fees)

Scroll to read more Music Stories & Interviews articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.