Hip-hop pioneer Chuck D once proclaimed his words and his message were “louder than a bomb.” And there may not be as many people listening today as there were in 1988 when the song of the same name was released, but his words still hit with concussive impact.
Chuck D will share some of those explosive words with Columbus tonight when he speaks at 6 at Nissan Auditorium on the Mississippi University for Women campus as part of the Gordy Honors Forum series.
Public Enemy, the revolutionary hip-hop group co-founded by Chuck D, emerged in the mid-80s with a socially and politically conscious messages rarely heard in mainstream rap. The group”s mainstream appeal has long since evaporated, but Chuck D”s message hasn”t changed. His lecture tonight is titled “Race, Rap and Reality,” but speaking over the phone Monday, Chuck D said two key aspects not teased in the title are technology and women.
“I think I”m going to add how important black women are to the struggle and how they”re being overlooked and manipulated in today”s business world, in arts, culture, and being stepped all over,” said Chuck D. “You turn on BET, and black women”s image is being run over.”
Addressing the inequalities faced by women is appropriate considering the venue, he said.
With regard to technology, he says the changing face of communication cannot be overlooked or ignored by those hoping to enact change or education.
“Technology is almost everything that we deal with today. Since the world is connected, what are we going to do with it?” he mused. “How we perceive our culture. How close consumer culture digs in from afar. I”ll explain things the older culture don”t understand.”
Part of that explanation will include the advantages and disadvantages of living in a wireless world. Chuck D says the ability to connect with like-minded individuals from around the world is contrasted by a loss of interpersonal communication skills.
“People are texting someone who is 2 feet away. They”re better at e-mailing and texting than talking,” he said.
Communicating has been Chuck D”s forte for some time. He hosted a radio show before becoming an emcee and has since returned to the air waves, recently hosting a show on Air America before the network ended operations and filed for bankruptcy.
However, being best known for his work on the mic, Chuck D will address the social change and cultural achievements that have come about because of hip-hop, as well as the state of hip-hop music and culture.
To truly understand the culture, he says, one cannot look to modern mainstream rap, which is merely the corporate remnants of the once-diverse medium.
“I tell people, don”t get caught up so much on culture. Education is a real thing. It”s better than relying on something you don”t know about.”
For instance, he says hip-hop is still viewed as a predominantly African-Americam music, but the proliferation of technology has made the music available worldwide.
“It”s a social force all over the world. You”ve got hip-hop artists in Palestine making social movements happen, which runs in line with the Civil Rights movement,” he said. “How would someone in the U.S. even know or care? Although the Internet gives you access to the world, how many people give attention to places outside their domain?”
Back in the U.S., Chuck D says three major record companies monopolize mainstream hip-hop, and therefore control the content of its message.
“For example, women aren”t repped right in hip-hop. Because a lot of women are speaking their minds, but they might not be with a major company. So they”re doing their thing on YouTube or Facebook,” he said.
Chuck D says the controls of corporate powers, which pander strictly to what sells, have limited the potential of hip-hop as a music and cultural force. He hopes to offer an alternative view tonight.
“I just want to give a well-rounded view of artists. Once we start to diagnose what”s out there, we can give everything room to breathe,” he said.
Having witnessed the evolution of hip-hop from the view of an older artist — Chuck D was 27 when his first major label album was released on Def Jam Records – he says diversity has fallen by the wayside in mainstream hip-hop while exploding on the underground.
Being older, he says, also gave him a different perspective on the power of hip-hop in the mid-to-late-80s. Whereas most artists were out to rock parties and included one or two socially conscious songs on their albums, Chuck D and Public Enemy brought a thorough knowledge of black awareness and the Civil Rights struggle. Chuck D”s subject matter was heavily influenced by the teachings of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X. Even Flavor-Flav, the hype man and comic relief half of the group”s lead duo, referenced civil rights leaders such as H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael on albums.
While Chuck D believes the vast majority of mainstream hip-hop has lost its way, he says there are a few artists who are carrying the torch, although they must walk with a foot in both worlds to do so. Older artists like Nas, The Roots, and Mississippi native David Banner are some, admittedly older, acts infusing socially conscious rhymes into their work.
Lesser known artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Immortal Technique have long represented Public Enemy”s social sensibilities, and even a few young artists like Jay Electronica have Chuck D”s stamp of approval.
With regard to the legacy of his own group, Chuck D says Public Enemy simply brought an old message to a new medium.
“We didn”t invent any of the things we came up with. We just extended messages that had been forgotten,” he said.
Now Chuck D will bring those messages to Columbus, but he”s no stranger to North Mississippi. The Long Island, New York, native”s ex-wife is from Tupelo, and he”s traveled the state extensively.
“Mississippi has a fond place in my memory,” he said. “It”s part of my background and part of my life. Especially in February. It”s cold everywhere else and a little bit less in Mississippi.”
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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