Elevator 27: Chuck D

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‘Fight the Power’ is arguably the most iconic and important rap song ever made. Public Enemy is arguably the most iconic and important rap group of all time. Right in the centre of the action is rapper Chuck D, a man who has eloquently opened the minds of numerous generations to the true state of the world and our ability to be agents of change. His contribution to rap is immeasurable.

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of playing ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’ to primary school classes, explaining to them the various elements that make Chuck D’s group so unique and giving them Public Enemy illustrations to colour in.

At times while listening to Public Enemy I start to weep. It happened again today. The sonic hurricane, the audacity of the lyrics, the mockery and fury in Chuck’s booming delivery, his belief that change can happen and the sheer ridiculousness that many of the grave injustices Public Enemy have been pointing out for the last 30 years have still never been addressed by those responsible.

Public Enemy isn’t just a clever name. The powers that be have set their media blood hounds on them throughout the years in an attempt to silence the group. They’ve also been an annoyance to other rappers who Chuck D claims have sold their souls away or are paying inadequate respect to their musical forefathers.

‘New Whirl Odor’, ‘There’s a Poison Goin’ On’, ‘Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age’, ‘The Evil Empire of Everything’:  album titles that paint a bleak picture. The strange thing is that despite Chuck being a prophet of doom, he’s approachable, warm and humble. In 2011 after performing a 25-song set at the Institute in Birmingham, I witnessed Chuck’s post-gig activities. This 51-year-old had the time and an astounding reservoir of energy to meet people [fans and others artists], to engage in proper conversations, to encourage and simply listen.

Chuck D’s manner, his lyrics and his cadence are that of a sports coach. He’s putting you through a body-breaking exercise, but he’s there with you, looking you in the eyes, cheering you on. He’s a leader, the kind of leader that is quick to point out others abilities and contributions.

Chuck D is a sage and a 5th columnist, black, proud, crystal-clear, unflinching, honourable, humble, deeply creative, a strategist, a revolutionary voice: in short AmeriKKKa’s real worst nightmare.

It seems impossible to turn earnest messages and discordant, pounding, screaming music into party anthems, but Public Enemy have made it happen over and over again. Because of the sheer magnitude of the PE sound, it was essential to have a primary vocalist whose voice cut through the racket. Chuck at times steamrolls over the beat, with idiosyncratic pauses and cadences more akin to beat poets or preachers.

Are you a long time rap music fan? Try to imagine hip-hop without Public Enemy. Try to imagine hip-hop without Chuck D’s baritone sermons. Imagine hip-hop without the outbursts of the world’s most charismatic jester/hypeman Flavor Flav. What a horrible vision that is!

In a world of easily snappable sapling rappers, Chuck D is a towering Sequoia redwood: steady, unshakeable and inspiring.

More killer tracks: Shut ‘Em Down and Air Hoodlum.

Here’s recent Chuck D interviews with Tavis Smiley and Arsenio Hall

PE’s induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame [some profound moments in this 21 minute clip]

Tune into Chuck’s weekly radio show here: www.rapstation.com/BEATSandPLACESTheSOUNDofHistory

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