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Taken from Forbes (Oct 01, 2020)

Chuck D On Public Enemy's Explosive New Album: 'It's The Side That Hates You Versus The Side That You're On'

by Steve Baltin, Senior Contributor

Public Enemy at the Parkbuehne Wuhlheide on May 18, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Frank Hoensch/Redferns)
BERLIN, GERMANY - MAY 18: American rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy performs live on stage during the concert 'Gods of Rap' at the Parkbuehne Wuhlheide on May 18, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Frank Hoensch/Redferns)

In the unprecedented madness that is 2020, we need voices of experience and reason in whatever medium they choose to share their wisdom. For Chuck D and Public Enemy it is a brilliant new album, What Are You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?

Chuck says that make no mistake, the opening track, "When The Grid Goes Down," is a flat-out warning. "It boils down to saying, 'Beware of government tricks to elections,'" he tells me. "It uses the platform of recording into making a concise statement."

This year has seen a tremendous outpouring of activism in music as I have written about before, but few, if any, with the ferocity and force of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame New York-based group, who have delivered, in Public Enemy fashion, a soundtrack for the battleground that is 2020.

I spoke with Chuck D about the new album, guests including George Clinton and Mike D and Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, and, of course, politics. And man, he has a lot to say. We would all be wise to listen to his wisdom.

"There's no time for micro-differences," he says. "Zero f**king time for micro-differences."

Steve Baltin: A song like "When The Grid Goes Down" feels like it's written about what is possible on November 3.

Chuck D: Yeah, the title track of the album was one of those situations that was made in the last four months. So if you look through the album for all kinds o Easter eggs that's actually gonna give you a road map to the next 10 years I don't think you're gonna find it. But it's right there, right in front of your face, asks the question to everybody, "What are you gonna do when the grid goes down? Beware of governments tricks." I say government plural, not government because it's so much mish-mosh and so much interweaving and interlocking that the only thing you can point to is it's saying the one percent that is the few at the expense of the 99 percent, which is the many. And not to even measure it by money, but to measure it by directives and narratives that's already zooming into another place looking for people to follow it. So that's what the album title implies, that you have to be prepared for potential government f**kery throwing you off your focus.

Baltin: But even four months ago the election felt much different than it did now. So it's interesting how prophetic the song feels.

Chuck D: Bro, we heading into red October. We don't know what's happening next week. And somebody might say, "Are you scared? Are you nervous?" Those are all terms to use, and I'm not trying to throw no macho chest as it neither, I'm saying it is dire concern knowing that fascism, and with a new face, is not only around the corner, but is up the block, sitting and waiting for you to come up the block. So that is scary but we're pointing it out right now that the only thing that can stop it is a collective movement of force and there's no time for micro-differences. Zero f**king time for micro-differences. Right now as a black person living in the United States of America who considers himself an Earth-izen, but I ain't been outside the country anyway, I would tell you this - in this date and time of unpredictability no time for micro-differences. It's the side that hates you versus the side that you're on. And when they, that's the ubiquitous they, those that wave a flag in the belief that our lives don't matter or matter less than, that spreads hatred. That spreads all those isms and ills that we all hoped and wished that culture could fight back against or clarify so that it could hold it back. You gotta fight the power for peace, you've gotta fight the power for equality and justice. Yes, it's not throwing a Molotov all the time or a brick through a plate glass window. That's what you call youthful, unbridled energy that could be directed and talked to. But if they see that even what they try to get their counseling from or directives from or guidance from as being disrespected they're gonna go and do what youthful energy does, which is like, "Well. f**k it, I'll set my clothes on fire. And I don't know what's at the end of this. All I know is it'll be unexpected because I'm gonna do the unexpected because I'm getting the unexpected." So 52 days down to November 3, it's what you call the haunted house ride, but it ain't no game. The only thing that can stop that haunted house ride is a whole group of riders and that person at different vantage points saying, "Stop that f**king train now."

Baltin: What is the role of music in stopping the haunted house ride?

Chuck D: I think that, understand the second "Fight The Power," the one that came out this year, the remix put together by Questlove, the third "Fight The Power," if you want to say so, spoke to the moment right now. Although I'm a firm believer protest songs speaking to the moment right now without going back into an older song, but when I did "Fight The Power" in 1989 understand how much I was influenced in 1975 by "Fight The Power" by the Isley Brothers. "Fight The Power" in 1975 was a record that moved me. And then 1989 when we decided to make the second "Fight The Power" it was to draw all the energy and sentiment from that time and that record, although it wasn't a cover, but it said, "You gotta fight the powers that be." So it spoke to the same and it was 14, 15 years apart. How we're going into another thing which is 30 years apart. So when people come and say, "Wow, are you kind of discouraged and dismayed that there hasn't been any change? That the song is still relevant? Is it bittersweet?" And I said, "No, because the biggest difference between 1989 and 2020 is that people have been born and people have died." So you don't have a lot of people who were back then on the moment who can actually break down it for the masses who just think it's throw a Molotov in the air protest song. You had an older generation that was able to break down what "Fight The Power" was. So coincidentally Public Enemy and myself being 60, if a person's gonna ask me what "Fight The Power" means, now I'm that old head that's able to give some guidance, wisdom, understanding as well as a co-writer of the song.

Baltin: But with all of these songs, look at a song like "What's Going On" that is about to be 50, they still have so much relevance and it is bittersweet we can't just appreciate them for the great songs they are and not how relevant they are right now.

Chuck D: Well, with "What's Going On," is not just a protest against human beings and the structures and powers that be, but it's also man looking at himself in the mirror. And I say man cause I think a lot of this problem is men and testosterone (laughs).

Baltin: Look at the countries that bed handled the Covid crisis initially, they were all run by women.

Chuck D: Yep, and I believe one of the biggest glitches in the world right now is the fact that people look to structures being run as it was in the 16 and 1700s and think it can work in the twenty-first century. They gotta be out of their god damn minds.

Baltin: But a lot of people seem to be out of their minds and we seem they desperate to hold onto what they believe is their power.

Chuck D: It comes with greed, trying to take everything with you.

Baltin: Talk about how all the great artists before you influenced What Are You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down.

Chuck D: I thought George Clinton's whole career was a protest. He was introducing us to a planet that was a better place. So a lot of people reach out to George Clinton for his funk, but we reached out to George Clinton for his funkosophy, his visionary futuristic look on life and how to co-exist on this planet. So that's how we looked at Uncle George Clinton and that was very helpful to go about it that way. We reached out to Uncle George ad he delivered the line to us to open up this album, "What you gonna do when the grid goes down?" You couldn't top that.

Baltin: I also love "Public Enemy Number Won." Was that as much for you to do as it sounded like?

Chuck D: I'm so thankful that they [Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz] agreed to give me a sixtieth year birthday present of me paying homage to them. And it was Mike and Adam and MCA and also Jam Master Jay and Run and DMC who dragged my Public Enemy tape "Number 1" through Def Jam, which made Rick [Rubin] want to pursue me for two years. That's where it came from. So going back to Def Jam coincidentally was a revistiation into the beginning.

Baltin: I think it's normal as you get older to get more nostalgic and appreciative of the past. So was it more important to you at 60 to pay homage to that time and your friends?

Chuck D: Yeah, very important cause you got to know your foundation. And at the same time we have to look at in popular culture at what point do we consider great or greater than popularity.

Baltin: So what are those things for you that are great or greater than popularity?

Chuck D: Something that's important that might not speak to you this second but might speak to you 10 years from now or next year.


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