One of the great things about cable television is you get to see people who might otherwise be inaccessible. Chuck D hardly needs to go make press rounds for his music, but with an upcoming show on BET, he was delivered right to us. Hip Hop Vs. America is a panel discussion that explores issues relating to the music industry and society. D is joined by Rev. Al Sharpton and others in the community to address controversies that only seem to grow as hip hop continues.
CraveOnline: Why call it Hip Hop Vs. America?
Chuck D: As a world person, I think it’s limited. Hip hop’s all over the world, but in America it seems to be controlled by corporation so that’s maybe where the conflict comes in.
CraveOnline: So if it’s Hip Hop Vs. America, who wins?
Chuck D: I just think that this was a case of BET taking a step in the direction of finally having black folks defining something which inherently comes out of us and broadcasting it for the first time. I was quite pleased seeing people like T.I. or Nelly or Master P who wouldn’t have a platform to speak other than what their videos and songs say and actually come out as men. And also, coming out and saying things that we felt deep inside on issues. Some of the areas about their music they didn’t want to talk about but some of the areas about their music that their record companies wouldn’t allow them to deal with. This show has great potential because it shows the inside of the artist.
CraveOnline: Why is it still misunderstood after all these years?
Chuck D: A lot of people don’t do enough learning about music in particular or it. There’s a lot of books out there so that’s what people can pick up.
CraveOnline: What’s your perspective on the state of the industry now?
Chuck D: You need more people in control of it that know about it, have a care and concern.
CraveOnline: Who are some of the artists you’re fond of these days?
Chuck D: I’m fond of a lot of them if they happen to be honest with themselves.
CraveOnline: What’s going on with your music?
Chuck D: I got four studios, always putting music so a new album coming out August 7. When I play Rock the Bells, it’s going to be good, outrunning the young guys. We’re going to out run them.
CraveOnline: How hard is it to find things to write about?
Chuck D: Well, you’re a writer. Look, it’s a big world. It’s a big world. You can’t be isolated in little cubicles in big cities and just say, “You know what? I’m in New York, LA and Atlanta and I’m just going to be there and not venture out outside my little cubicle. This is not like Stephen King shit. You’ve got to get with people and get real stories.
CraveOnline: They used to call rap the black CNN. Is it still?
Chuck D: It’s a worldwide religion now. A cultural religion. Worldwide cultural religion. It’s very important that it at least get hold of itself. To be able to say it’s diverse and balanced. That’s with any genre. If rock n’ roll was just the ‘80s hair bands and stayed there, it would be in trouble but it’s still healthy.
CraveOnline: Why do you think nobody’s carried on your mantle as the political artist?
Chuck D: In different fragments. We have a big, diverse crew. We take on a lot of different elements but you’ve got fragments like The Roots. You’ve got people like Talib Kweli. So there are a lot of fragments that come on. There’s not going to be another PE because we bring too many elements in one group. A group might come out nowadays and might not think that it’s financially feasible for them to stay together. One group I admired a lot, Jurassic 5, they couldn’t stay together because of financial personal reasons. That kind of hurts. Groups are really important.
CraveOnline: They still blame hip hop for shootings in the suburbs, calling it the thug life. Is that a fair assessment of the influence?
Chuck D: Well, if they don’t communicate with their kid, anything, a comic book could lead them in the wrong direction. You have to really communicate harder I think with younger people today who kind of get drifted off in their own little vesicle of what they imagine their world to be, so yes, I do believe that things could lead a young mind in a direction that they think is fascinating if you can’t communicate better to them. It could be a rap song, it could be a comic book. It could be like, “Oh man, Black Sabbath is my favorite group and all of a sudden I want to get into a weird world because it’s escapism.” Music and art and culture is escapism, and escapism sometimes is healthy for people to get away from reality. The problem is when they stay there.
CraveOnline: What might surprise general audiences to find out in Hip Hop Vs. America?
Chuck D: It brings accountability up to the task to be called out, whereas even if somebody comes out of left field, they won’t come out of left field out of the corner of the neighborhood and signed with anonymous. Everybody has something in common. These artists signed with a corporation to be broadcast, but the people never actually know who they are signed to. The neighborhood where they come from doesn’t know the executives. You have a lot of hidden hands and a lot of hidden faces that can be identified in the business in the industry of this hip hop genre. Now they can come and have a platform for dialogue. That’s why I nodded my head yes as this being a progressive step.
CraveOnline: This is nothing new though.
Chuck D: What’s documented is that the record companies in the early ‘80s removed artist development. Therefore, in those situations, also removed the platform for artists to speak. It’s been a twofold thing. The record label’s kind of like telling artists, “I don’t think you should go speak your mind because you really have nothing to say.” If you don’t develop the artist as an artist and number two, as a human being, then they don’t go into adulthood because you’re only taking youth culture and trying to flip it over so many times, you’re going to have a dual effect of diminishing returns for business which is showing right now. This show could actually by way of default kind of bring back an artist who’s a little bit more developed than they have been for the last 15 years.
CraveOnline: What could an artist do to resist the financial pressure of the executives?
Chuck D: I think the executives have more financial pressure than the artists. Therefore they’re cow towing and making those decisions that keep their job. Artists got a whole different set of what they want than an executive. Executives are holding onto their jobs like this so that has been a problem in the last eight years. A lot of the young artists especially feel the pressure to have to have dual development, developing as a full human being which takes a little longer than it did and also developing as an artist. So that dual development is some pressure. My daughter’s 19. I’m not asking her to develop as an artist. I’m just asking her to develop as a full person, human being.
CraveOnline: What changes do you see going on in hip hop? Are they being more socially conscious?
Chuck D: I think if they’re going to watch a portal such as BET, the change has to happen here and maybe it can reflect some changes that are taking place. When you have a big network, if you reflect enough good things into the marketplace, you can actually dictate some good feeling out there.
CraveOnline: Do you feel the need to continue to evolve or just to maintain the tradition for your longtime fans?
Chuck D: I follow Dylan and Smokey Robinson and all those guys and Howlin Wolf. There’s a wealth of music behind me, Bob Marley, that I can look at and make parallels.
CraveOnline: What does a show like Flava of Love do for the credibility of hip hop?
Chuck D: I come from a black family and one thing black folks know is we always got that one in our family. It’s just that we outnumber Flava 12 to 1 but you might not draw focus on the other 11. Flava is a one of a kind. Believe that. He ain’t never, ever changed. So hopefully we’ll get 11 guys to have shows that balance out the Flava of Love.
CraveOnline: So are you okay with it?
Chuck D: It ain’t a show that I would approve of for myself but we as a black family, we always know that one person in our family that’s off beat. He’s the off beat one but we don’t think that there shouldn’t be a counterbalance. I think Professor Griff should have a show as well.
CraveOnline: Will Flav ever find love?
Chuck D: He got love, he got plenty of love. He’s got love from his girlfriend and love from a TV network.
CraveOnline: What would your own show be like?
Chuck D: A one on one interview with a lot of young artists. That’s what I would probably even look to do with this network. Seeing me with a guy like T.I. and asking him some real things, and then somebody that might be a fan of T.I. say, “Wow, I finally know what he’s like or she’s like inside.” I think that’s something I would do on TV. I’m not a TV person.
CraveOnline: Does any of the new technology inspire you?
Chuck D: Of course, all of it. The fact that you can e-mail a person a song is something that we wished for for years.
CraveOnline: What subjects will you be dealing with on your new album?
Chuck D: Longevity, escapism, the fact that I think that time is God. You can’t master time but you have to work your hardest to manage it. Also, I have a cut called Frankenstar which means kind of like get off of the star trip. Star spelled backwards are rats so you want to get more people that are creative closer to earth.