While Chuck D is the primary engine that powers rap group Public Enemy, it is notable that Spokane is not buying tickets to see just Chuck D, but the whole kit and caboodle. There is an established history of hip-hop artists breaking from the original group to launch their own projects. Ice-Cube and Dr. Dre of N.W.A., Q-tip of A Tribe Called Quest, Fatlip and Tre Hardson of the Pharcyde, and each member of the Wu-Tang Clan have embarked on their own solo missions. While many of us will settle for scraps, it will be all the better to be served up the entire entr & eacute;e.
Public Enemy, now embarking upon its 56th tour dating back to 1987, has not only played the field, but has pretty much defined it. As one of the earliest touring hip-hop acts, they have proven indispensable to the growth and development of the rap music industry.
Somewhat of an anomaly, P.E. achieved mainstream popularity on its own terms, without being pimped or groomed by big record companies. Delivering the one-two punch of Chuck D's uncompromising intellectual lyrics combined with the "funky-fresh-fly" antics of Flavor Flav, Public Enemy became a rap group phenomenon able to deliver their message worldwide.
Rap music today is fully ingrained into the music industry -- so much so that History of Hip-Hop will probably become a staple course listing at colleges and universities. I hope the syllabus will not mimic the popular media's focus on played-out dramas like the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. Thankfully, P.E. flourishes among underground hip-hop heads while having also breached the barriers of popular music. They've secured themselves an ironclad spot in hip-hop history, no matter who's doing the writing.
Inlander: I attended a lecture you gave at EWU a few years ago. Someone asked about a P.E. show in Spokane and you joked that the crew wouldn't be very amped about the idea. But, here we are.
Chuck D: I think that question was in the context of doing a one-off in Spokane. When things are packaged as a tour, it's different. We're a touring group. We've been to 46 countries. We are definitely excited to be coming to Spokane ... home of Gonzaga!
You made a name for yourself as someone who rapped about social and political issues. How did Public Enemy achieve mainstream popularity without dancing, singing love songs, or by exploiting drugs or violence?
Well, Flavor danced a bit. [laughs] We did it as a group. We all had things we brought to the table. Everything we did, we did as group.
What are the key differences between underground rap music and commercial rap music?
Commercial rap music is made for a shallow demographic. It is the product of big, big companies targeting the lowest common denominator. I see underground hip-hop as homage to jazz cats back in the day. They are playing music they believe in and are less concerned about style and image.
So getting their music on commercial radio isn't something underground artists need to worry about?
Not at all. Today it is easy to bypass commercial radio and television because with the Internet, we can think globally. Commercial radio is only a national thing. My advice for young hip-hop artists is to think locally, and globally. Focus on local shows and use the Internet and tools like MySpace to get their music across the world.
If you could deliver a message to President Bush, what would it be?
Clean up your mess and leave. That might take him two years
Is there a job you think Bush is better suited for besides being President?
Maybe a comedian. He's looking more like George Burns every day.
Will Chuck D ever run for public office?
No. I would like to be a cultural ambassador someday. Music is universal. I think we can cut through a lot of problems by using music as a common medium. Sports are like that too.
Public Enemy with X-Clan at the Big Easy on Monday, Dec. 18, at 8 pm. Tickets: $28. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.