Chuck D: Who Sold The Soul?
By: Jason Gloss and Addi "Mindbender" Stewart
Real Name: Carlton Douglas Ridenhour
Birthdate: August 1st, 1960
Birthplace: Roosevelt, Long Island, NY, U.S.A.
Member of: Public Enemy, (Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, The Security of the First World aka S1W's, Sister Souljah (formerly), Terminator X (formerly), DJ Lord Aswod, The Banned)
Catalogue: "Yo! Bum Rush the Show" (1987), "It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back" (1988), "Fear of A Black Planet" (1990),
"Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black" (1991), "Muse-Sick N Hour Mess-Age" (1994), "The Autobiography of Mista Chuck" (1996),
"He Got Game" (1998), "There's A Poison Goin' On" (1999), "Revolverlution" (2002), "Son Of A Bush" EP (2004), "New Whirl Odor" (2005),
"Rebirth of a Nation" (2006), "How You Sell Soul to A Soulless People Who Lost Their Soul?" (2007), among others.
Profession: Hip hop legend, lyricist, community leader, educational lecturer, record producer, author, publisher, revolutionary leader.
Some people already know, respect, and genuinely appreciate that Chuck D is one of the most important and intelligent voices in hip hop
history, and will continue to be so, eternally. The life-altering impact of "It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back,” the
breakthrough sophomore Def Jam release that essentially made Public Enemy world-class terrorists shooting explosive truth through
the speakers cannot be overstated, especially by those lucky and rare souls who were practicing participants of this culture when
that masterpiece was unleashed. Since then, Chuck D has continued to contribute his unparalleled style and substance to hip hop
history, and through the ups and downs of the 20-plus year journey of Public Enemy, he has remained a vital voice to listen to
and learn from. The first time you heard him, you probably could instantly tell that he was the wrong brother to fuck with, and
over the years ever since, it's very probable that you have had a like/dislike, or even a love/hate relationship with his unique
music since it entered your life. Nevertheless, even to the most ignorant members of the new school generation involved hip hop
culture, the crucial relevance of Chuck D's words rings clear and true. Furthermore, his artistic inspiration seems to have been
rejuvenated in the last few years with insightful projects like the fiery "Rebirth of a Nation" and the return-to-form LP, "How
You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?" Still, no matter what the message boards, the major labels, and the
masses say, living as a legendary leader of the old and new school is definitely much harder than you think.
You probably should not be able to call yourself a true hip hop head if you don't know the words to at least a few Public Enemy
songs, and/or the tumultuous history of the controversial collective. Maybe the first time you heard Chuck D, he was counting "1,
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…" on Biggie Smalls' beautiful yet blasphemous "Ten Crack Commandments", and haven't heard much else. If this
is the case, and you haven't done your homework yet on the history of Public Enemy, go get a late pass. STEP!
Jason Gloss: What's going on Chuck?
Chuck D: Hey what's up Jason, how you doing?
Jason Gloss: Pretty good. It's an honor. I'm a fan of the music, but more so as an activist and a political thinker. So my question
to you is, with the upcoming election, do you plan to be participating again? You did it for MTV last time around. Also, who are you leaning towards?
Chuck D: I'm leaning towards Kevin Powell in this area, winning his vote for Congress. I'd say that voting is definitely
something that needs to be recognized on a local basis before you start to figure out nationally the effects. my whole
thing is I'm totally down on the system of eenie-meenie-miney-moe, meaning that if he's a Democrat or a Republican... so,
seriously, I think voting for the next presidential election is such a game, that Democrats better just stack up and just
come up with some kind of T-formation: Hillary, Barack, and Edwards all on the same ticket, to stave off the inevitable,
by Republicans who are basically, Crackers who don't care, basically.
And I say that, I say "Cracker" with a significant capital: uppercase letters, because they will crack the whip, and they will crack the skin open of people of color in this
country, so it can return to the old days of whenever this country claims it was a better time... for some. So my thing is
that, if that Democratic Party pretends to care, they better stack up. All this Hillary running in the primaries against
Barack Obama, that's just bullshit right now. Because it's a two party system, which is just archaic, and worked at another
particular time... to say that it worked for us, it never did. That's why in the last two elections I say yeah, voting is
important, yes it is, but we should have more parties to vote for. France is a smaller country and it had 8 people running,
all the way until the last day. We got what, one and two? What kind of shit is that? About 3 thousand... you know what? America
is that big, big, 490 pound cat who, if he catches you, he's going to beat your ass. But all you gotta do as a small streamlined
country, all you gotta do is run rings around him, and he'll fall out, and that's what America is seeming like: it's too big for
its problems, and a two party system is not going to fix it.
So unless it comes in and figures out ways it can be many parties always, you know, all the way eligible up until the last day, that's when we'll be able to come out of the next 4 years. The
next 4 years, from 2009 to 2013, sheeeit... that's the cleaning up of all the Bush shit that's going to be there. And it's
going to be a BIG clean up job, people. Whoever comes in next ain't going to clean it up quick. The Republicans always
claim that they are going to come on and build on some of those principles, and it really wasn't that messed up anyways.
But hey, I'm giving you the experience, I just came from Europe and Asia, and my dollar was just destroyed. You hear me?
Destroyed! The Euro is kicking its ass. I was in Holland, I was in Spain, and I was in Portugal… the Euro is just kicking
its ass. And the pound is just pounding us into oblivion. And now the Yen over in China, and with the economic system in
China, it's just totally embarrassing us. So I don't know... we gotta figure something out.
Jason Gloss: Do you plan to be this vocal come the time of the election? Because what you're saying is important,
but you're saying it to 11 people, as opposed to a nation, or...
Chuck D: I don't own any networks. I'm not Kanye West, either. So you're going to have to look to your local pop star to say something prevalent.
Jason Gloss: Well, you were active last time around, and I know it influenced a lot of people...
Chuck D: It was a different time, and I was at a different status level. Now I'm one of the voices amongst millions of voices that
are fragmented across the web, across television and across radio. So there are a lot of voices that are out there, and there will
be a lot of voices that say "Hey there's nothing wrong. Damn, I'm doing great! We're doing great in America, and we're going to come
back and everything is going to be fine." And there are going to be people who are like "Wow, this person doesn't have the slightest
idea!" So check your local pop star nearest you. Whether it's a rapper, they will give you the symbolic commentary that's going to be
followed. Me? After a while, I'll end up sounding like Bill Cosby! (Laughs) Then you can treat me like an old ass uncle! "Yeah, he's
that dude. He's saying the same old shit he's always says. Yeah but… yeah, but… you know... he's outta tune..." "How's he out of
tune?" "I dunno, he, uh, he just sounds like he's mad at shit!"
I ain't mad at it. It is what it is. How many people on the phone got a house? How many people expect to get a house with today's
mortgage rate crime that's going on? It doesn't just affect me, it affects everybody. How many people got kids on this line? So if
your kid's in school, how much does that cost? How many people live up in the north and gotta buy heating? How many people got a car?
So the person that doesn't have a car, if you're not paying for heat, and you're not paying for fuel in your car, then you must be
living with somebody who's paying that bill. And what do they say? That's the biggest question. My point is these problems affect
all of us, especially if you're an adult and grown, and there was a period where we could run away from it, in sort of escapism
and now we're running into a brick ass wall. And now, those things that were unavoidable, where they might have said, aw man this
person is just huffin' and puffin' on some political shit, I never understood that. I never understood that, when they said "Oh,
this person is political." I'm like: "Political is knowing who is fucking running your environment, who is doing what around you
to affect you every day!" It's harder to make a living from check to check nowadays than it was 10 years ago. Now, check to check
means everything is more expensive.
So, a lot of people are coming out of colleges, or coming from different job markets and living situations, yeah, it's a hustle,
it's a scramble, it's a scrape at a higher price. I'd never thought I'd be in a time period where the Canadian dollar is worth
more than the U.S. dollar! The Canadian dollar is at least backed by oil and water. The United States gotta steal they oil and
they got the water nearest it. We have droughts in the south east and the south west. But anyways, I could go all day on and
give you headline news. (Laughs)
Jason Gloss: Aiight, let's take it back to hip hop, before I sign off, cause I appreciate you taking the time out. As a fan,
I'm asking you what do you feel in your extensive catalogue is the most important song you've given the hip hop community?
Chuck D: "Fight the Power". "Fight the Power", because I had help, from the movie, from Spike...
Jason Gloss: And what song are you most proud of?
Chuck D: "Welcome to the Terrordome".
Jason Gloss: "Terrordome"? Why's that?
Chuck D: It was during a time where I had to fight my way out of a corner. So, I felt that that song kind of did it. But you
know, I mean, after a while, it gets to a point where... I listen to that album I ain't heard in a long time that I did, and
that was the "He Got Game" album, and I was like "Wow, I was talking about the combination of things between sports rap and
basketball…" but metaphorically. I had so many things that went over people's heads, and when they got older, they were able
to say "I understand it". Half of hip hop and rap is that you can actually do a lot of things within the art and craft of rap
that is so fast, that it goes above their heads. But it only goes above their heads, because they're not sophisticated or old
enough to understand that at a particular level. Especially if they are 15. Later on when they get older and they are 26, they
can be like "Oh, I understand it now". So music isn't always to be made for now, it's always to be made to stand the test of
time. Because you'll be able to leave record companies, but they going to try sell it over the test of time, ha ha! Forever!
That's why they own the masters of the catalogue. To sell over the test of time. If that wasn't the fact, then we wouldn't be
possibly getting into Miles Davis and Coltrane and James Brown and Aretha and stuff. These companies are still selling these
records, and the older that you get, like everybody on this phone, even if you are not a beat collector or a crate digger or
whatever, you are going to get into more sights and sounds from the past that you are from the future and the present. That's
how it was designed. It was there before you was born, and it's going to be there after you die, probably in one way or another,
because they are going to make sure it is.
Jason Gloss: Aiight, I appreciate you taking the time out with me. Best of luck on your album.
Chuck D: Aw, thanks a lot man.
Addi Stewart: Hey Chuck, what's up? It's Mindbender.
Chuck D: What's up, Mindbender! Good to hear from you…
Addi Stewart: Thanks. We gotta talk more about what we were speaking about before... but it's about you right now. I'm wondering
after 20-25 years in the game, where does your faith lie in the power of music to educate people? Do you find yourself being
depressed with the dumb-ass-ification that you have to fight against of the new generation, versus the cats in the 80's that
would listen to the lyrics in a different way?
Chuck D: I dunno, I think that, the thing that I do know is that we have to be able to look at our past to have some perspective
to how we should feel and how we should look at things in our present. You know like, read about people like W.E.B. Dubois and you
know, some of the frustrations he went though, and even look at the 60s with Dr. King and Malcolm X, and what they went through...
you have to read about, and I reiterate, READ, on the person's struggles and how they saw what they considered a crumbling society or
demographic at that particular time, to give you an idea of how you should think, and it lessens the frustrations when you realize
that you ain't going through something for the first time, that you ain't the only one. You gotta have perspective from a lot of
people around you, to guide you to a place where you can see clearly.
Addi Stewart: Amen. I feel you.
Chuck D: You gotta see clearly to defend. You can't defend and be blind.
Addi Stewart: So obviously, we're still fighting the fear of a black planet that exists, that the religions and the governments who
capitalize off it still manifest, but what are some of the most crucial value elements? I love when you use the word 'values', cause
that's one thing that is taken away from this generation of hip hop heads, they don't understand the values that have not been taught
to them, but what do you think are the intangible things that brothers need to learn for them to work it out?
Chuck D: I think one of the things that has hurt, is that there hasn't been an upgrading of the information to do for themselves against
the radiation of a radio and TV nation that exists in our surroundings. Meaning that, to learn about certain things that you gotta learn,
you gotta be able to figure out in all this media blitz of everything, you gotta figure out how people can be able to learn something to
defend themselves, mentally and physically. Things have to be upgraded. People get lost in the blizzard of every other information passing
through them, instead of just the information they need. People might even be able to get the information they think they need once, or
twice, but they kind of need it repetitiously, like other information is coming across non-stop, it's a barrage. So you should get things
that make it easy for you to learn about yourself along with that barrage, so you can balance things out in your head.
Addi Stewart: Cats need a father to tell them that kind of stuff, and there's a whole generation of Black men and black women that don't
have that kind of stuff, I feel you.
Chuck D: Well, we can't teach today's generation in the same way, the same manner, with the same method that worked 50 years ago, because
it's a different level of the whippings of mass distraction nowadays than 50 years ago. You have to take somebody and lock them away from
the world in order for things to cut through. You can't do that. Now you gotta come with so many different methods to kind of beat off,
ha, these whole point of views that are coming and infiltrating the young mind and the older minds. Time is moving at a much different
speed. Not physically, but time is moving at a seemingly much different speed than it was 50 years ago.
Addi Stewart: Absolutely.
Chuck D: It's incremented a lot tighter. So time within time is actually moving twice as fast, because it's like double time. You know
when like jungle records came out, and they would actually come out and take a slow beat but kind of double the speed, so it was in
double time? That's the time we are living in today. It's the same speed, but it's double time, cause each second is split in half.
We're kind of living in like, two seconds in one.
Addi Stewart: Wow. That's phenomenal. It's so weird because hip hop...
Chuck D: No, it's troubling, it's not phenomenal. And it's troubling, because we have to figure out ways to teach new audiences and
young audiences and demographics now, we have to find ways to cut through, and it's more difficult. We have to come up with more ways.
It's troubling, because it's not an easy answer.
Addi Stewart: For sure. The attention span for cats is microscopic these days. So, hip hop kinds seems like it's at a crossroads. It's
suffering from old issues, and also new takes on old problems, with the congressional hearings and Oprah and Bill Cosby, but outsiders
have always had issues with the content of it. And the same old answers don't seem to answer the questions and the problems that exist.
Did they ask you to speak at the congressional panel with David Banner and Master P, or on 'BET: 'Hip Hop vs. America' panel? Do you
find it easy to get into the places that you need to get to respond and counter the damage that's happening?
Chuck D: Well, it's kinda like trying to put a pot under a leaky roof. It's like 80 different holes in the roof. I'm only one pot, ha
ha! So, I could only be one pot catching the rain coming through one hole at one time. Meaning that, it's happening all over the country.
I was in L.A. at the time of 'Hip Hop vs. America', and by the time the congressional hearings came, I was outside of America. It's hard
to be inside of America when you're outside of America, and I frequent at least a number of countries when I'm outside, because I look
at the world as one, and I don't spend my time here waiting for an American opportunity. Not at all. Matter of fact, I don't wait for
an American opportunity or an American anything, ha ha! It's where I'm from, but really, people ask me, are you going to try to do this
thing on MTV, or try to get on radio in the united states, or this magazine, it's one of the places I've got to deal with. I look at the
United States as equally as China, damn near.
Addi Stewart: You were the first concert I saw when I was 14, and I'm 30 now. You guys were amazing, but Public Enemy has gone through so
much since then. I also saw you at 'Rock The Bells,’ and I find it amazing. You got Griff back on stage, you even had Scott Ian there, it's
really good to see the S1Ws put on a performance, and you give them time and everything. I was just wondering, how do you feel about the core
energy in the group these days, after so many ups and downs through the history?
Chuck D: The core energy is amazing, especially with [live band] 'The Banned', who also have released an album on Slam Jamz, backing the sonics
that we've had over the years. It's a fun place to be, I mean, everybody's a musician except for me, heh. And it's an incredible experience.
It's the greatest feeling on earth knowing that you are doing your thing. And our songs are so hectic and crazy, and people say 'what kind
of show are you going to do?' It's either that we do the songs, or the songs are going to do us. Because they require nothing less than 150%
effort, ha ha! If you don't put 150% into the performance, then you will look terrible. And that's my biggest gripe. My only gripe about today's
hip hop artists is the amount of effort they put into their songs. They make great songs, especially those in the Atlanta area and the South East
with the crunk records. They just have to put the energy and the effort and the care into the performances and the care and concern. That's all
it is, it's just negligence. It's not less skills, it's not, you know, the inability, it's laziness. but in the past, the thing that would alleviate
the laziness is record labels and management would have a chokehold on the artist to make them really go out and support their art, instead of just
feeling they get in this comfort zone and they can just go in and sit on their ass and not having to work for the audience.
At the end of the day, the audience is the boss, and they have to be catered to. If a person has got to get on their knees with a rose in
their mouth, they are going to have to come up with it! I think in the future it's going to be like... they say "Well Chuck, it ain't as easy...'
Well, it's never going to be easy. You might see in the future, you are going to see artists turn into acts again and it might be the artist that
considers himself half a musician but half a magician, and have to come up with magic and shit, eat fire while you rhyming or something, make
people bug out like 'ohhh!'. And I think the level of performances gotta bug the audience out again, for people to be like life long fans. It
requires effort, and that's something that we always try to best to present.
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