festival feature: still bringing the noise – chuck d at afropunk

August 15, 2013

It’s been more than twenty years since Chuck D, the firebrand, PUBLIC ENEMY front-man penned the lyrics to their seminal hit song, Welcome To The Terrordome. The controversy that followed the release of the song, with outlets such as the Anti-Defamation League and The New York Times labeling the group and its leader racist and anti-semitic, nearly imploded the band. It was an important moment in the history of hip-hop, the art form then maturing, but not yet mature.

By: Craig Carpenter, AFROPUNK Contributor

“Cruxifiction ain’t no fiction

So-called chosen, frozen

Apology made to whoever it pleases

Still they got me like Jesus”

The battle for affixing parental advisory stickers to music product brought forth by people such as then Senator Al Gore’s wife, Tipper, had been won, with the black and white stickers adorning nearly every hip hop CD and cassette at the time (at cost to the artist, naturally). The struggle against censorship continued, with Chuck nearly becoming a casualty. These were the halcyon days of hip hop. The golden era, as many call it. It was prior to the million dollar budget music videos as seen on MTV, and prior to the East vs. West coast feud that stemmed form the killings of Tupac and Biggie. The dual street reportage from LA and NY was best represented by N.W.A. and Public Enemy, each reflecting scenes and perspectives of an America unknown to all but its sufferers. When Chuck D. explained to talk show host, Larry King that hip hop was the “Black CNN”, it’s cultural resonance was fully realized. 

The apex of this period can be seen with the long delayed release of PE’s third album, Fear of a Black Planet. Always topical and always incendiary, Chuck led another verbal assault against the first Bush administration, Hollywood, the police, the record industry, the AIDS and crack epidemics, and hip-hop, itself. Basically, a greatest hits list of adversaries that Chuck would rail against for his entire career. The still revolutionary and innovative producing team, The Bomb Squad, had created another soundscape filled with controlled chaos; a piercing storm of samples and effects that sonically engraved every lyric into the consciousness of listeners. In just about every way, this album was a high water mark for the genre, and proved to fans of the group, as well as to regulators and censors, that the art form as weapon, wielded by an articulate and razor sharp, yet sly performer, such as Chuck could foment, in the eyes of some, the most dangerous, activist generation of young people since The Black Panthers. The anthemic, signature song, Fight The Power, the theme to Spike Lee’s masterpiece film, Do The Right Thing, fittingly closes the album. The song inspired this generation and continues to echo in the music of artists such as Rage Against The Machine, Nas, and Talib Kweli, as well as countless others.

Much has changed in our society since those days. The nation of millions elected it’s first Black President, now in his fifth year of office. There is no longer a governing body issuing parental guidance stickers on hip-hop albums, and, it would seem, much of the revolutionary spirit in mainstream hip-hop has been co-opted by materialism and misogyny – all things Chuck forever railed against. Unfortunately, much has also remained the same, as evidenced in recent trial and Supreme Court decisions, The Tea Party and “stop and frisk”. The need for Chuck’s authoritative and informed baritone is still welcomed and necessary. However, long and rocky the road, pop validation was bestowed a year ago when, arguably the greatest rap group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now a permanent fixture in the culture and world ambassador for an art form he championed and helped define, Chuck D, paired with longtime collaborator, DJ Lord, will bring his opus work to the stage of this year’s AFROPUNK FEST, performing in its entirety, Fear of a Black Planet, the very album that caused such a stir twenty-three years ago. Still bringing the noise. That’s AFROPUNK.