When hip-hop legends -- in the truest sense of the word -- Public Enemy were announced as one of the six acts to be inducted into The Rock and Rock Hall of Fame next year, it came as a natural selection.
In a genre where longevity is virtually non-existent, Public Enemy has released albums for 25 years and performed 85 tours in 86 countries during that same span.
A few hours before hitting the stage in Los Angeles for the last date of The Hip Hop Gods Classic Tourfest Revue, Chuck D spoke to RedBullUSA.com about classic rock, Hip Hop Gods and why rappers need to step up their live game.
Given that Public Enemy is widely looked at as anti-establishment, what does it mean for the group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which would signal being embraced by the establishment?
I'm not being embraced by the establishment. The same bullshit goes on. I'm pissed off that I put on The Hip Hop Gods Classic Tourfest Revue tour. It went across America and it's the first hip-hop tour and it got no coverage by the music press.
So, embraced? Meaning what? That's the first thing that makes the announcement ironic because we've been saluted from an infrastructure that's tight and from within a genre that's been pimped. I take it very seriously and the visibility it gives me to shine amongst my peers. If this was a trophy and I could break it into 100,000 pieces, it would go to 100,000 different contributors in so many different ways.
That being said, what does being inducted mean to you?
It means nothing if we can't enhance hip-hop and take it to the next level for the genre. I am very angry at the lack of structure, the negligence -- or the niggligence -- of lawyers, accountants, managers, record company pimp people who have basically corrupted the art form and thrown it down a flight of stairs into something else that we can't recognize.
As for the Hip Hop Gods tour, what was your criteria for selecting the artists?
I reached out to people personally to make this thing work. I had a conversation with Brother J from X Clan, who I've toured with before. I had one with Monie Love, who I've known for like 25 years to represent a female standpoint.
I reached out to Schoolly D, a pioneer, a dude that was the first rap artist to have his own independent record label, setting a prototype for independents and also pioneering what people call reality rap or gangster rap. He was an originator at it. I put in a personal call to DJ Johnny Juice, who I've known and partnered with.
Then there's Son of Bazerk and Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers, who were actually one of the first to step into the digital realm with digital music, as far back as 2001. I made personal calls and I made a lineup. It's a lineup where the sum of all its parts is what makes the tour work, not just because you have a bunch of big names.
"I don't care who you are. You could be Weezy, Jeezy, Yeezy... at the end of the day, if somebody pays $20, they've got to go home and say, 'You know, I got my money's worth.'"
Why did you want to do The Hip Hop Gods Classic Tourfest Revue tour?
Hip Hop Gods needs to be separated to where it's like another aspect of the genre that has to lead by example. It can't be included in the mix. The idea came from two areas.
For one, when I used to turn on the TV, I'd see Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Chi-Chi Rodriguez [still playing golf]. I'd be like, “What the fuck? I thought they retired.” Then they'd be like, “No. This is the senior circuit. They don’t play with Tiger Woods. They've just got their own shit.” I was like, “Oh. OK.”
Or, I was growing up in New York in the '70s and a couple radio stations like KNEW said, “No. This is classic rock.” This separates the Beatles, the Stones, Chuck Berrys, Led Zeppelins from the Bostons and the Peter Framptons of the time. I was like, “OK, I get it. Yes is not classic rock yet, but the Rolling Stones is.”
Classic rock, in many ways, became bigger than mainstream rock. Not bigger as in volume, but it became more structured, more understandable and you could put your finger on it. So Hip Hop Gods is like, “If you ain't been in it professionally for 15 years, you're not there yet.” That's the same thing with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It ain't like big business as usual only because people were like, “Yo. Yo. That shit should have been happened.” No. You need 25 years after your first record [was released] in order to get in.
I'm sure Public Enemy's ability to deliver a quality live show was a big part of the group getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But most rappers from the 1990s until now haven't had strong live shows. Why do you think artists don't put more into their live show?
Artists today have to understand that. I don't care what kind of music they fucking make. If you can't blow your audience away with your performance, then you don't get it. A lot of people don't get it. They need coaches for artists or people to tell them, “Yo. You've got to get the most out of yourself because this is what people pay for at the end of the day. This is what people want to see. They come to a concert to see you.”
But unfortunately performance art in hip-hop in the last 10 years, especially the last five years, is now played 23 hours a day thanks to YouTube and Instagram and somebody in their entourage being part of a beat down outside of the stage is the performance.
So that's why when they get to the stage, it's less than of a performance art than their regular lives on camera. Isn't that some shit?
At the end of the day, it's got to be a performance art. A performance art has the elements right there. I don't care who you are. You could be Weezy, Jeezy, Yeezy, somebody that came from the '90s, at the end of the day, if somebody pays $20, they've got to go home and say, “You know, I got my money's worth.” If they’re paying $135 to see you, they've got to leave saying, “Yo, man. That shit just blew my mind.”
It can't be where you're coming away from it being like, “Ahhh. It was alright.” It's like trying to agree to a raping. It's like, “Come on, now.”