'Hold on to your heads'
Rapper Chuck D sends a message to the kids at PCC
By Nathan Solis 11/13/2008
Few voices in hip-hop have been as sharp as Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D.
The politically and socially conscious rap pioneers came on the scene in 1987 with their critically acclaimed album “Yo! Bum Rush the Show,” then quickly went on to superstardom with platinum albums “It Take a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” (including the songs “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype”) and the Grammy-nominated “Fear of a Black Planet,” which included the song “Fight the Power” from Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”
While continuing to make music, Chuck D — born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour 48 years ago in New York — has remained a politically outspoken godfather of hip-hop, and on Oct. 28 spoke at Pasadena City College as part of a national lecture tour.
He called PCC “one of the special places of the world” because Jackie Robinson went there before breaking baseball’s color barrier, but quickly moved on to his message.
“I’m here to tell you that you’re adults,” he told the crowd of young African-American and Latino students. “You see some dumb shit on TV and you question if you’re doing the right thing. You not only see anti-intellectualism, but you see dumbass-ification. ... I’m here to tell you to hold on to your heads.”
At this point, he addressed the antics of bandmate turned reality TV star Flava Flav, saying “We can’t all be Flava Flav, who is America’s biggest teenager.”
While encouraging a sense of personal responsibility, Chuck D attacked the war in Iraq and the role that governments — “the cancer of civilization,” he called them — often play in the lives of young men. “They will send your 18-year-old asses off to war to die,” he said, describing Washington as “old, white men playing Grand Theft Auto with your life.”
Chuck D also spoke about music — the history of R&B, how blues was born out of slavery and the origins of hip-hop — and took a moment afterward to speak to the Weekly.
“I’ve been talking about rap, race, reality and technology,” he said of his collegiate tour. “Those things are culturally introduced to people, but they know very little about them. People say they love rap music, but they don’t know where it came from.”
An outspoken proponent of Internet music sharing, Chuck D said the record industry often neglects the talents of developing musicians, overlooking some of the best.
“The record industry has a hard time knowing that there are 10 million artists out there right now. Thank God for YouTube, because people can go there and get all the videos they want,” he said. “I don’t think the people in charge of music right now know what they’re doing. We have far too many older people trying to make decisions for younger people.”
Public Enemy still performs, but Chuck D admits their age creates a different set of expectations. “I tell my guys, because we’re so much older, that we can either look much older or much more experienced.”